Amezaiku: The Almost Lost Japanese Art of Candy Carving

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For anyone who has used the phrase “too pretty to eat”, we have a new benchmark for you: amezaiku, the Japanese art of sugar sculpture. Unlike other forms of sculpture, amezaiku is not formed by the chipping of a block. Instead, artists use their hands, tweezers, and scissors to shape the molten rice malt (mizuame) in amazingly realistic animal shapes and designs. They only have a few minutes to pull, pinch, and fold a dollop of nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit candy onto a stick; longer and the mizuame hardens and becomes immovable. Finally, the artists paint the shapes with an edible dye to enhance the patterns. The end result is a lollipop like no other.

Amezaiku is an ancient Japanese tradition dating back to the Heian period (794-1185 CE), when people left hardened taffy creations as temple offerings. During the Edo period (1603-1868), the confection became more popular thanks to street vendors, who feasted passers-by with candy, stories and music. Songs and poems celebrated art; however, they offered few detailed descriptions that enabled future generations to pursue the craft.

But that hasn’t stopped dedicated artisans from filling in the gaps. In his shop in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, Shinri Tezuka, 31, shapes lifelike creations of candy from goldfish, koi carp, frogs, octopuses and other animals as translucent as glass and almost as fragile. He also encourages hobbyists to try their hand at ancient crafts by fashioning a relatively simplistic bunny when they join his public classes.

Tezuka discovered art over ten years ago, at the age of 20. “At the time, it had declined to the point that there was no longer a teaching environment at all, and it was on the verge of extinction,” he told Mental Floss. “There was a strong feeling that it would be a shame to let him die out… He had a long history, was very attractive and had been loved for a long time; I felt a strong sense of duty to lead this tradition.

Using literature, old artisans’ video footage, and rehearsals, Tezuka learned the art of amezaiku on his own. “The skill of moving my hands accurately is important, but the skill of observing an object and grasping its shape accurately is more important,” he says. “A lot of people might be able to create decent work if they had a full day. But you have to do amezaiku in five minutes. This is the hardest part.

Today, artists estimate that there are only about 100 amezaiku practitioners in all of Japan. They are known as takumi– skilled craftsmen who occupy a place of honor in Japanese society. “Although ‘candy making’ may seem less than noble as a profession, it is a serious art with highly skilled artisans practicing it,” the food historian and author of Japanese cookbooks Elizabeth Andoh. “Using crafts as a focal point to build a commercially, community is not unique to this craft or community. It is a fairly common practice in Japan. [and has been] for millennia.



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