Plastic Food Replica Shops in Gujo Hachiman
The birthplace of Japanese plastic food.
Ramen bowls evoke piping hot comfort. Pancake stacks promise fluffy and sugary pleasure. All over Japan, plastic food replicas captivate diners. A small mountain town in the Chubu Region, Gujo Hachiman, produces most of these drool-worthy marvels that are such a huge part of Japanese food culture.
Start the pilgrimage
That said, the ultimate pilgrimage is about three hours by train from Tokyo. Gujo is a picturesque former castle town with canal-lined streets and traditional buildings. Takizo Iwasaki, inventor of the “sampuru” – a Japanese word from the English “sample” – was born there in 1885.
What prefecture is this in?
Sample Village Iwasaki is a five minute walk from Gujo Hachiman Station and is still run by the Iwasaki family. Takizo Iwasaki’s original 1917 prototype is proudly displayed: an omurice omelette with ketchup.
Sample Kobo is closer to Gujo’s town centre, near the Tourist Office. Both venues offer free entry and classes for a fee. Craft your own tempura vegetables or prawns, lettuce, ice-cream cup or dessert tart.
An enduring appeal
Sampuru were originally made with wax, then more durable plastics from the 1970s. Restaurants order them ready or custom-made. Pieces are cast in moulds using real food or by following photographs, baked in an oven, then painted and finished.
This highly skilled, time-consuming art doesn’t come cheap. One item could cost anywhere fromm ¥3,000 to ¥100,000; but it’s much less for a souvenir keychain or magnet. Many restaurants rent out sampuru, which suits changing menus.
Today, digital menus and photos threaten the sampuru, but they’re still a quirky, cool slice of mainstream culture. Like the luscious fake soft serve that never melts, here’s to hoping this unique Japanese craft never disappears. Plus, they always help tourists choose a meal.