Takahiro Mizuki is a talented Japanese artist who specializes in Japanese Candy Sculpting “Amezaiku”, which is a traditional Japanese folk art of sculpting candy into a variety of shapes as animals and other characters.
It is said that even in Japan, there may be only handful people still practice this hundreds-year-old art form since the Edo period and it’s known as a “Japanese art of the moment”.
Takahiro Mizuki is one of few Amezaiku practitioners in Japan. He can magically sculpt an object like birds, dolphins and other characters, in less than 3 minutes by using a pair of tiny scissors. “It’s some of the most difficult material to work with.” Consider, he says, “the intense temperature to which sugar syrup must be boiled before being stretched and pulled by hand. And then there’s pressure to work quickly before the sugar cools and hardens.”
Sculpting involves many steps. First, glutinous starch syrup is boiled candy until it becomes dough-like and transparent. When it’s time, the material is heated over charcoal, making the candy very pliable. Then the material is divided into small portions and pulled and kneaded.
The techniques of Amezaiku can be roughly described as cutting, bending, stretching, pinching, and flattening. Some of these techniques are often combined and done simultaneously with fingers and scissors. One of the characteristics of candy as material is that it pulls and stretches beautifully, and when this characteristic is utilized to create natural curves, it gives an animal-like appearance and creates beautiful looking work. Once get started shaping, there is no minute allowed to stop or redo until finishing, as the material soon gets cold and hard to shape.
Contact with the air during this process produces a pure-white color. The animal shapes must be formed quickly, using tiny scissors and fingers, at the tip of a chopstick. The artist pinches, pulls and bends the material creating an animal shape, be it bird, horse or dragon. Red, yellow and blue food colors are used for decoration.
Originally, Amezaiku artisans used only a small amount of candy on the end of a reed stem, and enlarged and shaped it by blowing in air, similar to glass-blowing. And Miuzki sometimes uses this ancient technique by using a rubber pump instead. The final product makes this art one of the most pleasurable to watch — and to eat. Two former U.S. first ladies, Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton, can attest to the enjoyment and taste of these treats.
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1971. After graduating from university, Mizuki worked as a local government official before becoming an Amezaiku-shi in his 20s. He has been an Amezaiku-shi for over 20 years, and continues to travel all over the world throughout the year to give demonstrations. He has visited 11 countries for demonstrations, for a total of 26 times. His activities have been covered by international media, and his work has been listed in an authoritative French book on candy crafts from around the world.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News Japan, Mizuki shared his inspiration for inspiration for Traditional Japanese Candy Sculpturing” I didn’t know anything about Amezaiku until the age of my mid-twenties, simply because there was no chance to witness it around me. And the very first time I watched Amezaiku was on TV. It was a very short time of a TV program, only for ten seconds of its ending, but it fascinated me enough to make me move. I was lucky, because I could soon find a festival which I had a chance to watch the first Amezaiku-shi. And I watched him for more than four hours straight. The most interesting part is the process of sculpting just a small portion of candy into various animal shapes in a few minutes. I almost felt it like a magic”.
About the most inspirational thing from Japanese culture that he has adapted into his daily life, Mizuki said:” I think in general; Japanese people are good at fine works such as precise manufacturing. And there have been a lot of those things like woodworks, weavings, and so on. What I am doing is exact the same, I think. Specially using an old-fashioned Japanese scissors is essential to finish sculpting candy well. First of all, I like this traditional Japanese scissors very much. My scissors themselves are made by a great artisan. So, I would say I am living in a precision-oriented life”.
About the establishment of his career as an artist, Koyuki said:” I started working on Amezaiku around 2001. My concept is to do it in a traditional way and style. It was surprising to me that Amezaiku was almost disappearing when I started nevertheless it is such an interesting entertaining. So, I decided to keep it alive as the same traditional style. For example, when I am allowed or requested, I can use charcoals as heating material instead of using an electric heater in the same wooden tool box. Most of all, I use a tiny iron Japanese scissors only. And one thing that I persist is to finish shaping without wasting any small amount of material. I do not cut off any part of candy and throw it away. In terms of that, it may not correct to call Amezaiku as candy sculpting, but I think it is a good way which makes the process look like a bit magical to the audience”.
About the challenges that he faced during his projects, Mizuki said:” When I first came to the Middle East, I brought over 10kg candy material just for two days show. It was heavy. I had to do that because I had little information about the climate in the Middle East and the temperature at the venue of event. The temperature is vital for Amezaiku. So, I had to bring four different types of material to adjust to the temperature at the site. I knew it was very hot outside but what I found is that the room temperature was rather cool. After bringing heavy stuff, I had difficulty in working well because my hand got tired and shaking. Max weight I have experienced was 40kg for five weeks show. I had broken my brand-new suitcase. Not once but I was told to be checked at the airport because my luggage was so heavy”.
“I often had to continue making for a very long time. For three hours, sometimes four hours without a break. I cannot take a break. I am the only person to perform and people are waiting standing in a long line. It is not rare for me to keep going nevertheless it will cause my finger burnt. People usually don’t know that it is very hot to touch,” he added.
About distinguishing Amezaiku from other arts, Mizuki said:” I think Amezaiku is unique because people can request what to make and enjoy watching the process to be made. It is like an instant performance. Also, because what I make are mostly animals so regardless of their age or nationality. And the finished piece can be a souvenir and you can even eat it”.
About his visit to the Middle East, Mizuki said:” My first visit to the Middle East was in 2013. It was a one-night event. I have visited four countries in the Middle East that year and they were U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. For the very first time, I had an impression and found that the things are different in many aspects but as time went by, I started leaning little by little about these countries and then more and more I came to like especially the people in the Middle East. Touching their custom, I personally think, in terms of the attitude for praying, I have a lot to review myself”.
“Also, I had a gift from a local person in the Middle East. It was a full set of Thobe. I am so happy. I like the oud wood, too,” he added.
Mizuki is recommending everyone to visit his website to get more information about the art of Amezaiku