Takizo Iwasaki and the Origin of Food Replica


Many Japanese restaurants use food replicas or plastic models to display their available dishes at their windows or on their bar counters and to attract more customers. This practice has been used in the country for how many years. Do you know who the father of the fake food is?

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The invention of the food models


Food models were invented sometime between the end of Taisho period and the beginning of the Showa era. It was said that they were created by many craftsmen in different places at roughly the same period. However, the documents covering the story of the invention of the origin have not been discovered.

In the later years, food models spread throughout Japan and became a necessity for the food culture in the country.

The one who re-created the food replicas    

Takizo Iwasaki, the founder of one the biggest plastic food manufacturers in Japan, Iwasaki Be-I, is widely credited as the father of fake food. He re-invented the food replica during the Showa period.

In 1926, Iwasaki left his hometown, Gifu, and went to Osaka to find great opportunities. Life was tough for him, until one day while having his meal in a public eatery, he came up with the idea of wax food models.

While recalling the replicas of vegetables and fruits used in the schools to teach good nutrition to students, Iwasaki believed that he could use wax to make better fake food models.

His wife, Suzu, first attempted to make a prototype of replica food, but the look was not appetizing. Iwasaki then took his turn and tried to shape food using candle wax dripping on a tatami mat.

After months of trial and error, Iwasaki finally perfected a replica of a rice omelet. To his excitement, he presented the wax food model to his wife, he even topped it with ketchup to make it more realistic. His wife could not tell the difference between the fake and the real one.

Omelet riceOmelet riceWikimedia Commons

Omelet rice served at a restaurant in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

The day Iwasaki Be-I was born

Following his successful creation, Iwasaki made more fake food in his apartment. Apparently, many food shops were impressed by his handicrafts and bought his wax food models.

Japanese food posted on 27 December 2007Japanese food posted on 27 December 2007By Hajime NAKANO via Wikimedia Commons

Japanese food posted on 27 December 2007

Iwasaki’s creation became a hit and in 1932, he founded his company, Iwasaki Be-I. For the past decades, the company faced numerous competitors across Japan. Despite the intense competition, his firm remained one of the biggest producers of plastic food models until this day.

Sampuru Commonly used by restaurants in Japan

“Sampuru” or “samples” in English is widely used in Japan. Many restaurants use the method, so customers can decide right away what they want to order before they enter the eatery.

Fortunately, the practice also makes the ordering process easy for the non-Japanese speaking tourists. Visitors can just look at the fake food models and point at the food they want to order.

Other uses of food replicas

Many companies from all over the world use replicas to display real-like food. For instance, food models are frequently used for photo shoots, background in movies, print ads, TV shows and television commercials.

In addition, plastic models are being used in banquet halls, museums, in the display center, furniture showrooms and other places, where real food cannot be displayed.

Thanks to Iwasaki’s vision, companies can now display good-looking replicas without spoiling any real food and attract more customers at the same time.

Manufacturing process of food models today

Before food replicas were made of wax; however, they were weak and melted right away when placed directly to heat and exposed to the sunlight. Hence, during the late 1970s to 1980s, manufacturers replaced wax with resin to make food models.

Compared to replicas made of wax, the items that are created with resin were durable.

Now, modern manufacturing technologies provide better looking plastic models. However, although the world is filled with hi-tech equipment and can definitely create realistic-looking replicas, 95% of all food models is still made by hand.

Japanese craftsmen create food replicas by hand, paying attention to every detail and often painting the items by hand.

When manufacturers use moldings to create fake food, the molds are created by dipping real food into silicon. Then, a liquid plastic or vinyl chloride will be poured into the molder and will be put in the oven until the mixture solidifies.

When the mixture becomes solid, any excess vinyl build up will be removed and when the replica is in perfect shape, it will be painted by an airbrush or by hand.

Fake food manufacturing companies     

There are a lot of fake food manufacturing companies existing right now, but still, Iwasaki’s company remains as one of the biggest fake food manufacturers in Japan. The other known food replica producer is Maiduru.

For the people who want to put their crafting skill to test, they can head to Ganso Sample in Kappabashi, Tokyo or Fake Food Japan. The said locations offer classes and workshops to individuals who want to become fake food artists.

Advantages of the practice

Thanks to Iwasaki, tourists can easily order their meals even if they cannot speak Japanese. All they have to do is just look at the food models and just point at the food they want to eat.

Recurved square dish in JapanRecurved square dish in JapanBy Akira Yamada via Wikimedia Commons

Recurved square dish in Japan taken on 9 January 2010

As for the vendors, from ramen to sushi, they can put everything by the window to attract more customers. The sellers can also display their available food on the display counter as long as they want to and the displays will surely never go bad.

The main idea of the practice

Japan’s food models or the sampuru revolution begun a very long time ago, but the main idea of practice remains the same until now: showing customers exactly what the meals look like and helping tourists who cannot speak Japanese decide what to eat.

customers eating in a Japanese restaurantcustomers eating in a Japanese restaurant

Wikimedia Commons customers eating in a Japanese restaurant posted on May 2015

Fake food models are more expensive than the real ones

Harry Fujita, who owns Iwasaki in partnership with Minoru Iwasaki, Takizo Iwasaki’s child, said food models are more expensive than the real ones. In fact, replicas of chicken noodle soup are available at $22 while cashews stand at $26.40 per cup.

Japanese noodle soupJapanese noodle soupBy ProjectManhattan via Wikimedia Commons

Japanese noodle soup taken on May 20, 2014

Fujita said their high-quality, luscious-looking artificial food are being sold to supermarkets for display purposes; as well as hospitals, schools and to restaurants.

“In any store–whether it be for shoes or notebooks–you see the display first so you know exactly what you are getting,” Fujita added to Los Angeles Times. “Japan is still the only country that regularly displays food as most other countries display consumer goods.”

Fujita further said that many businesses display fake food models on their firms because this type of creation would not deteriorate even at room temperature, unlike real food does. More so, because they were created with vinyl the replicas can be placed in any areas and could last for how many years.

So, there you have it.  Now, you know who Takizo Iwasaki and what he has done for the food industry.     



Food models


Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya

Los Angeles Times

Wikimedia Commons

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