Konapun: tiny fake food as an exercise in total futility

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So here I am, watching a file transfer flick through my terminal window when I think maybe I'll check on the comments from my post on tiny plastic food from yesterday. Nestled in the responses, like an Easter egg in the grass, was a suggestion from BB reader scifijazznik to go check out something called "konapun".

I saw a YouTube preview of this yesterday, because there are actually more videos done by the same RRcherrypie who posted those Rement videos. At the time I didn't understand what it was. Turns out it is fantastically bizarre.

This one video—and there are hundreds on YouTube—raises so many questions. What exactly compels a person to make a tiny fake hamburger? Why put the little plastic trays into a holder if it doesn't actually do anything? Why do I feel a sense of seriousness in all of these videos? What exactly is that powder?

And "what is that powder" is one hell of a question. That powder appears repeatedly throughout all the videos, and when mixed with water it apparently can make ANYTHING. Here's the powder forming pseudo-sorbet:

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Here it is making cookies:

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It's like some kind of space-age wonder material, except, as the videographer notes in each video, it's not actually edible.

The mind boggles. My only solace is to imagine the powder is crushed spirits and concentrated uselessness.


  1. ‘pseudo-sorbet’ is now in my lexicon. i’m also now wondering about ‘crypto-sorbet’ .. surely it must exist.

  2. As a kid I built a lot of tiny plastic airplanes that couldn’t actually fly, which is pretty much the same thing as making tiny plastic food that you can’t actually eat, really.

    Now I make tiny airplanes that do fly, but that you can’t ride in. They’re maybe less ‘useless’, but not fundamentally different, I don’t think.

    1. Except when we make tiny airplanes that can’t fly or reconstruct detailed trains that can’t carry anything, we are making models of things we can’t actually build in real life. With minimal extra effort these foods could be ACTUALLY edible, and then it would go from being creepy-weird to virally-cute.

    2. The mini deep-fryer is what made me drop my jaw.

      If you wanted to have the true konapun experience with a model airplane–and I built a lot of them as a high-schooler myself–you would have to put it together in a model factory. If it were a B-17 Flying Fortress, you might also have to involve a brigade of miniature Rosie the Riveter figures, for whom you would also have to assemble model rooming houses, and treat to miniature USO dances. Then, after completing your model, you would wait for the toy soldiers to come back & take the Rosie dolls’ jobs, and they’d all move to tiny suburbs and raise little plastic Boomers.

  3. The powder is sodium alginate, popular in fancy molecular gastronomy kitchens for making things like pseudo-roe and gel noodles.

  4. who didn’t make play-doh food as a kid? of course you can eat it, it’s non-toxic so they say…

  5. ‘Kona’ means powder, but it’s not the same powder in each case – it’s sodium alginate base, but modified for each fake food. For instance the first packet in the sorbet video reads ‘Sherbet Konapun (Melon)’. So it’s even weirder than you think – it’s an entire line of ‘toys’ from Bandai which replicate real food. For no other purpose than the Japanese love of tiny things.

  6. i don’t know why but i’m kind of obsessed with these videos, have been for a while. there are several different accounts that are devoted exclusively to this but the one you posted is my favourite.

  7. What need in an individual does this fulfill? It’s like going through the motions of making or building something, but it’s so predetermined and simple. It’s not even like doing a puzzle. I don’t get it, unless it’s meant for very young children.
    Even PlayDoh has more variability in playing with it.

  8. I feel (in some non-specific way) that this is related to the ubiquitous plastic food found outside of Japanese restaurants. Plus, you know, a big helping of “Cute”. Tiny = Cute Otherwise, it is just model-making, which has been around for a long time.

  9. Many Americans are fond of building tiny choo-choo train layouts, complete with tiny fake car crashes and tiny fake soot.

    Is this just the Japanese version of that?

  10. “futility” and “uselessness”?

    I take it you’ve never assembled a model car/plane/boat/figure on a rainy day?

    1. I’m thinking it was more an irony laden existential commentary than a snipe at hobbies.

    2. I take it you’ve never assembled a model car/plane/boat/figure on a rainy day?

      I think at least part of the reason for the bafflement is the fact that on any given rainy day, most of us could repair to our own real kitchens and grill up a real burger in about the same amount of time, and possibly for less money. And then eat it, too.

      Model trains and airplanes and dolls and action figures etc. are fun at least in part because they allow one to exercise one’s imagination building and playing on a smaller scale with things that are generally beyond one’s reach in reality. My own kids have a toy kitchen with fake food, and they play with it because they can’t play with the real kitchen stuff (for the predictable reasons of scale, safety, and food wastage). But it just seems more than passing strange for grown adults to play with toy food-preparation implements and foodstuffs, when the real stuff is readily accessible and not even all that much bigger. (A full-size kitchen would fit pretty well in your… uh… kitchen, whereas a full-size space shuttle, battleship, or railroad might require a bit more real estate.)

