Kansas City Kawaii: The Amezaiku Creations of Joy Joy Confections. - Something Edible
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Kansas City Kawaii: The Amezaiku Creations of Joy Joy Confections.

Kansas City Kawaii: The Amezaiku Creations of Joy Joy Confections.

Abstract: Amezaiku (?? ?) which means "craft candy" is a centuries-old Japanese art that's part taffy pulling, part glass-blowing, and completely captivating (especially to us folks that might be just a little otaku). Ai Carver, proprietor of Joy Joy Confections practices this time-honored craft in the Kansas City area, and I spent a day with her to learn what it takes to be a sugar sculptor.

Purpose: If you're one of the fifteen people that have read my bio, then you'll know that what I'm trying to do here is more than just shameless self-promotion. There's more to food in Kansas than just my kitchen; and as my kids get older, the plan has always been for this house dad to get out of his casa more often and start really experiencing the hidden treasures of culinary diversity in the Sunflower State.

I love it when a plan comes together. It just so happens that my friend Ai Carver has gone into business creating candies using the techniques of amezaiku, a traditional form of Japanese artisan candy-making.  Each piece is interesting, detailed, and crazy-cute (and you know something's gotta be downright adorable when even a heterosexual dude finds it noticeably so). Ai's been refining and perfecting her style of amezaiku relentlessly for the last couple of years, with attention to detail that extends all the way down to the formulation of the candy base she's scalding her fingertips with as she creates some of the most intricate pieces of art that will ever cross your palate (that is, if you can bring yourself to actually eat them). I spent a good chunk of a day watching Ai do her thing, learned a whole lot about the background of her craft, and even got to try my hand at a little amezaiku myself. Here are some of the interesting things I learned that day:


  • Ai tells me that it is generally accepted that what became amezaiku originally began in China.  The first records of this craft being done in Japan originate from the city of Kyoto over 1200 years ago. Back then, the candy sculptures were given as religious offerings in temple celebrations (you didn't think you'd get out of here without a history lesson did ya?).
  • Ai is a designer by trade. She has a degree in design, and her style has always gravitated to physical media such as paper, clay, and stone (she's even done a little welding too!).  In other words, sugar became another media for her to conquer. That's not to say however that what Ai does is by any means easy.  Amezaiku is a craft that is inherently meant to be taught as an apprenticeship, which means oversight and scrutiny from a master in the trade. As you can imagine, amezaiku senseis are in short supply in the Midwest, so in order to really learn the craft, Ai had to find an instructor that was first willing to teach her remotely- like over 8,000 miles remote. To properly follow-up and really begin to refine what she learned, Ai spent two months back home in Japan where her weekends were consumed with four-hour rail commutes and intense six-hour cram sessions with her sensei.
  • The base recipe for this confection is translated roughly to English as "soul of candy", and given how few people understand the techniques to produce that soul, the references to intangibility seem quite appropriate. Traditionally, this type of candy is based on a rice syrup recipe, and the techniques to successfully reproduce those recipes are closely guarded secrets in the trade. As the right kind of rice syrup, called "mizuame" or "water candy", ain't all that easy to find in bulk in the middle of the United States, Ai's been experimenting with different blends and derivations to get a suitable analogue. Currently, her work is based on a corn syrup recipe (No, not the high fructose stuff; what kind of company do you think I keep?), as corn seems to behave the same way as rice does where inverted sugars are concerned.
  • Did I mention that the soul of candy has to be kept at 190F to be usable while sculpting? Go stick your fingertips in your freshly brewed cup of coffee and then imagine using a medium of that temperature for an hour or more at a go (in other words: kids, don't try this at home).

Results: As having personally tried to do what she does, I'm gonna go on record as saying that Ai doesn't give herself near enough credit for the level of craftsmanship that she puts into each one of her creations. If you're in the Kansas City Metro Area, and you're looking for a unique and memorable sort of entertainment for an event, then look no further than Joy Joy Confections. Receptions, parties, and corporate events would all be great candidates for an amezaiku exhibition. Likewise, if you'd like to purchase a few of Ai's creations for yourself or as a gift, the Reading Reptile Children's Bookstore in the Brookside area of Kansas City keeps her wares in-stock.

If you don't happen to live in the Kansas City metro, Ai tells me that she's in the process of working out the details with regards to packaging and shipping. So, be sure to get over to her website to drop her a line, or give her a like on Facebook so that you'll be the first to know when she's ready to start shipping!

Notes: Full disclosure statement (as per my terms of use): If having to drive nine hours round-trip jibes with your idea of getting something for free, then I guess I'm obliged to say that I did receive some complimentary samples of Ai's creations during the course of the interview. Jealous? ;-p

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