Sample fake food and beverages, or sampuru, are seen all around Japan. They are a safe way for restaurants, department stores, and snack shops to showcase their culinary offerings without the items being affected by temperature, light or age. Sample foods are also a great way for non-Japanese speakers to view and order foods which they may otherwise not be able to. The sample food industry in Japan is huge, worth over 90 million USD. As a unique part of Japanese culture, I explored this industry by making a sample myself.
I opted to make my sample food at Yamato Sample Factory in Kita Ikebukuro located in Toshima City about 40 minutes from Shibuya on the train. This food sample factory opened in 1952 and not only offers these tourist-friendly experiences, but creates sample pieces for businesses to buy and lease.
I bought and reserved my half hour-long experience on Veltra.com, but you can also make reservations directly on the Yamato Sample Factory website itself (please note that the website is in Japanese).
The route I took from Shibuya where I was staying used the JR Yamanote line and changed at the Ikebukuro Station to the Tobu Tojo line. I got off at the Kita Ikebukuro Station and then walked about 7 minutes to my destination. On the afternoon I went, Yamato Sample Factory was buzzing with an excited and playful energy. Both adults and children alike were enjoying themselves making their sample tasty treats.
Inside Yamato Sample Factory, you can view many examples of sample food made from plastic. My helpful instructor informed me that sample foods were originally made from wax, but as that has a tendency to melt, was changed to plastic. He also advised that it is not uncommon for businesses to pay several hundred dollars for sample dishes such as this ramen and curry rice.
As my suitcase was already quite full, I opted to make a small keychain tart that cost about 16 USD. The price included the materials and an English-speaking instructor. If you’d like to make another food option, Yamato Sample Factory offers sushi, cupcake, sundae, fried rice, shrimp tempura, ramen and curry rice. Check their website for their current offerings.
The large food components, such as the tart crust, were pre-made as I was told it would take days for these elements to properly dry to use. Yamato Sample Factory offered many cute and delicious-looking pre-made toppings to choose from such as fruit, chocolate and gummy bears. For the tart, I was instructed to pick five toppings.
The next task was squeezing the tube of plastic white tart filling. While it may sound simple, for a first-time sample food maker as myself, it was surprisingly challenging. There is a certain amount of pressure and tilted swirl to implement to make the tart look real and delicious. My instructor had me practice a few times on paper first before working on my actual piece. After filling the tart, I delicately placed my fruit pieces into the white plastic foam, then added a few sparkly accents for extra kawaii. And, voila, my sample tart was finished!
My instructor put my tart it in a nice small box with padding to ensure safe transport. I was told it would take several days for the white tart filling to completely solidify, so I took extra care to ensure its safe travel home.
If you’re looking for a unique and delicious experience while in the Tokyo region, I highly recommend trying making sample food. Not only is it a fun experience, but you will leave with a special souvenir. And of course, if you’re looking for real Japanese foods, look at our offerings at RudiGourmand.com. Enjoy!