Fake Food in Japan
October 8, 2014 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Making Japanese Food Samples. A look at some of the techniques used in the creation of sampuru, the multi-million yen industry of handcrafted custom plastic fake food.
posted by showbiz_liz (40 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
His lettuce is astounding, and he seems to be quite the good showman. I am reminded of the people who make pulled candies, who can talk up the crowd while keeping the geometry of the thing in their head.
posted by angerbot at 8:08 PM on October 8, 2014


the multi-million yen industry

Multi-billion yen industry. A million yen is like $10,000.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:12 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Multimillion yen" isn't actually very impressive.

¥1,000,000 == $9255 at today's exchange rate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:14 PM on October 8, 2014


Yup, the lettuce is especially astonishing (approx 3:30 onwards). A remarkable piece of both craftsmanship and showmanship in a few short minutes.

I guess that's some soft of plastic/polymer? Looks a bit like wax in the video.
posted by figurant at 8:23 PM on October 8, 2014


Sorry, mistyped!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:30 PM on October 8, 2014


Wim Wenders' Tokyo-ga, a documentary (mostly) on the filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu, has a lovely sequence on this as well.
posted by fifthrider at 8:32 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh yeah, the lettuce is a thing they do as a make-your-own demo in Gujo-Hachiman, Gifu. Fun little thing to do. They also have a demo you can do where you make "tempura" by pouring melted yellowish wax into a warm water bath from a fairly high height to make the "batter," then laying the item to be "battered" upside-down on it and wrapping the wax around it.

Cute little town. You'd never expect that a place like that, in the middle of nowhere, is the source of like 90% of Japan's fake food samples.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:36 PM on October 8, 2014


How It's Made on the Science Channel had a segment on this. Unfortunately, I can only find this youtube clip of it dubbed in Hindi. Still fascinating, though.
posted by Perko at 8:42 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


MY CABBAGES
posted by poffin boffin at 9:19 PM on October 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


Here's how to get an intuitive albeit imprecise sense of yen to U.S. currency: assume 1 yen = 1 cent. Therefore 100 yen = $1. If you've got big number to work with pretend there is a decimal point before the final two digits. Obviously this doesn't account for the exchange rate, and the dollar is really strong against the yen right now, so that's why ¥1,000,000 is $9255 per Chocolate Pickle's example, but obviously it's in the ballpark if you do ¥1,000,000 = $10,000.00.
posted by dubitable at 9:27 PM on October 8, 2014


I live just a short bike ride away from Kappabashi, the restaurant and food trades supply hub of Tokyo. There are a buncha shops there that sell this stuff, and they are really fun to browse in. I also happen to be a tireless documentarian of food samples here in Japan (shooting mostly restaurant display windows and in shops along the above-mentioned Kappabashi). There are 300 photos in my Flickr album here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:33 PM on October 8, 2014 [13 favorites]


Gujo-hachiman is probably the place I'd most like to visit in Japan. I recently saw a documentary on NHK World called Gujo-hachiman: Dancing in the City of Water and I was enchanted by the springs, mizufune, and flumes. [In Japanese, Google Translation]
posted by ob1quixote at 9:36 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ah Kappabashi. My friend went there to buy cooking knives. I went there to buy sushi fridge magnets. We both left completely satisfied.
posted by um at 10:12 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I thought this kind of thing didn't exist in the West. But I was wrong.
Steak, $50.00
Hot Dog and French Fries, $64.00
Veggie Display Platter, $250.00

Vegetarian options are vastly more expensive.

That's why those of us who like plastic food prefer meat.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:16 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Kappabashi really is a wonderful place to wander in Tokyo. I don't know how I ended up walking through there but I was seriously hungry by the time I got to the other side.
posted by N-stoff at 10:27 PM on October 8, 2014


After extensive web searching through online food sample stores, I was unable to locate a plate of beans.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:39 PM on October 8, 2014


I was unable to locate a plate of beans.

Yeah, but....

Maybe you shouldn't look:
Bean beards.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:45 PM on October 8, 2014


No I'm not going to look, it's probably natto and I like natto.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:53 PM on October 8, 2014


Is it natto or nattō?

Wikipedia is not helpful about this, going back and forth between the two in one article.

You say natto, I say potatto.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:05 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, I can only find this youtube clip of it dubbed in Hindi. Still fascinating, though.

The problem with Blade Runner, and lots of movies, really, but especially future movies, is you never get a sense of everyday life. Star Wars is terrible this way.

