Visitors to Amezaiku Yoshihara are immediately assailed by the sweet aroma that fills the candy shop. The store sells about 100 kinds of amezaiku products, each elaborately shaped into animals or flowers.
Amezaiku, a traditional craft of making artistic confectionery, has enchanted people for centuries. Although the pieces have an attractive simplicity, it is obvious they have been made with exquisite skill. It is a great experience to watch the dexterous manufacturing process.
Takahiro Yoshihara, an amezaiku artist who operates the shop, shapes the candy into various forms using only his hands and traditional spring-loaded Japanese scissors. He heats the material until it is soft, places it on the tip of a stick and then shapes it by stretching it with his fingers and cutting the form with the scissors. Although it is heated up to 80 C, it quickly cools and hardens, so he has to work quickly.
Yoshihara showed me how to make the mythical flying horse Pegasus.
The candy material has to be heated and mixed with food dye, then rolled into a ball and placed on the end of a stick.
To form the head, the candy must be stretched with the fingers. The ears and the mane are shaped with the scissors, which are also used to make the wings before they are stretched out with the fingers so it looks as if they are flapping. The legs are shaped with the fingers so that they bend, giving the mythical animal the appearance that it is flying.
The whole process took only three minutes.
A parakeet candy made by Yoshihara looked like the real bird.
"Birds are regular motifs," he said. "I've heard amezaiku used to be called 'bird candy.'"
Candy products in the shape of such familiar animals as dogs and cats are also popular. He also makes candies in the shape of pet animals at the request of owners if they bring photos of these animals to the store.
The store attracts many women in their 20s to 40s, who want to buy birthday presents or gifts for some other purpose. Recently, the number of male customers has been increasing, Yoshihara said.
A rabbit holding a heart-shaped plate could be considered as a return gift for White Day on March 14, when Japanese men often give gifts to women who gave them something for Valentine's Day. If they like, male customers can have a message written on the plate.
Some palm-size products cost between 1,000 and 2,000 yen (NZ$13 to $27), and many of the items on sale seem to be too beautiful to be eaten. If you want to have them for ornaments, they should be left in their store packages. Once the candies are exposed to the air, they absorb moisture and melt easily.
Yoshihara said his products' "best before" date is one month in summer and three to four months in winter. People should be careful when eating products that have pointed parts, he added.
Amezaiku art became popular among people during the Edo period (1603-1867).
"[Amezaiku art] can entertain children and attract adults because of their delicacy," Yoshihara said.
It is not surprising that his store attracts many foreign tourists, who appreciate his skilled handiwork in crafting such beautiful pieces of candy.
Amezaiku Yoshihara provides workshops on Sundays for up to six people. Reservations are required.
Participants work on a different given motif each week, such as a rabbit, dolphin or elephant. They make several practice pieces to learn the skills and then make a final piece to take home. The hourlong event costs 2,500 yen.
Many women in their 20s and 30s and families with children participate.
"If you make your own piece, you can better appreciate the charm of amezaiku," Yoshihara said.