Tokyo Experience

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Is That Edible?

The custom of putting models of the food served in the restaurant's windows dates back to the Meiji Restoration period, but the food wasn't always plastic. In fact, the idea first came to Japan from the wax models that were used as anatomical teaching aids in the new schools of Western medicine. A businessman from Nara decided that wax models would also make good point-of-purchase advertising for restaurants. He was right: the industry grew in a modest way at first, making models mostly of Japanese food. In the boom years after 1960, restaurants began to serve all sorts of dishes most people had never seen before, and the models provided much-needed reassurance: "So that's a cheeseburger. It doesn't look as bad as it sounds. Let's go in and try one." By the mid-1970s, the makers of plastic food were turning out creations of astonishing virtuosity and realism. If you're looking for what some have deemed a form of pop art, then head to Kappabashi.

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