Truly Tasteless: Japanese Plastic Kitchen Artists Get Creative

About 60 sculptures were on display, some silly but others designed to showcase the artists’ formidable skills.

“They’re not real, but they look so real. It’s wonderful,” said Reiko Ichimaru, an exhibit attendee.


All models were handcrafted by specialists from the Iwasaki Group, Japan’s leading “sampuru” manufacturer, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

At an Iwasaki factory in Yokohama near Tokyo, artisans first take molds from ingredients sourced from real meals cooked by customers at the company’s restaurant.

Then they begin the meticulous work of decorating the samples to look as realistic as possible, from the droplets of moisture on the chilled glass to the subtle bruises on the surface of a fruit.

“Fresh things are more difficult to make. Fresh vegetables, fresh fish. Cooked meals are easier” because the colors are less complicated, factory manager Hiroaki Miyazawa, 44, told AFP.

“Burger patties are for starters,” he added.

Fake food is a multimillion-dollar market in Japan, but sampuru production has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced demand from restaurants.

Sampuru makers hope that more tourists will soon be allowed into the country to boost the restaurant industry, but they are also putting their unique skills to good use elsewhere.

For example, artisans at Iwasaki have made replicas of bananas in varying degrees of ripeness for factories to use to train new employees.

Orders are also being placed by IT vendors, who want to use fake 5G Wi-Fi routers in their presentations.

Meanwhile, at the exhibition, the most original proposals delight young and old alike.

“I think the number of restaurants using plastic displays is decreasing,” said Yutaka Nishio, 52.

“It’s interesting to preserve that as art. It’s really great.”