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Sampuru(サンプル) The Japanese Art of Fake Food Replica written by Rod Obien

Fake food might be the last thing one might expect on a site dedicated to Washoku.

But in Japan, fake food or Sampuru is considered an art and big business.

(The picture is a fake salmon roe sushi replica.)

By definition, Sampuru (サンプル) is a type of food model or replica made of plastic or similar materials.

Every imaginable food, Japanese or otherwise, has likely been reproduced as Sampuru to an uncanny level of realism.

The surrealist painter René Magritte might be forgiven for saying c’est des sushis.

The journalist Yasunobu Nose offers a possible reason for the popularity of fake food.

He links, as cited in Vice, Sampuru to a Japanese tendency to taste by sight.

Beautiful food equates to great tasting cuisine.

Sampuru serves too as a visual menu for those, tourists or American servicemen, who can’t read or speak Japanese.

The history of Sampuru dates to 1932, coinciding with the introduction of Yōshoku, or Western-inspired foods, to Japan.

Most of the Sampuru are made in the town of Gujō Hachiman and sold in Kappabashi, the kitchenware district of Tokyo.

“Each (Sampuru),” writes Yoko Hani in the Japan Times, “is meticulously crafted by hand to resemble the real thing as closely as possible.”

According to Business Insider in 2019, Sampuru is a $90 million industry.

For those from Japan or those who have visited, glass displays of Sampuru are ubiquitous in restaurants and school cafeterias throughout the country.

One of my lasting memories of Japan was of the cafeteria at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata.

Famished after a day of meetings, I went to the cafeteria, which by then had closed.

All I could do was stare longingly at the (fake) food displayed deliciously outside the entrance.

For this hungry traveler, fortunately, the campus 7-Eleven was still open.

For more information on Sampuru, read Declan Hensey’s article in Seconds Food History or Justin McCurry’s article in The Guardian—both sources for this post.

Check out also Japan House LA’s SAMPURU: The Art of Japanese Food Replicas.

Seigo Kozakai, the CEO of Iwasaki Mokei, will discuss the Sampuru industry on Tuesday, March 27th at 5:00pm (Pacific Daylight Time).

The event is online and free to the public.

- Rod Obien

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1 Comment

Brother Cleve
Brother Cleve
May 01, 2022

Thanks for the insight and background regarding these amazing art pieces. I traveled thru Narita airport twice when going to and from Jakarta a dozen years ago and had long wait between flights both times. I saw a good amount of these Sampuru and was bedazzled by their realism and beauty. Next time I’ll just stay and skip Indonesia!

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