Amezaiku: Japan’s Incredible Animal-Shaped Candy Art

Amezaiku (飴細工) is traditional Japanese candy art. Making the incredibly detailed candies isn’t easy, as the material must be quickly molded by hand when it is still extremely hot! The best amezaiku artists can create unbelievably realistic-looking animal shapes, and some artisans also double as street performers who perform magic tricks and tell stories along with their candy craft entertainment. Read on to learn more about this traditional craft that becomes increasingly rarer in Japan every year.

History

The history of amezaiku dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), when the candy art was used for offerings at temples in Kyoto. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), the craft spread beyond temples, when many forms of street performance began to flourish in Japan. It was also during this time that the main ingredient mizuame became widely available. Mizuame (水飴) translates literally to “water candy” and is a clear, thick, sticky liquid that is made by converting starch to sugars. Mizuame is produced in a very similar fashion to corn syrup and is very similar in taste.

By the end of Edo period, amezaiku had become the artistic craft that it is today.

Wirgman, Charles Candy Vendor 1877
oil・board 25.5×35.0 Tokyo National Museum

Centuries ago, candy vendors used to carry all of their various tools inside a single box that would they sit on while they worked. Originally, amezaiku artisans used only a small amount of candy on the end of a reed stem. Thy would enlarge and shape the candy by blowing in air, in a technique that is very similar to glass-blowing.

Some artisans today recreate this ancient technique by using a rubber pump instead of blowing into the candy, as this method was actually outlawed in the 1970s due to the fact that it was unhygienic. However, other than that change, the way the candy is …continue reading