Translated by Lester Somera
Japanese Encyclopedia: Amezaiku (Candy Artistry)
The art of Japanese candy craft, amezaiku, has delighted audiences for generations. We discuss its history, how the candy is made, as well as introduce places where visitors can try their hand at making amezaiku themselves.
Written by ニコ
Traditional Japanese candy craft artistry, known as amezaiku, delights people even today. This time, we would like to talk about its history and how artisans make the candy, and also introduce places where you can both see amezaiku being made and try out amezaiku for yourself.
Japanese Amezaiku: A Traditional Cultural Performance
Amezaiku refers to the technique of heating candy until it is soft and pliable, then creating a beautiful sculpture by stretching and shaping it by hand or with scissors before the candy cools and hardens. Amezaiku also refers to the created sculptures themselves. While the amezaiku sold at festivals can be eaten, they are also enjoyed as decorations.
It is thought that the original form of amezaiku was first seen in 8th century Kyoto, after it was imported from China. Amezaiku was then further refined during the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese cultural influences, later on in the 16th century.
During the Edo period, which began in the 17th century and lasted for upwards of 260 years, the country was blessed with peace, so local culture flourished. Artists who walked from town to town making amezaiku sculptures were an everyday sight, and it became a popular form of common entertainment. Historically in the West, amezaiku and sugar art developed as forms of confectionery craftsmanship, and even today, many pastry shops thrive by using these showy techniques. On the other hand, Japan’s amezaiku artists did street performances or temple festival programs, or used sculptures to attract customers to shops. If you had to say one way or the other, Japan’s amezaiku scene developed into more of a subculture than anything.
Currently, it is said that there are no more than a hundred people in Japan who can be called amezaiku masters. For that reason, amezaiku is considered a traditional art form, protected and refined by a limited group, to be passed down in detail to the next generation.
How Is Amezaiku Made
When an amezaiku master has candy in their hands, it transforms into a bird or animal in the blink of an eye. How is this possible? First, the artist takes a golf ball-sized lump of candy which has been heated to 80-90℃, introduces air into it through repeated pulling and bending, then kneads the candy until it loses its transparency and turns whitish.
Because this is traditionally done barehanded, amezaiku masters burn their hands repeatedly while they practice their craft. Once the amezaiku has reached the right glossiness and softness, the artist inserts a stick, then uses intuition and experience to decide just how to cut, stretch, bend, snip and squash the candy in order to quickly create the desired sculpture.
When an artist wants to add color to the sculpture, they mix red, blue and yellow food coloring into the candy to produce the color they want. The candy cools and hardens rapidly when exposed to air, so creating amezaiku is a race against time.
Amezaiku Artist Performances
There are amezaiku sculptures which are so beautiful that you could mistake them for glass or ceramic artwork. For example, at Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin in Tokyo Skytree Town, the elaborate koi and animal amezaiku sculptures on display are so stunning, you can hardly believe that they’re made from candy.
Here, you can order specially-made amezaiku sculptures as presents or novelty items. It would be fun to bring back a one-of-a-kind amezaiku as a souvenir from your Japan trip, but be very careful! Amezaiku sculptures are extremely fragile and easily broken.
Let’s Try To Make Amezaiku!
A Piece From Asakusa Amezaiku “Ameshin” from Edible Traditional Craftwork! Amezaiku Candy at Tokyo Skytree
At the workshop in Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin, as well as at another Tokyo shop, Amezaiku Yoshihara, you can try making amezaiku. If it’s exciting to look at amezaiku art, it’s even more of a thrill just thinking about a chance to make a sculpture for yourself. How about learning the basics of amezaiku artistry alongside your family and friends, and shaping wonderful memories together?
Amezaiku is a treat to look at and a delight to make, and is somewhat different from your everyday candy. Try out this traditional art form, then think about its craftsmanship and ties to Edo period culture as you enjoy your candy.