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Tea Leaves

Keeping it unreal in Japan

Do the country's many theme parks imitate life, or vice versa?

A man poses on a warrior horse at War Land, a sprawling theme park commemorating one of Japan's most decisive battles, fought in Gifu prefecture in the autumn of 1600. (All photos by Stephen Mansfield)

You don't have to look very far to see evidence of Japan's facsimile culture. The popularity of artificial lawns, and the ubiquity of plastic food samples in restaurant windows, go with a whole slew of inauthentic but well-crafted convenience-driven products. The most recent item to hit the market is a collapsible tea ceremony house, made of reinforced cardboard.

Then there is the phenomenon of "duplitecture," buildings bearing a remarkable resemblance to iconic structures overseas. One striking example is the soaring NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building in Tokyo's Shinjuku area, its stepped-pyramid upper floors reminiscent of early 20th-century art deco-infused American skyscrapers. The nearby Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, recalling the vertical egg or ellipsoid form of Norman Foster's Swiss Re Group headquarters in London, better known to Londoners as the Gherkin, is a similar example of unabashed imitation.

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