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Friday, June 29, 2012

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Tasty pics: Photographing food is especially popular in Japan and other parts of Asia. YOSHIAKI MIURA

The first bite is with the camera


Staff writer

When Misako Fukuda, 40, went to a cherry-blossom viewing party at Tokyo's Inokashira Park in April, she did not know the other 30 people who had gathered nor their professions. The only thing she knew about them was what they ate or cooked every day — through SnapDish, a smartphone social-networking app.

Each day, Fukuda, a Tokyo-based freelance Web director, chronicles her dietary life with iPhone snapshots. Before she takes a bite, she takes a photo of the dish and quickly uploads it via SnapDish to share with her friends.

"It's part of my life log," says Fukuda, who has been keeping her photographic food diary since she got an iPhone in 2009.

Fukuda is one of millions of people who are obsessed with food photos and sharing their culinary experiences with virtual and real friends on the Web. In the old days, many shied away from taking pictures of the food at restaurants for fear of being rude, but it has become such an everyday tool for socializing in Japan that people now take photos of anything from rice balls at a convenience store to the culinary arts at three-Michelin-star restaurants.

"In the past, I did feel it wasn't kosher to take such pictures, especially at fine restaurants," says Moto Tomita, a Japanese-American executive for a luxury brand.

"I have a circle of friends who really enjoy sharing such culinary experiences from other countries," says Tomita, who moved to Tokyo from Silicon Valley four years ago. "Some live in rural areas, where they don't have regular access to such cuisine."

As smartphone users become more savvy, apps catering to food bloggers, such as SnapDish, have started to sprout in Japan. Unlike Instagram or other photo-sharing apps, SnapDish is exclusively designed for people wanting to share food photos.

"Some don't want to be labeled as being obsessed with food by their friends on Facebook, where they might be connected with their bosses. I wanted to create a community for those food lovers," says Zen Funada, the CEO of Tokyo-based Vuss Inc., which operates SnapDish.

Just as Instagram's tools can make photos look more artistic, SnapDish makes the food in photos look more appetizing, with color and light correcting functions. The Rare function lightly retouches the photos, Medium makes the color more vivid and Well-done applies the maximum correction and effects to the images.

Since the app's launch in May 2011, users have grown to 250,000. The app is available in English, Japanese and two forms of Chinese. Some 30 percent of its users are overseas, mostly from Asian countries such as China, Taiwan and Singapore.

Willin Low, a Singapore-based SnapDish user who has posted more than 1,000 photos since the launch, says he feels food represents community in Asia.

"I think it is very much an Asian thing," says Low, a Singapore-based lawyer turned chef and restaurateur. "It is traditional here when eating to place all the dishes in the center of the table to be shared by everyone, rather than to be served individual dishes. So I think culturally we like to share our food with others, even if it means virtually via the Internet." Low was named as one of the world's top emerging culinary stars by fellow contemporary chefs in the Phaidon Press book "Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs."

Fukuda says that sharing her food experiences has helped expand her circle of friends.

"Food is such a happy topic for everybody," she says. "By sharing photos, we feel as if we were there to break bread with them."


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