The Fake Food Capital of Japan
By John Asano
Gujo Hachiman, a small riverside town in Gifu Prefecture is a historic and beautiful part of Japan that often gets overlooked by tourists. Often called “Little Kyoto” due to its many temples, it is possible to explore the quaint little town on foot without the large crowds of Kyoto.
The summer can be a little more crowded due to the famous Gujo Odori festival, one of the three most famous traditional dance festivals of Japan. For a period of 31 night from July to September citizens of the city will celebrate this 400 year old festival.
Another claim to fame of Gujo Hachiman is it’s the fake food capital of Japan. Those replica foods that are commonly seen in restaurant windows were pioneered by local resident, Ryuzo Iwasaki.
To this day 80% of all the plastic foods, called sampuru (サンプル) in Japanese, is still made in Gujo Hachiman. You can purchase the plastic food replicas in the many stores around the town, or even better make your own at one of the four replica workshops in town.
Two of the most famous and popular ones are Shokuhin Sample Kobo and Sample Village Iwasaki.
Shokuhin Sample Kobo is located near the famous Sogi-sui Springs and is set in an old machi-ya (merchant house). Here you can have a look at some of the plastic replicas, pick up a souvenir and even take a quiz to see if you can pick the fake from the real.
If you are feeling bold and creative you can try your hand at creating some plastic food replicas for yourself. For 1000 yen ($10 USD) under the guidance of a food replica artist you can make three pieces of wax tempura. You need to make a reservation for this place as it can be pretty busy.
If you don’t feel like making them yourself, Sample Kobo also allows visitors into their workshop to see the process. You can watch the artists in action as they create replicas that are actually sold to restaurants around Japan.
Sample Village Iwasaki opened in 1932 and produces about half of Japan’s plastic food replicas which is a very impressive statistic. They produce a wide range of replicas from sushi and tempura to gyudon and even ice cream. This place has the largest and widest range of plastic food samples, so it is a must visit.
You can pick up a souvenir such as a phone strap, key ring, or fridge magnet that look impossibly like the real thing. In fact they are even better than the real thing as they never go bad! Sample Village Iwasaki also offers classes and demonstrations.
Gujo Hachiman offers visitors an authentic small town Japanese experience, where the traditional way of life has changed little over the years. If you value an “off the beaten track” experience then a visit to the fake food capital of Japan might just be the place for you.