But that quote above? Right from Blade Runner, spoken by the stoned kid in the apartment behind the Pepsi ad (the folks are at tango class), sharing links on his smartbook with his girlfriend. "This is the best I can do in a pinch. Sorry about the Hindi. But you get the gist. Crazy, right?"
posted by notyou at 11:16 PM on October 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


twoleftfeet: "Is it natto or nattō?"

Depends on how you transliterate. In Hepburn (I think?) transliteration you put a bar over the "o". But that bar is only helpful if you already know some Japanese, and if you already know some Japanese, you don't really need your transliteration to be that precise, because you know the actual word. Like, "Tokyo" should be "Tōkyō", but I've never stared up at a street sign and thought "What's 'Tokyo' mean? Do they mean 'Tōkyō'?" It's rare to be reading something in English where without the bar you wouldn't understand the word.

If it helps, think of it like "Is it naive or naïve?"
posted by Bugbread at 11:22 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Is it natto or nattō?

Because I'd rather practice my hiragana than have to remember two spellings, my preferred transliteration of なっとう would be nattou:

na + [tiny unvoiced tsu that indicates a doubling of the following initial] + to + u.

But that would also put a u after Tokyo (とうきょう), and I wouldn't want that, because what? I guess in that case, traditional English spelling would obtain.

As Bugbread notes above, Hepburn transliterates long o (that is, an o final with a u syllable immediately afterwards) sounds as ō, but... I don't know, it just doesn't square with my limited syllabic experience with Japanese. Whether this is due to laziness or simple lack of mastery, I leave as an exercise to the reader.
posted by lumensimus at 11:31 PM on October 8, 2014


I found the documentary Journeys in Japan: Gujo-hachiman - Dancing in the City of Water on YouTube.

Cf. Gujo Hachiman Guide —JapanFilms, 23 February 2011

Off the Beaten Path: Gujo-Hachiman, Lloyd Vincent, NihonShock, 19 July 2012
posted by ob1quixote at 12:43 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Gujo-Hachiman is a charming, though extremely remote, town. It's mostly famous domestically (by which I mean, frankly, locally) for their bon odori, where there's basically a week of evenings spent doing traditional dances of sorts, and it goes straight through the night on one or two of those. In my experience, foreigners are more likely to know that it's the main producer of food samples than actual Japanese people.

One of the more interesting things I saw there on both visits was a restaurant that was run by a guy who would basically just go get ingredients at the supermarket and/or produce markets in the mornings, and then you'd just tell him what your price range was that you were looking to pay and if there was anything in particular you didn't want, and he just sort of worked from there. Fairly novel, and pretty good food.

Charming town, but it is kind of difficult to find a lot to do there for more than a day or two unless you're using it as a base to visit, say, Takayama or something. It really is just remarkably remote — it's now accessible by highway, but even then, that highway mainly just goes to other highways, rather than to places that people ever think of.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:56 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


fifthrider: “Wim Wenders' Tokyo-ga, a documentary (mostly) on the filmmaker Yasujiro- Ozu, has a lovely sequence on this as well.”

I came here to mention this movie – and so I will, and add that people should see it even if they know nothing about Ozu, because it is wonderful and beautiful, like all of Wim Wenders' films. It contains many interesting little things, for instance this clip of Werner Herzog looking down from the Tokyo Tower and swearing in frustration that he is going to get in a space shuttle and go to Skylab and make films in space because it is no longer possible to find "pure images" on earth. Wim Wenders seems a little bemused by this.
posted by koeselitz at 1:35 AM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Maybe you shouldn't look:
Bean beards.


Haha! That bean beard artist (Takao Sakai) contacted me a few years ago, and I, yes, I, flapjax at midnite, posed for him in a bean beard!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:38 AM on October 9, 2014 [15 favorites]


I have definitely seen this before on Metafilter, because that's where I heard about this (the plastic food, not the bean beards (but that is also the case)).
posted by asok at 2:47 AM on October 9, 2014


Just thought I'd point out that for some reason, there's a store under Tokyo Skytree that sells plastic food samples. Usually in self-assembly kits, like model ships, except it's model food. I'm not sure why they picked a tourist location to sell industry goods, but it works. For some reason the store is really popular.
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:28 AM on October 9, 2014


Ah, look at that, it's mentioned in the article. Oh well.
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:41 AM on October 9, 2014


It all began in Gujo Hachiman, the ground zero of fake food. (from the VICE article)

I find this turn of phrase somewhat distasteful.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:13 AM on October 9, 2014


This is really cool, thanks for posting!
posted by carter at 6:15 AM on October 9, 2014


btw, the auto translate subtitles from Japanese to English are weirdly interesting.
posted by carter at 6:25 AM on October 9, 2014


Just thought I'd point out that for some reason, there's a store under Tokyo Skytree that sells plastic food samples. Usually in self-assembly kits, like model ships, except it's model food. I'm not sure why they picked a tourist location to sell industry goods, but it works. For some reason the store is really popular.

