Sugar sculptures, candy art, or more historically, amezaiku — call it what you will, this traditional, hand-crafted skill creates a tantalizing sensory tussle between sight and taste. Those fish, dragons or fantasy creations look impressive, beautiful, surprisingly realistic, yet turn away if you have a sweet tooth. Surely it would be a crime against anyone’s aesthetic sensibility to actually eat them?
Tokyo-based Shinri Tezuka is a master craftsman in the increasingly obscure folk art of amezaiku, which has persisted in Japan since it was imported from China into 8th century Kyoto. A perfect blend of the right temperature — around 90°C — the right ingredients and the right consistency makes the ideal base for the kneading and pulling necessary to create these temporal works of art. The whole act of genius must be done within minutes. Firstly, the substance is formed into a ball. Tezuka mounts this onto a stick to be shaped and pinched into the required form before it begins to cool and solidify.
These gorgeous and potentially delicious creations may be rendered swiftly in skilled hands, though how long they last will depend on the strength of your self will — and perhaps your stomach. They are edible after all, and though OK, sugar is a preservative, your visual appetite may win out for so long that they are way past their “use by” date by the time you wish to succumb to temptation. Are these sweets, or just a very trying way to test out our ability to abstain? If only they were made from glass! Though perhaps the less art-driven among you would beg to disagree, while happily munching down on an exquisite, miniature Koy carp.
27 year-old Tezuka passes on his mastery of the art by organizing special one-off events and also workshops to inspire others to practice, or merely to appreciate this skilled folk art form. He also opened ameshin, his bespoke shop in Tokyo, just one of two retail outlets of this specialist art, where he makes and sells his brightly colored and sculpted candy confections. There is around a five minute window of opportunity in amezaiku craftsmanship before the molten syrup solidifies and part of the appeal of this intriguing artistic pursuit is the speed with which inanimate globs of starch seem to take on life and animation under the hands of singularly skilled artisans.
“If we’re asked whether amezaiku is an important part of Japanese culture or not, I would say making it an important part of Japanese culture is my job,” Tezuka said.
The tradition of sculpting translucent sugar into lovely works of art actually originated in Shan S. Ichyanagi’s native land of China. Also known as the Candy Artist, he is carrying on this dying art, wherein few practitioners pass on the tradition, worldwide. Ichyanagi uses scissors and blocks of hot corn syrup to sculpt enticingly colored and delicious artifacts. His creations are less hyperreal than those of Shinri Tezuka, with more of a sweet and pretty appearance. This is in fact rather convenient if the object of the exercise is primarily delight in seeing something that is sure to titillate the taste buds and just waiting to be enjoyed.