      Hey, if people find it fun, then they certainly shouldn’t pay any attention to what I think of their hobby. But I’m with Dean: what a pointless misallocation of one’s recreational yen, sez I.

        1. Except shut-ins, I suppose. And in my neighborhood we could probably fill the freeway with just the lefthanded redhead Democrats, but we’re known for our traffic issues.

          Still, even though I freely admit you’re right, I’m still amazed that there’s a sizable market for this stuff. I might have expected a handful of DIY people engaged in this hobby, not a glut of manufactured product lines to fill this niche.

          But I don’t get out much. It is a wide, wide world out there.

  11. It’s like if the Play-Doh hamburger maker set took steroids and then auditioned for a movie.

  12. The next step is to create a video game were you control a person who makes tiny plastic food.

  13. I dunno. Little girls and their fake tea parties come to mind. I think the play aspect is the formative processes involved as opposed to the final product. I feel the same way about origami; I enjoy the process but the finished product is just another piece of paper to clutter my house. :D

  14. It’s not useless at all. Think of it as a simulation/modeling game. Perfect for kids and make-believe tea parties.

    Yes, one can critique the somewhat rote aspect of the toy. But that’s not inherently harmful either; children are exposed to all sorts of toys.

  15. I’m just surprised how much of it is just plastic. So, you make the hamburger, but not the bun, lettuce or tomato?

  16. Oh my God! Look at all the tiny plastic food! I want to turn the entire universe into my tiny plastic kingdom!

    I will have tiny plastic cities with tiny plastic power grids. There will be tiny plastic houses with tiny plastic sofas and tiny plastic light fixtures that turn on. There will be tiny plastic libraries filled with shelves upon shelves of the great tiny plastic books with tiny plastic pages with tiny plastic words. The tiny plastic Earth will rotate around a tiny plastic sun.

    There will be tiny plastic fields of tiny plastic grass fed by tiny plastic streams with tiny plastic fish. There will be tiny plastic cabins surrounded by tiny plastic forests. Tiny plastic roads will lead to tiny plastic farms where there will be tiny plastic chickens eating tiny plastic worms.

    There will be tiny plastic slaughterhouses that produce tiny plastic packaged meats that go out in tiny plastic trucks to tiny plastic groceries. Tiny plastic people will expend their tiny plastic lives unseen in meaningless tiny plastic toil and boredom.

    Tiny plastic storm clouds will float above my tiny plastic ecosystems to feed the tiny plastic creatures with tiny plastic rain.

    Tiny plastic windows will glow with tiny plastic yellow light in the middle of the tiny plastic night in a universe without sound.

    All else will be silent in my tiny plastic world! There will be only silence and the sound of my own breath! Perhaps I will laugh! Perhaps I will weep! There will be nothing more!

  17. Why practice origami? It’s just folding paper.

    It’s an exercise in perfection – sure, it looks easy to pour this in that and roll it up and BAM you have food, but I believe this is way harder than it looks, at least for beginners. It probably takes a good deal of foresight, dedication, and skill to make a fake food that actually looks like real food. And some of those videos DO look just like real food (albeit tiny).

    At the end of the day, why does there need to be a reason? Why isn’t the hobby justification enough?

  18. This is only weird because an adult is doing it and filming it. It’s the same as any other toy or doll besides that.

  19. The “cooking” process is what baffles me. What in the world is that liquid that you “cook” these in, and why does it bubble. I don’t think I’d feel safe touching it without protection.

    1. Looks like hydrogen peroxide to me (1.5% or 3%?)

      Any time I use hydrogen peroxide (including cleaning invisalign trays), it performs the same way, bubbles up and kills germs. I’m not sure what in the alginate causes it to bubble, and it might not be peroxide at all, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

  20. What seems most odd to me about this is our giant chef is right-handed but stirs in a clockwise motion. Weird.

    1. I’m right handed and tend to stir in a clock-wise direction. Am I weirder than I thought?

  21. Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran has studied how the mind works and his theories can actually perfectly explain why we find these videos of miniature food so appealing.

    According to Ramachandran the brain has memorized an image or an idea of the things it knows. Now when the brain is confronted with a visual sensation (called a stimulus) that fits an image in the “neurological database” the brain recognizes the match. The recognizing itself is a chemical process in which certain neurotransmitters are released which appears in the mind as an emotion.

