In Japan, plastic food designed and manufactured for restaurant display, or shokuhin sanpuru, is a major national industry. Models of Japanese and Western foods are molded and painted in exquisite detail to look as good as—if not better than—their edible counterparts. Displayed in a restaurant’s front window, these durable replicas allow the customer to identify food names and prices and facilitate interlingual communication. The Japanese practice of creating replica food (in wax before modern plastics) dates back to around 1920 and was reportedly inspired by the lifelike anatomical teaching models then being imported from the United States by new medical schools. The industry boomed after 1960, when restaurants began offering more varied menus. The realistic models are also commonly used as stand-ins for commercials, and are even sold to tourists as souvenirs.
Gallery label from Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen, September 15, 2010–March 14, 2011.