Small Talk

Saving a sweet craft

December 31st, 2012


Videography and editing by Mr. Tracy Arakaki

Say the word sushi, and most people think of rice and raw fish. Refer to taiko, and many understand that to be Japanese drum performances. But would you know what amezaiku is?

Probably not.

Courtesy: Candy Art Hawaii

Courtesy: Candy Art Hawaii

It’s candy art: melted sugar, shaped into edible sculptures. Even in Japan, where its been practiced for centuries, it’s not at all common. Honolulu residents Chika and Nathan Tanaka hope to change that - starting right here in Hawaii. They are candy artists, and their business is called Candy Art Hawaii.

Nathan and Chika Tanaka at a childrens' party

Nathan and Chika Tanaka at a childrens' party

Chika, a native of Japan, admits it’s a rare art in Japan. "There are not so many artists in Japan; I had never seen it myself in my hometown," she says. Until she met Nathan.

Ironically, it is an American who wants to perpetuate this special Japanese tradition. Nathan is a Japanese-American who grew up in Hawaii. After college, he moved to Japan for six years.

"I went to a festival, saw someone making this and was completely amazed," recalls Nathan. He sought out a teacher, which in itself was a difficult task. Ultimately, most of his skills were self-taught through trial and error.

Courtesy: Candy Art Hawaii

Courtesy: Candy Art Hawaii

When he returned to Hawaii, he decided to continue the craft as a part-time business, bringing joy to parties on the weekends.

He talks to me while shaping a lollipop before my eyes. "I’m working with hot sugar and shaping it into animals, and we have three to four minutes until it hardens as it cools down," he summarizes. But it's much easier said than done.

Courtesy: Candy Art Hawaii

Courtesy: Candy Art Hawaii

The sugar is heated to 190 degrees Fahrenheit - "like freshly cooked rice," Nathan describes. Ouch!

Add some color, work it into the taffy. Then roll, snip, and pinch it into form. A paintbrush brings it to life. Hang it to cool for a few minutes, before handing over a small piece of happiness.

Nathan reflects on the best part of his job: "It’s really fun, and just seeing the reaction of the children as they get the candy."

It's delightful for kids, and kids at heart. An 83-year-old customer watches with as much delight as the littlest children in line.

Kids enjoying amezaiku lollipops by Candy Art Hawaii

Kids enjoying amezaiku lollipops by Candy Art Hawaii

Their hands tell the story of how difficult this really is. To perfect their craft, it took hundreds of hours of practice and pain. "When we started we had blister and first degree burns," he recalls. Today, they have more than 30 shapes to offer.

The Tanakas are part of a shrinking group of candy artists. They believe there are only three amezaiku makers in the United States, and only 20 - 30 in the world!

Party guest Akihiro Okada, who was born and raised in Japan, comments, "It’s a nostalgic feeling to see amezaiku. You don’t get to see it that often, even for Japanese locals. This is completely special.”

It’s hard work, with long hours, so fewer people seem to be taking the time to learn the craft. The Tanakas savor the idea of keeping a dying tradition alive. And, it’s just as sweet to introduce a new generation to the delights of amezaiku.

Candy Art Hawaii

Facebook: Candy Art Hawaii

*With special thanks to Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble for allowing us to shoot video of them.


Joe Aikala – grip

Chung Siu Chow of Digital Artist Graphic – music

Maile Akita - production assistant

One Response to “Saving a sweet craft”

  1. che:

    Wow, is there anyway to get the candy here?

Leave a Reply

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email

Recent Posts

Recent Comments