    Simplified or abstract pictures often fit the images in the database extremely well, hence they are called super-stimuli. Super-stimuli are rewarded with a stronger emotion. Therefore watching the miniature food is very appealing to us, especially to the ones who have been to Japan and recognize the dishes. For others it might feel puzzling, because their brain is searching its database without being able to make a satisfying connection.

  22. It’s a zen thing. Predetermined motion and activity, both occupying and freeing the mind. Same reason why I don’t like cataloging, but like cataloging. Or sorting bunches of unorganized files into organized folders. Or alphabetizing. Or watching Bob Ross. Oh what serene joy, oh what sublime bliss.

  23. My young daughter and I are equally fascinated by these, and wish the kits were available in North America.

    I see nothing odd about this hobby — as the first comment suggests, this seems to offer the same creative and meditative benefits of the more traditional bonsai tending or flower arranging. I can imagine someone collecting and making all the kits, and then displaying the finished creations in a display case. (One question: Are those sizzling sounds made for the video, or do the little toy appliances make the sounds?)

  24. Even more than bonsai, it resembles bonkei (盆景), miniature landscapes.

    Obviously it’s not just a Japanese trait, but they do love it. You get ships in a bottle or miniature painting or model trains in Western history, but Japanese ceramics decoration is over the top in its detail. They really took to scale models after the war; I had super deformed( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_deformed ) Tamiya model planes before I ever saw a Japanese cartoon. Making dioramas with scale models of giant robots and taking photos of them was a big hobby in the Seventies and Eighties. Models of cartoon and game characters are still really popular.

    @ Anon:

    “For Christmas that year, Julian gave Sissy a miniature Tyrolean village. The craftsmanship was remarkable. There was a tiny cathedral whose stained-glass windows made fruit salad of sunlight. There was a plaza and ein Biergarten. The Biergarten got quite noisy on Saturday nights. There was a bakery that smelled always of hot bread and strudel. There was a town hall and a police station, with cutaway sections that revealed standard amounts of red tape and corruption. There were little Tyroleans in leather britches, intricately stitched, and, beneath the britches, genitalia of equally fine workmanship. There were ski shops and many other interesting things, including an orphanage. The orphanage was designed to catch fire and burn down every Christmas Eve. Orphans would dash into the snow with their nightgowns blazing. Terrible. Around the second week of January, a fire inspector would come and poke through the ruins, muttering, “If they had only listened to me, those children would be alive today.” — Tom Robbins

  25. Reminds me of an old SNL skit waaaaay back where Woody Harrelson is a famous conceptual artist who really just makes mundane kitsch. His first interview is on the tiny food sculptures he makes. Smaller than this! And he has to repeatedly state to the GMA-style hosts that the food is not to be eaten.

    Then i think he moved on to making driftwood sculptures…

  26. Ahhh! The very, *very* quiet grilling sound is horrifying.

    Also, it reminds me of: “Just cut them up like regular chickens.”


  27. As a miniature enthusiast, I have to respond to the idea that the love of minis, and particular this Konapun phenomenon, is futile and pointless. It isn’t. This is best argued through a quote from a pair of miniature enthusiasts in a series of “tiny interviews with people who make small things” in a recent issue of Locale. The quote is as follows: “miniature things make us feel good because they trigger our primal sense of cute. People talk about the sex drive as primary in terms of the survival of the species. We think there’s a second drive: our sense of cute. Cute is the vehicle that drives our will to live, and, perhaps more importantly, our will to nurture. The miniature is the aesthetic and tactile seed that grows into the emergy of nurturing, of adoration of ‘aaaaw.’ For that reason it’s a glory and it’s supremely useful.”
    – Cooper Battersby and Emily Vey Duke

    Very well said! I also want to thank the author for bringing Konapun to my attention. This brings the love for mini to a whole new level because it involves the process of creation, which is, in and of itself, mini. Very therapeutic to watch too :)

  28. This is disturbingly hypnotic to watch. I watched five of them in a row, for no reason. And I’m not even that bored. I’m a little worried about how interesting I find it.

  29. To the cries of “Why not make real food in your real kitchen, Mr adult!?” I say:

    That way lies either the waste much larger quantities of food, or eating it and getting fatter.

    Never mind that making something very small is an exercise in the challenging fine motions that are not present when making a regular hamburger/whatever.

    What I’m seeing here is like the cooking equivalent of painting miniature figures. Why paint a very small statue? After all, you’re an adult, you have an entire HOUSE to put your junk in instead of just that one shelf in your bedroom. So why not paint larger statues?

