​Get a Taste for Sampuru: the Art of Making Plastic Food​​

The Art of Making Plastic Food​​
The Art of Making Plastic Food​​ | © Marco Argüello
Photo of John Still
Commissioning Editor20 April 2020

The food you’re about to see certainly looks edible. Delicious even. But don’t be fooled – these delicacies are all made of plastic. Photographer Marco Argüello takes us on a journey to rural Japan to discover just why they’re so popular across the country.

Back in the 1920s, menus weren’t commonplace in Japan. To make it easier for the customers to decide what they’d like, pictures of plastic food were displayed. The art of crafting these lifelike replicas became known as sampuru, and the practice is still going strong today. Eighty percent of the plastic food in the country is made in the small, riverside town of Gujo Hachiman, and photographer Marco Argüello paid the town a visit and documented the process.

© Marco Arguello
A lot of work goes into every sampuru before it reaches the restaurant. It’s a painstaking process; to this day each sampuru item is crafted and painted by hand | © Marco Argüello
​​A sampuru mold is made my dipping the real food into silicone. Liquid plastic is then poured into the mold and left to set for up to 30 minutes before | © Marco Argüello
A small sampuru item can take a whole day to handcraft, with whole meals taking up to a week | © Marco Argüello
Sampuru is a $90m industry in Japan alone, with stores dedicated to these realistic replicas | © Marco Argüello
Et voila! The final sampuru meal – looks good enough to eat | © Marco Argüello

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Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

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