Almost every Japanese restaurant sports a plastic replica of the dishes they serve to would-be customers, treating them as an art form. One could compare the efforts of preparing dishes as almost equal to the painstaking methods involved in creating artisan plastic Japanese food displays.
Meant for displays to increase sales revenue, Japan's attention to detail in their products is almost to the point of obsession. According to CNN, it takes much more than accurately manufacturing the components of the dish -- likely, machines are fine-tuned to produce complete plastic replicas of vegetables, shrimp, and even the finest, individual grains of rice. It goes without saying that plastic Japanese food is inedible but also makes for a great souvenir.
Tofugu said that plastic food from Japan is known as the art of "sampuru" -- a "Romaji" or english-syllable Japanese derivative of "Sample" (mind that Nihonggo has no "L" in its lexicon). Before plastic, old restaurants in Japan would use wax in the early 20th century to display food their restaurant offers outside the premises. All of these wax models were handmade -- hours of work likely put in to ensure each model is a tempting replica.
The history of sampuru began with Takizo Iwasaki who created the first rice omelet from wax. According to historic accounts, Iwasaki needed to pay for the medicine and treatment of his sick wife and their utilities. He bought a huge amount of candles -- Tofugu said the wax-molding began when melted wax dripped on top of a tatami and the wax "reproduced the ridges precisely." His first rice omelet is still in display in Iwasaki-bei, the company's business still booming.
"Sampuru" has also become a useful tool for Japanese restaurants to communicate effectively with non-Nihonggo-speaking or writing travelers who wish to eat in their stalls. It enabled foreign diners to just point their food of choice and even include the toppings -- which are individually made for display -- for their ramen or tsukemen, for example.
Japan's toy industry also has do-it-yourself kits to create replicas of fast-food such as burgers and even french fries. These toys, which may need parental assistance for children, are true plastic replicas of their real life equivalents if done correctly.
As a souvenir as an entire replica showcase of a Japanese traditional dish, they cost about $100. But they will last for more than a decade -- useful for most Japanese establishments as a grand marketing investment.
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