    Because it’s very hard to control your brush for very small movements, which makes it harder to do than painting merely “small” statues, or large statues. It’s a very hard task that requires absolute control over your hands, tight focus, and a clear mind. It makes EXCELLENT hobby material, as it drives all other distractions from your mind by necessity. Otherwise you can’t paint the pupils in on your 45mm tall wizard without smearing them…

    Because very small statues are easier to store in bulk, meaning if you end up with 400 of them after a while, they still fit on your shelves, or in a couple of suitcases under your bed.

    Because little things ARE cute.

    Why do people build little model ships in bottles? because it’s HARDER that way.

    Making real hamburgers in your real kitchen is cheating. :)

  30. I definitely had the sensation where once you start watching one of these, you can’t stop it, and you don’t realize it. However, I’m not drawn to watch more. I do understand the appeal.

    That said, this is a lot less “weird and creepy” (assuming you think it’s so at all, which I don’t) when it’s cute asian lady hands. The video last time had a guy’s hands, and that made it seem like it would be a little weird to some (a stupid double standard… man-bags and purses and so on are a lot more accepted for men in Asia too, though, as an example).

    It’s always fascinating to compare our culture to Japan, though. In the west model building (airplanes, train layouts etc.) is not strange (though only certain kinds of people do it), but being into Japanese models *is* strange! In Japan, nothing is really off-limits, and even making/painting detailed models of scantily clad or nude anime characters is very popular – and not just something you keep to yourself, either, though I’m sure many in Japan do find some of this stuff weird and the people who do it weirdos :)

  31. Maybe a part of the point of this is to make strange videos for people to watch. It’s… actually awesome. I’m starting to enjoy watching these.

    Strangely, I have exactly the opposite reaction than penguinchris and am weirdly more interested in watching men amuse themselves this way.

    Wait… that didn’t sound right.

  32. Well, obviously if it were a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time and money, nobody would do it. But some people get something out of it.

    I like miniature things. No, scratch that. I genuinely love miniatures. It’s nifty that someone could make such tiny, intricate replicas of things, and the mundane nature of the things involved does not alter that. It’s great that the fries even look realistically greasy.

    But what blows my mind is that the goal does not seem to be a perfect tiny replica of an item, but rather to (as nearly as possible) replicate a process. You can’t just buy a packet of wee faux french fries, but you have to mix up the powder, mold yourself a potato, slice it into strings, and dump ’em in a bubbling fryer filled with fake oil that comes from a different packet of powder. And then you have your fake fries. What then? To the display case with ’em? Or do they degrade fairly quickly, like regular fries would? And when you wanna do it again, you gotta wash all the utensils and buy new packets of powder?

    And you don’t even get to eat any of it?

    When we were kids, my sister had a life-size Barbie head that was intended for styling. Came with little tubes of makeup and combs and stuff. You could even cut its hair, but of course you couldn’t do that too many times. You’d run out of cuttable hair around the same time the makeup sticks ran out. This Konapun thing creeps me out even more than that limited-use Barbie head. It’s like a Play-Doh Fun Factory that requires single-use Play-Doh. Jeez, now I gotta know: does anyone keep their Konapun food, or is it meant to be thrown away after it’s been made and lovingly photographed?

    I do hate to be the ranting guy about this, but man, just the fact that it’s replicating such an unbearably mundane, everyday, accessible-to-all process, that of preparing food in a well-stocked kitchen… I mean, it makes a lot more sense if it’s intended for children, but even then, if a kid is sophisticated enough to want to go through such complicated processes involving precise measurements and very precise slicing and manipulating, then that kid should do just fine whipping up Sunday dinner on a grown-up Gaffers & Sattler.

    Picture if you will a 1/8 scale model of a Pontiac Aztek. A perfect replica in every way possible, down to the 4-stroke water-cooled gasoline engine and wee climate controls. Not radio controlled or anything, just small. Too small for anyone to drive, too realistic in its construction for remote control, but if you reach in with an appropriate screwdriver bit, you can turn the key and start it. And of course, you can change the oil, adjust the alignment, gap the spark plugs, rotate the tires, all that fun stuff. But you can’t drive it, and until somebody builds a 1/8 scale humanoid robot with sufficiently fine motor control, nobody else can either. And when you put it on your shelf and look at it, you think, “There’s my Pontiac Aztek. Ain’t it amazingly teensy? Ugly as sin, sure, but you can actually change its oil!”

    That’s wherefrom rises the sense of futility for me.

  33. I found myself completely enthralled by these videos, especially by the magic of the sodium alginate powder (thanks jere7my for naming it!). The fake deep fat fryer still just blows my mind. I will never cease to be amazed by the endless forms of human diversion.

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