Justin D. Hanus (USA)
Founder/CEO of Fake Food Japan
(Resident in Japan since 2001)
Have you seen “fake food replicas”? Ones that are made out of plastic and sculpted to look like actual dishes? The fake food items we’re referring to are the ones in display cases of restaurants or cafes throughout Japan.
Mr. Hanus started the “Fake Food Japan” business with the aim of spreading this beautiful Japanese “handicraft” to people both in Japan and overseas. His business produces and sells fake food items that resemble Japanese food such as cell phone cases, business card holders, ear picks and more.
Mr. Hanus is very friendly and speaks Japanese fluently. We were laughing throughout the interview. I was reminded that laughter is important in Osaka by Mr. Hanus who has extensive experience living here.
What brought you to Japan?
Originally I majored in Spanish at my university in the US. I also took a Japanese language class but due to a class schedule conflict, I had to choose one language over the other. Because of my major, I continued taking Spanish classes initially.
But as I became friends with Japanese who were studying at my university, I grew more interested in Japan. So much that I decided to study abroad in Japan rather than Costa Rica where I was planning to go on a study abroad program. When I mentioned about my plan to my parents, they asked me, “What are you going to do in Japan? Are you going to study Spanish there?” I told them that I didn’t know exactly why but my heart was telling me to go to Japan.
Once I was in Japan, it was tough for me as I was at a university in Aichi Prefecture for 5 months away from most of my Japanese friends who were from Kansai (The region includes Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe). Because of this, I traveled back to Kansai about once every 2 weeks.
Why did you create Fake Food Japan?
About 2 years ago, I found that Osaka was the home of replica food through my search online. I wrote about it on my blog and my Taiwanese friend who lives in Osaka commented about it saying,”Why don’t you try fake food as a business?”. And that’s how I got started in the fake food business.
Realizing that the fake food items were popular souvenirs among foreign tourists, I quickly started to contact various fake food manufacturers. Through my actions, I came across a company called “Morino“, which is an Osaka-based fake food manufacturer. As we hit off with each other from the get-go, we started to develop a business relationship marketing the company’s fake food products online. Even though we sell only online at the moment, we get asked constantly about where our brick and mortar store is. This is definitely something I’m interested in opening and operating in the not so distant future.
As I mentioned before, the birthplace of replica fake food is Osaka. Because I reside in Osaka, I want to do everything in my power to help the fake food industry here in Osaka by promoting it to the entire world.
What kinds of products do you handle?
Our core business is making life-size replicas. As most of them are sold to restaurants, we wanted also to make goods for consumers to enjoy as well. We have expanded our product lineup to include food-shaped iPhone cases, headphone jack plugs, ear picks, Frisk cases, USB thumb drives, business card cases, magnets, keychains, etc.
Of our products, Japanese tend to love headphone jack plugs and ear picks while foreigners love magnets and keychains. Also we handle customized orders to make one-of-a-kind items for our customers.
For example, companies that handle sets for dramas or commercials, overseas restaurant establishments, and education-related businesses ask us to make fake food for them to assist with their needs.
Outside of Japan, our products are popular in Europe and the US. We even receive customized orders such as ”place fake food on the surface of my wallet”. In this particular case, the wallet itself was around ¥3,000 (approx. US$30) however the cost to decorate the wallet with fake food was more expensive than the actual wallet. After receiving the wallet, our customer was quite pleased with how everything turned out and I’m glad that we were able to create a very unique item for our customer.
(Left) Assorted sushi (Center) Chilled soba noodles with tempura (Right) Hamburger patty in demiglace sauce with deep fried shrimp
(Left) Kitsune udon, udon noodles with deep fried tofu (Center) Osechi, New Years dishes (Right) Shabu shabu nabe, Hotpot assorted vegetables
(Left) Makunouchi bento, combo lunchbox (Center) Fried rice omelette (Right) Assorted ice cream
(Left) Soy sauce minced meat rice (Center) Uncured ham (Right) Salmon roe rice
Headphone jack plug
(Left) Fava bean (Center) Onigiri rice ball (Right) Lemon slice
(Left) Sliced tomato (Center) White spring onion (Right) Konnyaku
(Left) Pickled plum rice (Center) Curry rice (Right) Corn and leek miso soup
USB thumb drive
(Left) Shrimp sushi (Center) Salmon roe battleship roll sushi (Right) Sesame dumpling
Business card case
(Left) Stir-fried shrimp with chili sauce (Center) Sekihan, red bean rice (Right) Curry rice
(Left) Takoyaki, fried octopus ball with mayonnaise (Center) Chicken wing (Right) Mushroom tempura
We want to revitalize Osaka’s economy with fake food!
Osaka is the birthplace of fake food, and also the home of foodies! You can enjoy a good variety of food at reasonable prices. To sync with the theme of Osaka, we’d like to have our own shop and would like our first one to be based in Osaka.
As for overseas, we are still debating if we should open shops there. Currently, I have some clients in The Netherlands and France, but I am always on the look out for more partners.
The fake food industry is also well established in China, Thailand and the US, however when it comes to technique, Japan is hands down #1. When it comes to pricing, Japan is not the cheapest but does offer the best value when quality is taken into consideration. In addition, fake food here in Japan is handmade like it has been for over 100 years by Japanese craftsmen.
As fake food manufacturers spend most of their precious time in making the realistic-looking fake food, they tend to not have enough time left over for market research. This is where I come in and assist. By teaming up, we are able to focus on our core skills to make the business successful and expand our operations globally. Together, we are working diligently to spread the word of ‘fake food’ to the far reaches of the world.
Also, many foreigners visit Kyoto but not many make their way to Osaka even though the two cities are quite close together. By creating a fake food tourist attraction in Osaka in the near future, we hope to entice foreigners to spend some of their time here in Osaka.
What is the most important thing for you when it comes to business?
One’s network is first and foremost the most important. If you don’t have an influential network, you will be put at a disadvantage. Now when it comes to meeting people, you just don’t need to meet people, you need to meet successful and influential people who have power. In the past, I used to go to many places and exchanged business cards with guests. But in the end, I only kept in touch with just a few of them. So you need to have a strategy in place on where you can meet the kinds of people who you’d like to meet.
For example, you can go to a ¥5,000 (approx. US$50) event 20 times or you can go to ¥100,000 (approx. US$1,000) event once – which one would you choose? At ¥100,000 event, guests in attendance are able to afford it. If you go there, you would be able to meet people who are more likely than not to have money, power and influence over the attendees at a ¥5,000 event. If you want to meet people like CEOs or presidents, one idea is to work at a golf course because many of them play golf for business. Even though these may be some extreme examples, the point I’m trying to make is the important thing in business is the quality, not quantity, of your network.
Secondly, decisive action is key. With that said, courage to stop is also necessary. It’s important to try many things in business for a limited time before investing all of your resources. If things don’t work out too well, you stop and move on to the next project. Even if you decide to give up, there is always another opportunity waiting. So in the beginning of starting a business, you should decide how long you will invest of your time, money, and other resources before shutting down the operation in case things don’t work out well in advance. If things don’t work out and you fail in your business venture, what do you do? You always have a backup plan/business acting as insurance in case your first choice doesn’t pan out.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’ve failed many times, but I’ve learned many things. If you fail, you’ll be careful not to repeat the same mistake. In that sense, try, fail, and try again is the best education in one’s life.
What is Osaka to you?
Osaka is Japan’s heart and soul.
Osaka people are filled with such spirit because Osaka has been the town of merchants for a long time. I’ve lived in Tokyo and Aichi Pref, but for me, Osaka is the most livable city. I love this place and the warmth of the residents.
Since many of the Kansai people are born and raised in Kansai, they tend to not leave the area. They really love their home. And at the same time, they welcome visitors from other areas. They welcome everyone. I love it. When Kansai people meet Kansai people, they become good friends almost instantaneously. And you may not be surprised knowing that most of my Japanese friends that met prior to coming to Japan were originally from Kansai.
I love Osaka.
Thank you for your time, Justin!
Fake Food Japan website (Eng) http://fakefoodjapan.com/
Fake Food Japan website (JP) http://fakefoodjapan.net/
*Inquiries (E/J) firstname.lastname@example.org