TOKOROZAWA, Japan-They may look good enough to eat, but Japan’s mouthwatering food replicas are only for show as restaurateurs compete for the attention of hungry customers. They’re common sights in this food-obsessed nation, with everything from sudsy beers and perfectly glazed sushi to hamburgers and deep-fried pork cutlets, known as tonkatsu, on display.
Making fake food is a craft that Noriyuki Mishima has spent the last six decades perfecting. “I haven’t counted but I must have made tens of thousands of these dishes,” said the 79-year-old, as he painted a plastic roast of beef. “The toughest thing is probably getting the colour right.” There are no complex machines or special tools at Hatanaka, an eight-person firm in a Tokyo suburb where veterans like Mishima see themselves as artists. It’s just simple cutting tools, paint brushes, airbrush guns, and drying ovens at the little company with a “Fake Food Hatanaka” sign out front. They don’t use wax anymore - it’s durable silicone these days - but the practice has otherwise changed little since the first replicas were made in Japan about a century ago. During the early 1920s, artists producing models of human organs for doctors, were approached by restaurants to do the same thing for the food they wanted to sell. The idea spread rapidly as eating out soared in popularity and rural people flocked to the cities. Unused to what city restaurants had to offer, the models gave country dwellers and locals alike a quick visual rundown of the chef’s specialities.