Japanese idol singers usually have a no-romance clause in their contracts, so fans hoping for a dinner date have to get creative.

With idol music in the middle of an unprecedented golden age in Japan, the stereotype of idol fans as dreary loners is becoming outdated. Between meet-and-greets, mini concerts, and online message boards, it’s easier than ever for idol fans to connect with one another and get a quorum of friends together to go out for a bite to eat, perhaps while discussing which member of their favorite multi-vocalist group deserves to be front and center in its next music video or album cover.

However, deep down inside, the person fans would really like to be sharing a meal with is their personal favorite idol. That’s something they’re not likely to have an opportunity to do, though, since idol singers are commonly barred from dating by their talent agencies. However, there is a way to make the dream of dining with an idol sort of come true, and it’s called cheki meshi.

Cheki is the Japanese word for a polaroid photograph, and meshi means “chow” or “food.” So for a cheki meshi-style meal, all you need is a plate of food and a snapshot of an idol. Place the photo next to your food, and it’s like the two of you are eating together.

While any photograph will suffice, there are a number of high-level cheki meshi techniques. One of the most common is making sure to pair the photograph with a specific food the idol has expressed a fondness for a desire to try, such as regional specialties while on a concert tour.

Another strategy is to decorate your meal with a photo in which you yourself are posing with the idol, which adds the special seasoning of a sweet memory to the food’s existing flavor.

Traditional Japanese teishoku set meals are especially well-suited for cheki meshi, since their myriad plates and bowls provide plentiful propping possibilities. But in today’s world of globalized cuisine, there’s nothing wrong with a cheki meshi burger.

While the above polaroids appear to be laminated, many brave souls use unprotected photos for their cheki meshi, even when placing the photos directly onto the food itself.

▼ Maybe the photo being autographed is supposed to indirectly impart the aura of the food being made by the idol’s own hands?

In the era of social media, it’s a matter of course for fans to tweet photos of their cheki meshi meals, but stepping back one layer further reveals some extra-surreal scenes.

But apparently it doesn’t matter if other people are staring as long as your idol’s eyes are on you.

Sources: Hachima Kiko, Jusha Yoshiko no Geino Blog
Featured image: Twitter/@jyapp417

He doesn’t have any checki meshi pictures to share, but you can follow Casey on Twitter anyway.