Well, they're not *only* industry goods. People love the things, they want to own them. There's a market there, and the shop at Sky Tree (I know the one you mean, I've been there too) is serving that market. Simple as that!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:27 AM on October 9, 2014


Oh god I love fake food*. I don't know why! I commented about this same tendency of mine in a thread awhile back about those little Japanese fake-food-candy-molding kits.

Possibly it comes from my childhood spent trailing around after my mom or dad in places like Sears. I remember very vividly the experience of passing through the Sears tool/grill area, and on the grills would be various fake steaks, fake ribs, fake corn, fake chicken legs. I was always fascinated.

In the cafeteria at work, there's a station that sells a few Korean and Korean-ish dishes. And only a few weeks ago, they acquired three little plastic bowls of their different offerings. I notice some people really staring suspiciously at the things, but I am delighted. I suspect they might be custom-made, which is impressive.

*(I don't want to own fake food, though. I try to keep the tchotchkes down to a minimum, given how poorly I dust my place. A good thing, in the end, or else I might be surrounded by glistening platters of fake spaghetti-and-meatballs at all times.)
posted by theatro at 7:36 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


a restaurant that was run by a guy who would basically just go get ingredients at the supermarket and/or produce markets in the mornings, and then you'd just tell him what your price range was that you were looking to pay and if there was anything in particular you didn't want, and he just sort of worked from there. Fairly novel, and pretty good food.

Isn't that just omakase? (I've never been to Japan, so my understanding of omakase might just be totally warped by a certain Portland dive bar)
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:35 AM on October 9, 2014


In a video embedded on this American wax food companies web site you can see a full on Huell Howser as he enthuses as part of his "Visiting With ..." series . Iwasaki Images Golly !
posted by stuartmm at 12:38 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Boxy bear, "omakase" usually tends to refer more to places that have a set menu that is being chosen from — this sort of 100% treatment is, at least in my own experience, fairly uncommon.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:42 PM on October 9, 2014


I was able to stroll through Kappabashi because it's a short walk from American-favorite-place-to-stay Asakusa.

The problem with Blade Runner, and lots of movies, really, but especially future movies, is you never get a sense of everyday life. Star Wars is terrible this way.

An episode of Paul F. Tompkins' podcast (fast-forward to 6:45 or so) addresses this.
posted by rhizome at 5:16 PM on October 9, 2014


Why fake food? It is only briefly alluded to in the article:
The combination of urbanization, booming eating-out culture and the influx of strange, foreign foods created the perfect niche for sampuru in the 1920s.

The story I heard was that when Japan was very suddenly changed from a society completely closed off from the rest of the world (where, with few exceptions, outsiders would be executed), to the open one that the society was starved for, everyone wanted to try all the new things such as western fashion, baseball, and food. But no one knew anything about this new food, so they put fake food with a description outside in the windows so people would know what to order.

Now the fake food can be used by westerners to help figure out Japanese food.
posted by eye of newt at 9:22 PM on October 9, 2014


It's not just westerners. Sometimes the fake food is the menu. I remember being surprised when I went into one restaurant, sat down, and the waitress asked for my ticket. What ticket? You had to pick which dish you wanted from the display case, remember the number underneath it, then go to a vending machine, punch in that number, insert the required amount of yen, and it gave you a ticket with the menu number on it. Then you gave that ticket to the waitress.

Display cases seems are very common. For example, most vending machines have a big display of actual cans of the products like soda or canned coffee, full size cigarette packs, etc. In western vending machines, they'd just have a big button with a product logo on it. I don't really think this is a cultural thing, more of a customary method of marketing. I have heard some vague assertions that this all developed around tobacco marketing, which of course is another imported foreign product. But I haven't researched this sufficiently to know what is really at the bottom of all this.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:44 PM on October 9, 2014


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