Feast Your Eyes on Japan’s Incredibly Life-Like Food Replicas

Web content written for Hikari Travel Agency, an independent travel agency specializing in Japanese travel. July 2020. < 500 Words.

The language barrier can be a huge obstacle to overcome when dining out abroad. Luckily, Japan has tourists covered with their storefront displays of incredibly realistic food replicas!

Shokuhin sanpuru (食品サンプル, food-goods samples) are a common sight at many Japanese restaurants, where a front window is typically reserved for highly-detailed plastic recreations of menu items. Often these model meals are almost indistinguishable from the real thing, and they certainly help passersby work up an appetite! Best of all, if one of the replicas really catches your eye, you can simply snap a picture of it on your phone and show the waiter. No more leafing through a phrase book or trying to use gestures to make your order understood!

Sometimes a restaurant recreates their entire menu out of plastic!

A Part of Japan’s Culinary History

Even in this time of high-quality prints and digital photography, many restaurants still haven’t completely traded in their 3D food models for 2D images. That’s because shokuhin sanpuru have a long and celebrated history in Japan. They became popular around the 1920s, when the use of menus still wasn’t a common practice yet. After the Second World War, American service members stationed in Japan cemented the use of shokuhin sanpuru in the restaurant industry, as the food models allowed them to easily order without the need for a translated menu.


A True Art Form

Today, the shokuhin sanpuru industry in Japan is a 90 million dollar business, yet, surprisingly, most providers haven’t given in to automation. A majority of food replicas are still hand-crafted by artisans who have made it their life’s work, and their talents are greatly appreciated by the Japanese public. Nowadays, food replicas aren’t just marketed to restaurants anymore; souvenir shops have taken to selling keychains, magnets, photo clips, and a variety of other goods all shaped like incredibly realistic food items!


A Feast for the Eyes

The Japanese people’s desire to immortalize foods in plastic may seem odd to visitors, but the practice stems from their appreciation for the visual aesthetic of cuisine. There’s a saying that, “Chinese food is pleasing to the stomach; French food is pleasing to the tongue; but Japanese food is pleasing to the eye.” The Japanese believe that you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth, which is why their food is often elaborately decorated. Creating replicas helps to preserve the artistry they’ve baked into their dishes, and it shows hungry patrons that they can expect food that is both delicious and visually-appealing.


Eager to catch a glimpse of these incredible food displays for yourself? Hikari Travel Agency’s first-hand experience of Japan’s restaurant scene means our team can help you plan a trip filled with stops at some of the country’s greatest eateries. Send a message to info@hikaritravelagency.com for more information!

Copyright © 2020 Abby Fisher. All Rights Reserved.