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Japan is a country with an intense passion for food — both homegrown and arriving from foreign lands. But in a country where Japanese is by a wide majority the only language spoken and translations are sometimes tricky to obtain, an introduction to dishes like wienerschnitzel, spaghetti Bolognese and cheese enchiladas can sometimes be difficult. Enter the plastic food model, which — according to a report by Paris-based news and affairs channel France 24 — has exploded in popularity over the past few years.

There’s an art to crafting these visual aids, with Iwasaki Co. serving as a sort of modern day Barbizon. It is there where a legion of artists craft the hand-painted molds that sell for around $100 each. Though, according to the story, restaurant owners can lease the models for as little as $6/month. The company also has an American operation based in Gardena, California — where the craftsmanship slightly lags behind their Japanese brethren.  

Plastic food models also help foreign tourists traveling to Japan — those who might not know how to distinguish the difference between a tonkatsu/beer hall and a ramen shop. But not all foreign tourists are buying. According to the report, an Israeli tourist, Elda Rozencvaag, was not feeling the models.

"When I see this it makes me feel like I don't want to eat it. It is too weird," he said, staring at a plate of perfectly formed sushi. "It has too many details — even more than in the real dish."

Iwasaki recently opened two retail shops in Tokyo where it sells sushi cell-phone charms and bacon-adorned key chains. Because food cell phone charms are pretty much the best thing to come out of Japan since the Neo Geo.


Read more about Japanese food culture on Food Republic: