Walk through any food court or eatery in Japan and you’ll find yourself face to face with walls of plastic food. These displays are designed to show potential diners exactly what they’ll receive if they order a particular dish, from the portion size to the ingredients right down to the little garnishes. They’re helpful for foreigners who can’t decipher Japanese menus but even the locals have come to depend on the fake food when eating out.
These sample meals have always had an uncanny realism to them – and now we know why. It turns out these plastic food replicas were borne out of a more scientific art form. The original maker of fake food started out creating models of human organs and diseases, with the realistic plastic replicas aimed at helping doctors study illnesses. Pretty soon, restaurants came knocking on the artisan’s door – despite it’s unappetizing origins, they figured fake food was the perfect way to familiarize country folk with the unique fare city restaurants had to offer.Like most things in Japan, the plastic samples don’t come cheap, especially since the food samples are modeled off real dishes and created for each individual restaurant. A life-like plate of plastic sushi or a heaping bowl of fake spaghetti sell for around $100 each, although budget-conscious restaurants can rent their fake food for about $6 a month.
The sample-making company says they haven’t been able to get the concept to take off in the Western world… after learning the less than appetizing story behind the samples, we’re not sure they ever will.
Do you like the idea of plastic food? Do these samples help you pick your meal or are they are turn off?
Recently, the former automotive boomtown of Detroit made history by filing for bankruptcy, making it an easy butt of jokes on Twitter and in the news. However, Motown has also been making strides to become America’s great comeback city, with artists and entrepreneurs lured by cheap rents, and innovative projects happening all over town (disclosure: I’m a big fan of the city, and so is the New York Times‘ Frank Bruni). Detroit has more than a few great things going for it, including architecture, museums and sports, and tourist dollars could go a long way in helping the city recover. Can it become a tourist destination again?
Some of the top tourist destinations in the world were once no-go zones for travelers, suffering from financial crises, war, natural disasters and rampant crime. Here are a few of our favorite comeback cities:Berlin: One of the world’s most resilient cities, Berlin has been through war, occupation and one gigantic divide, and come back to thrive. In the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, East Berlin in particular has become a hipster mecca, due to some of the lowest prices in western Europe for nightlife and a vibrant art and design scene. While not everyone welcomes the gentrification, the German capital is continuing to gain millions of foreign tourists each year.
Buenos Aires: A mix of hyperinflation, government corruption and mounting debt led to riots and an economic crisis in Argentina in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country has stabilized and the peso value has risen, but it’s affordability has made it increasingly attractive to travelers in the last ten years, making it the No. 1 tourism destination in South America. Buenos Aires is opening more boutique hotels each year, ensuring a place every year on lists such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of new hotels.
New Orleans: A longtime favorite for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, along with events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans was profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourism is the biggest source of employment in the city and a major factor to its economy, and the disaster made visitor numbers plummet. Louisiana’s recovery has been slow but steady, and major infrastructure improvements brought on by this year’s “Super Gras” have helped the Big Easy come back.
New York City: Visitors to the Big Apple have topped 50 million, spending billions of dollars in the city annually. While New York has never suffered from lack of tourists, the 1980s crack epidemic and surge in crime gave it an image of being a violent, dirty and dangerous city and visitor numbers dipped. Like Detroit, it also faced possible bankruptcy in 1975 and President Ford was infamously (mis)quoted to tell NYC to “drop dead.” The terrorist attacks in 2001 caused another slowdown in visitors, but it’s now one of the safest, most visited cities in the world.
Tokyo: While Tokyo was not as devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as other parts of Japan, it definitely felt the hurt with a sharp decline in tourism, major damage to national infrastructure, and radiation concerns. Foreign visitors are now exceeding the pre-disaster levels, though seismologists worry that an even bigger earthquake is due to hit Tokyo.
An honorable mention must go to the countries in the former Yugoslavia, especially Croatia and the cities of Belgrade and Sarajevo. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the popularity of the Dalmatian coast as a beach destination, or the battle-scarred Serbian capital as a nightlife hotspot? They aren’t quite seeing the same tourism numbers as the destinations above, but they should be on your travel radar. Istanbul and Beirut are also favorites for their many comebacks and reinventions, though the effects from current events are already being seen in the local tourism industries.
High Manhattan hotel prices ruining your summer travel plans? If you’d like to try urban camping — sleeping under the skyscrapers of New York City — you can try your luck for a spot at one of the city’s summer Family Camping sessions. The Urban Park Rangers lead programs in more than a dozen city parks in all five boroughs, including Manhattan’s Central Park (August 24) and Prospect Park (September 21) in Brooklyn. The campouts are all free, starting with an early evening hike, cookout with food provided (don’t expect anything fancy, but you might be surprised with s’mores) and even a tent — you need only bring sleeping bags. The catch? There’s a lot of competition to join, with only 30 tents available for each night. Each event is open to online registration for 24 hours, with the “winners” chosen by lottery and notified about two weeks in advance. Find all the details and get lucky here.
Where else can you pitch a tent without leaving the city? Here are a few other urban areas with camping options.Austin:Emma Long Park offers campsites for $10-25 per night, depending on utilities, in addition to the $5-10 park entrance fee charged to all visitors. Set beside Lake Austin, the Texas city park is less than a half-hour from downtown. Check out the our adventure guide to Austin for more ideas.
Berlin: An innovative use of “fallow” urban space, the Tentstation project is unfortunately not open this season, but you’ll find other options in and around Berlin to pitch a tent or park an RV, even with a group. In typical German efficiency, some are within a few minutes’ walk to public transportation.
Honolulu: The Hawaiian capital has over a dozen campsites, many on the beach with fishing and surfing opportunities and views to rival expensive Waikiki resorts. Camping permits are issued for 3 or 5 days, and cost $32 and $52, respectively. Interesting note: several of the campsites warn that “houseless encounters are likely,” so look out for beach bums.
Japan: One of the most notoriously pricey countries also has a strong tradition of urban camping. While not officially sanctioned, it’s tolerated and generally quite safe in public parks. It might be hard to actually pitch a tent in downtown Tokyo, but you’ll find many guides online to finding a place to sleep al fresco.
Would you want to camp in a city? Have you done any urban camping?
A 39,000-year-old woolly mammoth has gone on display in Yokohama, Japan.
Dubbed “Yuka,” the mammoth died at the age of 10 and was frozen in the Russian snow until it was discovered three years ago. Yuka is the best preserved example of her species, which went extinct across most of its range around 10,000 years ago. Isolated populations survived for centuries thereafter, as late as 4,000 years ago on Wrangel Island. Jack London even wrote a fictional short story about hunting a modern-day mammoth. It’s a fun read and very different than the fiction he’s generally remembered for.
Getting back to science, a Nature World News article on the woolly mammoth says that liquid blood was found in the corpse, bringing up the possibility of cloning. Several attempts have been made to clone the DNA of other mammoth carcasses, with no success.
We just made it through the summer solstice, and these next few hot months will have many of us running toward any available water sources to keep cool. It can be disappointing to arrive at our favorite watering hole and find it packed with people, but the theme park-goers in the video above from Tokyo Summerland don’t seem to mind sharing. In fact, there seems to be more humans than water in this wave pool. Although being so close to all those other bodies looks uncomfortable to me, in Japan, people are more used to having little-to-no personal space in public places – as evidenced by all those videos of trains being packed with people with a little help from station attendants.