Amezaiku is the Japanese art of candy, or "candy craft". Similarly to glass art, Amezaiku is created by heating sugar to a malleable temperature and then shaped, pulled, and stretched into beautiful and often intricate works of art. Common creations include insects, animals, and nature. Artists use their hands, along with special scissors, tweezers, and other tools in the shaping of Amezaiku. Amezaiku can even be seen in the streets, as artists sometimes tell a story with their art pieces or simply create the pieces in front of intrigued crowd. Children especially love seeing the artists at work, with favorite designs like dragons and other mythical creatures. People pick the design they want and are delighted to watch the artist quickly mold the pieces into shape.
Amezaiku is not only an art form, but also it is a piece of Japanese history. It all started in the Heian period when people would bring in the works of art as offerings for the temples in Kyoto. In the beginning of the Amezaiku making, many artisans made birds, which earned the name "candy bird." However, as creators began increasing the variety of designs the sold, the name changed to Amezaiku, or "candy craft". This form of art has been passed down for generations. Craftsmen each have their own way of doing Amezaiku. Sometimes the candy is cartoon-like and feature cute original characters. Other variations are amazingly realistic representations of nature. The application can also vary. Artists not only create figurines, but sometimes even centerpieces for a table. Unfortunately, Amezaiku is seeing a bit of a decline. However, some artisans have taken it upon themselves to continue the tradition and support the dying art.
Amezaiku is typically made from a sugar that is made from rice or potato starch, called Mizuame. The sugar is then heated up to around 90 degrees Celsius, or 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Artisans regulate the recipe for the most optimal looks. Food dye kneaded in for color and painted on for details such as the eyes. Sometimes, the artist would use air to create a balloon-like structure in a particular design. However, it is not allowed to use a straw and one's own breath, as it is seen as unhygienic. The sugary pieces are sometimes placed on a wooden stick for the creating process and the handling. These artists have to work with accuracy and speed, for the sugar hardens over a short period of time. Creating Amezaiku can be physically taxing. Craftsmen are required to lift and maneuver packages of sugar, kneed the sugar, and working quickly. Great detail and a steady hand is obvious in the designs.
TodayAmezaiku, although a very traditional form of art, can be seen in some modern forms as well. Sometimes, the sugar is formed into recognizable icons of pop culture such as Pikachu, Hello Kitty, or pop stars. Some artists travel and show their amazing talent in shows or fairs. Others start workshops to teach people a little about creating the art. Some like to buy these miniature forms of art for themselves or as a unique gift. These sweet treats are both pleasing to the palate and to the eye. This form of art has spread its influence around the world, drawing in people with its colorful designs and rich history.
Next time you find yourself in Japan, find a place that makes Amezaiku. Watch as the intricate art unfolds before your eyes in a beautiful display of craftsmanship and talent. You might even take home one of the sweet, sugary designs if the price is right.