In Japan, fake food is more than a menu enhancer or a quirky decoration: It's a straight-up artform. Making an egg appear gelatinous, a bowl of noodles appear still-warm, or a piece of bacon appear juicy requires more than just a steady hand, but a true dedication to culinary replication—in plastic, that is.
Japanese artist Norihito Hatanaka is elevating this appetite-whetting tradition one step further, and playing on its tactility, by making highly realistic fake food into wearable accessories. Are they kitschy? Definitely, unless you consider wearing an entire fruit salad as a collar to be standard in the fashion world. But this type of art is his focus and dedication: It's pop art that looks good enough to eat and to wear. And it looks so authentic that one is surprised to find that the faux bacon headband doesn't emit a smoky smell.
We caught up with Hatanaka to get the story behind why he wants to take this uniquely Japanese discipline from the glass case at the sushi spot to the streets of Tokyo.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Hatanaka! How did you get started with making artificial food? Norihito Hatanaka: I have taken over my father's business. Normally, my factory created an 'industrial arts food model' for [restaurant displays]. One day, I thought I wanted to create something interesting by using our expert technology of the craftsman. Then, starting in the second half of the 90s, I wanted to escape the stagnant [fake food] economy. The management of my father's company had deteriorated more and more. We restarted and desperately put the past behind us four years ago. I don't forget the start day: March 10, 2011.
What's your background in art? I am usually inspired by 'real' food—various dishes. Delicious looking food, Kawaii-looking food, and so on. Easily available, common food has a charm of its own, though people don't notice that. I get an idea for my work from casual everyday scenery. Although I'm second-generation at the fake food company—when I was a child, I was around fake food every day—I don't like that. That family business gave me, like, a complex. Why, I don't know.
When I was a student, I hoped to become a painter and study art. After many twists and turns, the result was that I become the manager of this fake food company. Of course, relayed from my father. Maybe that experience gave me an intuitive element.
How did you learn to imitate food so well? I learned to make artificial food while working at the factory—I was taught it from other craftsmen. With a lot of my accessories, I now draw the design and the craftsmen make it. So I thank my two ace craftsmen and my three girls and their good senses.
What is your jewelry made out of? What's the process in making an item? A3. Real work. The materials are silicone, liquid plastic, gas oven, oil paint, pigment, writing brush, and airbrush. The procedure for making fake food accessory is as follows: Draft a design for a fake food accessory. Real food is dipped in silicone to create a mold. A liquid plastic is poured into the mold, and then heated using a oven. The food replica is painted by hand or airbrush, and once the fake food parts are completed, they're attached to the jewelry parts. Simple! Anyway, I cherish the beauty of our materials. And I don't draw the perfect blueprint from the beginning.
Do you ever wear these accessories yourself? Yes. Some of our staff wears our product at exhibition and sales. I don't want everything : a new car, a big house, an excellent ship—I'm glad only to create these artistic accessory made with fake food.
From an artistic perspective, what appeals to you about wearing a necklace of spaghetti or bacon earrings? The term "It looks good enough to eat" or "apple of my eye" is often used. There are people who go mad for food such as spaghetti, curry rice, beef bowls, and bacon. I began to consider food to be this wondrous thing. It looks good enough to wear. Our products have infinite possibilities.We will launch a full-scale expansion into the field of fashion.
Why do you think the Japanese love fake food so much? There isn't really anywhere else in the world where you can find such realistic fake food creations. In Japanese food culture, aesthetic appeal is important. People are able to enjoy dishes with their eyes.
What will you make next? I want to hold an exhibition. Our work receives considerable attention. I hope to have chance to express the worldview of 'FAKE FOOD HATANAKA,' to attract more attention in the future. I think that our work attracts as many people as possible who have foresight. And I want to find the next great possibility.
Thanks for talking with us.