"sampuru" fake food samples in a restaurant window, tokyo, japan
Fake food samples appear prevalently in the windows and display cases of food-serving establishments throughout Japan. Once made from wax, today they are usually made out of plastic. The plastic models are mostly handmade from vinyl chloride and carefully sculpted to look like the actual dishes. The models are custom-tailored to restaurants and even common items such as ramen will be modified to match each establishment's food. During the molding process, the fake ingredients are often chopped up and combined in a manner similar to actual cooking.
The craftsmanship has been raised to an art form and plastic food has been exhibited at places such as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Regular competitions are held in making fake food dishes out of plastic and other materials. The food displays are usually called sampuru, derived from the English word sample.
The plastic food manufacturers fiercely guard their trade secrets as business is lucrative; the plastic food industry in Japan, by conservative estimates, has revenues of billions of yen per year. A single restaurant may order a complete menu of plastic items costing over a million yen.
In recent years, Japanese plastic food manufacturers have been targeting markets overseas, such as China.
Plastic food manufacturers
While some large companies exist, others are small shops with a single proprietor. They can be found in Kappabashi-dori, the food supply street in Tokyo. Factories can be found in Gujō, Gifu.
Iwasaki Be-I, the biggest plastic food manufacturer in Japan, founded by Takizo Iwasaki in 1932
Maiduru (Maizuru), another old and large manufacturer