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In Japan, Plastic Food Models Aren't Just for Restaurants Anymore

Japanese plastic food

Plastic food samples (食品サンプル) outside of a typical restaurant in Japan. Image by Flickr user sayot. Image license: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

In Japan, plastic models of food are common outside of just about every eatery. In order to provide potential customers with information about exactly what's on the menu, shokuhin sanpuru (食品サンプル, “food samples”), or highly detailed replicas of every dish served in the restaurant, are displayed near the entrance. Customers peruse the food samples, and then decide to enter the shop or keep looking for someplace to eat.

There is an entire industry devoted to creating these food samples. The Tokyo neighborhood of Kappabashi is home to a cluster of these small businesses that make plastic food samples, which German filmmaker Wim Wenders documented in his movie Tokyo-Ga more than 20 years ago.

While plastic food samples are so common in Japan as to be unnoticeable to most Japanese people, there is a new trend in Japan to turn them into eye-catching cellphone accessories and other knick-knacks. Writing on Naver Matome, blogger itinii has collected a variety of social media links with photos of this twist on shokuhin sanpuru.

Now on sale: new smartphone straps based on food samples used at Kichijoji Tokyu department store.

Food samples have been turned into a variety of kitschy collectibles including, in this case, refrigerator magnets:

For a new display at Tokyo Station, here are some shokuhin sample fridge magnets.

The food sample novelty boom is becoming increasingly more elaborate. In this case, a kaisen-don (a popular seafood rice bowl) has been transformed into a smartphone stand.

We've found a good use for a triangular serving dish (lol) as a smartphone stand. Once again, we made this for the Tokyo Station exhibition.

And here, it's an apple that holds up your smartphone:

Designed to look like an apple with a notch cut out for a smaphone, this is a striking design.

This is just the beginning of an increasing descent into whimsy. Some smartphone stand and case designers allow you to create your own work of art, in this case, by using ikura, or salmon roe that is a popular topping served with white rice. One Twitter user doubts:

Is there anyone out there who is going to say, “Wow, cool, I can customize my smartphone case with salmon roe?” I think I'll be the only one.

The fake food accessory boom also can take perhaps less appetizing forms, including gag items to startle coworkers and family members.

Our newest smartphone stand comes in the form of melting ice cream. We also have rice ball (onigiri) earrings and a dried salmon smartphone strap.

To see more quirky uses of fake food, check out itinii's Naver Matome blog post, or follow the Twitter hashtag #食品サンプル#ストラップ.

And to learn more about the original trend that started it all, this video provides a glimpse of Kappabashi in Tokyo, a district devoted to supplying the restaurant industry, including with shokuhin sanpuru.

As well as this video, which gives an overview of how Japanese food samples are actually made.

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