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Japan is famous for its wealth of delicious and interesting foods starting with sushi, tempura, takoyaki and hundreds of variations of ramen and soba. Then there’s the endless regional specialties; even the smallest village will have its own unique dish it prides itself on. However, for tourists who don’t speak or read any Japanese, ordering these exotic dishes can be quite intimidating.

Many places will only have menus in Japanese, and you would be missing out on a large part of Japan’s varied food culture if you only went to the places that offered English.

That’s why, as well as being awesome to look at, Japan’s fake food or “food samples” have become indispensable to foreigners.

Although most restaurants in Japan use the English word “menu”, that will often be the only bit of English on that menu! It’s not unusual for smaller shops to have no English at all. In a country that’s so taken with its own food credentials, it can make it a bit difficult for foreign tourists to access.

Particularly in izakaya (Japanese-style pubs that serve food) the walls will be plastered with handwritten posters in lovely calligraphy – but without a handle on the language you won’t have a clue what they’re saying.

To really know what you’re ordering in Japan, you need a pretty high level of linguistic knowledge. Even Japanese folks can get stuck when it comes to reading the words for obscure local dishes.

This is why “sample food” is a lifesaver for foreign tourists.

The creation of sample food began in 1917 when they were introduced in a Tokyo department store. At the time these food replicas were made of wax, but these days the ingredients are plastic and silicone.

The pieces are usually made to order and realistically reflect the actual food served by the restaurant in breathtaking detail.

Walking down a street in Tokyo, you’ll see many restaurants proudly displaying their wares in a glass case outside. Although sometimes not without issues

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Apart from being fascinating to look at, these elaborate models are helpful for foreigners in two ways.

1. No surprises

Firstly, you can see what the food will look like. These models are incredibly detailed and realistic – your real meal will look just like the plastic example you see outside.

Even if you do read Japanese, if you’ve never heard of a particular dish before it can be hard to tell what exactly it will involve. Now you have no need to worry that you’ll be faced with some terrifying jelly with crab claws sticking out of it, or a strange grey mush of unknown origin. Of course there may be some things that look a bit dubious even in plastic, but you can safely avoid those for the more appetizing-looking dishes.

2. Cross-cultural communication, a.k.a. “pointing”

If you don’t speak Japanese, you can just point!

It’s also useful for the staff – if they’re not sure what you’re trying to order, they can direct you to the display case and have a good old mime session to work out what it is you want.

Restaurants have also found that the number of foreign customers has increased after putting out plastic sample.

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In the West most menus consist of words, sometimes accompanied pictures, so foreign tourists coming to Japan are often amazed when seeing food samples for the first time. You can often find people taking pictures of the displays – I know I have a whole folder of them on my phone.

People are so taken with them that they want to take some home! Unfortunately, the real deal are extremely expensive, but shops have recognized the demand and started selling mini versions on key chains and phone straps. Food sample miniatures are popular souvenirs from a holiday in Japan – and they’re popular among Japanese people too.

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Check out the videos below to see how these incredible creations are made. Sometimes it’s so similar to actual cooking that it’s easy to forget that eating these would be a really bad idea.

First we have a delicately decorated crepe. See how they get that fluffy cream and browned batter.

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Next up is a fruit parfait. Mmm would it really be so bad to eat that cream…?

And finally, Pasta Neapolitan with amazing floating fork!

Source: Naver Matome
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Sushi Day, Tumblr