By Tamotsu Saito / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterA slice of bread that’s a clock; an onigiri rice ball that can be used as a smartphone stand — these surreal-sounding items actually do exist; they’re fake food that’s been transformed into artwork and accessories.
The popularity of such items is increasing, and there are now a number of workshops where you can try your hand at making them yourself.
Japan is said to be the birthplace of fake food displayed in front of restaurants and cafes. According to Yasunobu Nose’s book, “Me de Taberu Nihonjin” (Japanese people eat with their eyes), this tradition dates back to 1917, when fake food samples were produced by pouring melted wax into molds made of vegetable gelatin.
“Fake food samples attracted attention when displayed at restaurants in department stores,” said Yukiko Suzuki, an artist making these items. “They helped those restaurants increase sales.”
However, vegetable gelatin can easily fall apart, and the wax is not suited for complex craftsmanship. Silicone and urethane resin have therefore replaced them for most of today’s fake food samples.
“These materials have made it possible to create many more impressive items, like a fork twisting spaghetti in midair or a pizza that looks like a slice is being pulled up,” Suzuki said.
Initially intended for business use, these fake food samples have become popular among women in recent years as more and more small items are available, such as key chains, hair clips and chopstick rests.
“Women like these items because they think their incorporation of everyday foods is cute, such as mikan oranges or grilled fish,” she said.
Suzuki has gone even further, transforming fake food into works of art, such as adapting slices of bread or pizza into clocks, adding a lamp into an onigiri rice ball, and making a bouquet of spaghetti.
When producing these artworks, Suzuki basically makes molds from real foods, always looking for something with good shapes and imagining how they can be designed as fake food pieces.
“I love that strange notion that everything looks good enough to eat, yet you can’t,” she said.
Suzuki’s fascination with fake food items dates back to her days as a restaurant worker, when she produced an ice cream piece on her own. Now she offers workshops in and around Yokohama, and during a visit to her school by The Yomiuri Shimbun, she shared how to turn a mikan peel into a work of art, shown in the photos numbered 1 to 4.
1. It takes seven to eight hours to make a mold using silicone. Once the silicone hardens, mix transparent urethane resin with colorant to make it orange before pouring the mixture into the mold.
2. When the urethane resin hardens after about 10 minutes, carefully remove it from the mold. The bumpy surface of the peel is faithfully reproduced. While the resin is still slightly flexible, you can use masking tape to bend it into any shape you want.
3. Use acrylic paint to color the calyx part of the peel green.
4. For the underside of the peel, apply yellow-colored papier-mache to give it a more realistic feel. A coating of clear polish completes the work.
“You’re successful if you feel as if you’re smelling the [real] food while making your fake item,” Suzuki said.
Squeezable bread looks like food samples at restaurants but is squishy.
Made out of memory foam, a lineup of accessories called “Squeeze” has been a hit among elementary school girls, who enjoy their texture. Adorable and slightly unfaithful renderings of doughnuts, bread and other sweets are common, with most of them going for around ¥400.