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Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic ●

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20 January 2009

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Maria Visconti


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Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic

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Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, but the artistry of Japan's food replicas deserves standalone recognition. Proof? They look good enough to eat.

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Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic



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Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic The Iwasaki Sample Village is a bit out of the way from the main strip but is really worth going.

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The morning in 1926 when Takizo Iwasaki left his native Gifu prefecture and headed for Osaka to seek his fortune marked the start of a trend that still impresses the visitor as a curiously Japanese phenomenon: the ubiquitous and tantalising food displays beckoning passers-by from the entrances of sushi bars and restaurants. Iwasaki arrived in the city at an exciting time. The roaring ’20s had taken Japan – and the world – by storm. The glamour of the era started an insatiable drive for all things modern – and the period that came to be known as Taisho Chic in Japan. Art, fashion, food, all carried a touch of the West. The conundrum for Japan was how to remain Japanese and be modern, when modernity was defined as Western. (1 of 5)2/02/2009 4:04:04 PM

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Fashion models with Hollywood-style makeup and clothing smiled from posters, photos and paintings. Avant-garde restaurants began experimenting with selling Western cuisine – eating beef suddenly became fashionable. In Osaka, Iwasaki went window-shopping. He would often look at the photographic displays modern restaurants had on their shopfronts. It was difficult for the proprietors to convey in words what mutton hamburger steak or roasted turkey with vegetables might be, let alone biftec et frites. Some restaurant owners often went to the extreme of preparing the actual dishes and exhibiting them for their customers’ inspection. Obviously, these real meal dishes had a fairly short shelf life. Then Iwasaki had his epiphany: images from anatomical wax models displayed at Japanese apothecaries collided with memories of a wax flower arrangement. Could he do that with food? After experimenting, he came up with a few models, then took the dish samples, modelled in wax, to a restaurant in the hope they would rent the display from him. Restaurateurs loved them. In 1932 he returned to Gifu and started production on a large scale. The sample food industry took off. The art of producing imitation food is as serious and creative a process as the presentation of the real thing. A fake-food chef will take two years to complete his training. Yoichi Shimizu, director of manufacturing at Iwasaki Co says: “Colour is the most important factor to achieve veritable food samples.” Until 20 years ago wax was queen, but plastic now reigns. A representative from the replica food company goes to the restaurant and takes photos of the actual dishes, then sketches precisely the positioning of every item on the plate. The real dish is then taken to the factory, where each morsel – from fried prawn and grilled fish to steamed mushrooms and shredded cabbage – is dunked in silicone and left to harden to produce a mould used to replicate the item. The dish is assembled as per the original. Iwasaki Co still thrives, with its shops and factories across Japan providing an estimated 60 per cent of the country’s food displays. Despite stiff local competition and Chinese imitators, Iwasaki Co’s business is worth more than $106m, with orders coming from both local and international Japanese restaurants.

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On the outskirts of Gujo, at the Iwasaki Sample Village, visitors can try their hand at creating models. An instructor pouring coloured liquid paraffin on warm water demonstrates how to make the perfect iceberg lettuce. “Slowly,” he says. “Nature takes a long time to make one,

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Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic

so you shouldn’t hurry.” Kappabashi At first sight, Kappabashi Street resembles more a dull downtown avenue than an appealing tourist destination. But look closer and you’ll discover what is probably one of the world’s largest and best-stocked line-ups of kitchenware shops. There are close to 200 of them, dominated by the gigantic effigy of a chef’s head. Dubbed “kitchen town”, this is where most of Tokyo’s restaurant owners purchase their supplies of Western-style or traditional crockery, kitchen equipment and the famous plastic food models. Avoid weekends; Saturdays are often chaotic and most of the shops are closed on Sundays. Shop Dengama 1-4-3 Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 5828 9355. Fukuoka-ya 3-1-15 Matsugaya, Taito-ku. +81 3 3844 4522. Honma Shoten 2-6-5 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 3844 5124. Kama-Asa 2-24-1 Matsugaya, Taito-ku. +81 3 3841 9355. Kamata 2-12-6 Matsugaya, Taito-ku. +81 3 3841 4205. Kappabashi Soshoku 3-1-1 Matsugaya, Taito-ku. +81 3 3844 1973. Nishiyama Shikki 3-24-3 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 3841 8831. Okuda 1-5-10 & 3-17-11 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 3844 4511. Soi Furniture 3-17-13 Matsugaya, Taito-ku. +81 3 3843 7294. Tokyo Biken & Maizuru (3 of 5)2/02/2009 4:04:04 PM

Brussels. Date: 28 Jan 2009 Tags: chocotastic , foodies' fantasy , world capitals

Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic

5-15-1 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku & 1-5-17 Nishi Adakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 3842 5551 & +81 3 3843 1686. Yabukita 2-1-12 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 5828 5081. Eat Kappabashi Coffee 3-25-11 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku. +81 3 5828 0308. See & Do Make your own faux fare Iwasaki Sample Village is located about a kilometre from the Gujo town centre near the Guji-Hachiman railway station. Open 10am-4pm Admission ¥350 ($6). Classes ¥1000 ($16.50) + you get to keep your own creation. Source: Qantas The Australian Way February 2009 Tags: world capitals

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The Iwasaki Sample Village is a bit out of the way from the main strip but is really worth going. The classes are a must - it is so amazing to see how they make the food and to get to try it yourself. Just make sure you aren't hungry cause everything looks so (4 of 5)2/02/2009 4:04:04 PM

Tokyo shopping: Plastic fantastic

good! hot_dog 28 Jan 2009 Reply (5 of 5)2/02/2009 4:04:04 PM

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