Ceci n’est pas une image

If you look very closely at food packaging in Japan, you will often find the following disclaimer in tiny print: 写真はイメージです shashin wa imeeji desu—literally “the photograph is an image”. Another variant is 画像はイメージです ”the image is an image”.

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I was mystified for a long time; what, exactly, was this supposed to mean? Of course it is an image. What else could a photograph be? And yet, redundant as it may seem, it is ubiquitous. For some reason, manufacturers feel the need to include it on their packaging. Do they fear that without this guidance, their customers will attempt to eat the photographic representation, mistaking it for the food inside?

After much discussion with Japanese people, I gradually came to understand the meaning. The word imeeji, which is the English word “image” borrowed into Japanese, has various connotations like “impression”, “artist’s impression” or “idealised image”. So the intention of the mysterious sentence is to warn us that the contents may not necessarily be identical to the picture.

Here’s a more usefully specific version of the disclaimer from the makers of Choco Pie: it tells us that the items in the photo are a little larger than life-size.

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Ieva—Bird cherry

There is a row of 11 bird cherry trees lining a section of Lad Lane in Dublin. I walk past them on my way to and from work on the days when I travel by Luas (other days I cycle).

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They seem a little out of place. Lad Lane is an unprepossessing spot; a back alley running along the rear of the Georgian houses on Fitzwilliam Street, it’s a handy short cut for office workers in the morning and evening and the scene of unsavoury activities after dark. Not the kind of place where you would expect anyone to have planted a row of trees. But there they are.

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And every year at the start of May, they mark the arrival of summer by bursting into fabulous bloom, their sweet honey-almond scent hanging heavy in the air, transcending for a few days the drabness of their setting.

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On those few mornings, as I hurry along on my way to work, I catch the scent and look up to admire the display, and my spirit is lifted.

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