CNN  — 

Some of the food in Japan is enjoyed when its ultra-fresh – premium sushi or sashimi has an eat-by date of minutes not days. Paradoxically, some of the best food in Japan can be several years old.

Not that you’d eat it. It’s made of plastic.

Meals molded from synthetic materials are common sights in storefronts across the country – and in Japanese restaurants in other parts of Asia.

A lot goes into the creation of these uncannily realistic samples designed to whet the appetite of customers or help tourists who can’t recognize a single character on the Japanese-only menus.

There’s a whole art industry behind them that could rival the efforts of fine dining chefs.

From delicately textured shiso leaves and breaded cutlets to glistening bolognese sauces, the model meals are all handcrafted.

Manufacturers produce each of the dish’s components separately, down to every single grain of rice.

They were once made with wax, but plastic is now the ingredient of choice as it’s more durable. Restaurants can also send in photos to have their models made to order and perfectly replicated.

Fake food doesn’t come cheap. A single dish costs about $100. Expensive, but at least it’s not fattening.