Sampuru is a Japanese adaptation of the English word ‘sample’1. It refers to replicating food using plastic in the most realistic manner. The process to create sampuru is thorough. It begins with designing the silicone molds that would be used to replicate the dish. Liquid plastic, also known as polyvinyl chloride, is poured into the mold and baked until it is hardened. The plastic is separated and cooled in the next stage. Each component is meticulously painted with an airbrush or by hand2. As making sampurus require precision, the time taken to complete each element of a sampuru ranges from an hour to days, depending on the intricacies in replication3.

In 1932, Takizo Iwasaki founded Iwasaki Be-I, a company that specializes in the creation of sampurus4. Dubbed as “the Father of Sampurus”, Iwasaki’s company holds around 70 per cent of the sampuru market share in Japan5. Small displays would cost an average of US$27 while others that require more precision can cost as much as US$9006. Generally, sampuru can cost approximately ten times the price of the actual dish7. The steep price for sampurustems from the amount of time and effort required to create them.
Despite the high cost of sampurus, they are frequently displayed outside restaurants in Japan8. Restaurateurs implement sampurus as they set expectations with patrons when dining at the restaurants in terms of portion and quality. This enables customers to visualize the dishes easily. It also allows tourists to understand what they are ordering for cases where language is a barrier and they are not able to comprehend what the restaurant offers in the country’s local language. Sampurus are often found in Japanese restaurants to display sashimi, which refers to raw food. Diners are subjected to hygiene and health issues if raw food was left unattended in the open for prolonged hours.

The implementation of sampuru today is not only limited to Japanese food such as sushi and bento sets. Since sampuru is made of materials that will not decay over a short period of time, they can be utilized until the restaurants update their menu9. For example, sampuru is practical to use as displays for desserts such as ice-cream, chocolates, and bingsu (a Korean shaved iced dessert). These desserts melt easily once taken out of the refrigerator, making it impossible to display for long hours. For instance, Gong Cha, a famous bubble tea chain in Asia, placed replicas of their drinks at the Raffles Place Shopping Centre outlet in Singapore. Their models lasted more than six years10.

The use of sampuru is widespread throughout the food and beverage industry. In Singapore, several food chains implemented sampuru as displays in their eateries. For instance, Fat Bird Chicken Hot Pot at Lot One Shoppers’ Mall uses a chicken-in-hotpot display at their stall front to show the exact size of the hotpot and the amount of chicken served instead of a not-drawn-to-scale image in the menu12. Casa Italia at I12 Katong offers a wide selection of pizzas that they sell on display, which gives consumers a good visual representation of the pizzas served13.

1 Distinguished. (n.d). The Culinary Art of ‘Sampuru’. [online] Available at: https://www.distinguished-mag.com/sampuru-culinary-art-food-japan/

2 The Soup Spoon. (2015). Sampuru | Replica food making experience. [online] Available at: http://www.thesoupspoon.com/sampuru-replica-food-making-experience/

3 Channel NewsAsia. (2016). 5 things you didn’t know about Japan’s fake food. [online] Available at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/lifestyle/5-things-you-didn-t-know-about-japan-s-fake-food-7807226

4 Hall of Fame. (2016). Takizo Iwasaki and the Origin of Food Replica. [online] Available at: https://www.hofmag.com/takizo-iwasaki-origin-food-replica/183991

5 The Japan Times. (2016). Japanese food samples: Look so good you could eat them. [online] Available at: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2016/09/20/food/japanese-food-samples-look-good-eat/#.WSaTwOt97IV

6 Great Big Story. (2016). Fake Food, Real Art: Crafting Display Delicacies. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghh_A3p4NPs

7 CNA Insider. (2016). Japan’s Fake Food | CNA Insider. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZnnSlfIgf0

8 Japan Experience. (2015). Fake Dishes For True Gastronomy.[online] Available at: https://www.japan-experience.com/to-know/

9 Big Empire. (u.d). Delicious Vinyl: Japan’s Plastic Food Replicas. [online] Available at: http://www.bigempire.com/sake/sample_food.html

10 Plastic Food Models. (2016). How Customers Used Our Plastic Food Models. [online] Available at: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154244471368584

11 Plastic Food Models. (2016). How Customers Used Our Plastic Food Models. [online] Available at: https://m.facebook.com/279796588583/photos/a.388265183583.

12 Plastic Food Models. (2015). How Customers Used Our Plastic Food Models. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/279796588583/photos/a.388265183583.