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Things to do in Japan

The lost art of sugar sculpting

Learning the basics of a traditional craft – in this case amezaiku, or Japanese sugarcraft – is an intriguing way to explore the culture…

Claire Ross
General manager for Alfred&

Learning the basics of a traditional Japanese craft is an intriguing way to explore the country’s culture and gain a different perspective on a busy city neighbourhood. Most people go to Tokyo’s Asakusa district to visit one of the city’s oldest temples, Senso-ji, but I was also there to learn about amezaiku, or Japanese sugarcraft, which almost died out in recent years. My destination was a small tucked-away shop devoted to showcasing long-established handicrafts, where you can do hands-on sessions turning molten sugar into exquisite little translucent sculptures. That’s the theory anyway. I think it’s fair to say I won’t be responsible for the craft’s resurgence – it’s much harder than it looks when the experts do it – but I found it rewarding anyway.

The instruction is in Japanese, but my guide Hidesada Shimazaki made sure I understood what was going on. That said, I think he was so amused by my attempts that he gave up translating the finer details. I learned alongside some locals, which in itself was part of the experience. The subtleties of local etiquette are fascinating – spending time in such a Japanese setting only helped to bring this to life.

On the way to my workshop, the guide took me to a small shrine and temple known for its daikon (Japanese radish) decorations. It’s not the most famous in the area, but I relished its peaceful atmosphere. I’ve visited lots of temples on my travels, but there’s always something new to discover. This time I learned the traditional washing ritual: you take a scoop of water which you use to wash first your left hand, then your right, before rinsing your mouth out and using the remaining water to clean the handle of the ladle.

Although the area’s larger and more famous temple, Senso-ji, was predictably busy, it was still worth visiting. It’s an impressive sight, and the traditional-style shopping avenue filled with souvenir stalls was enjoyable to explore. I took the opportunity to try a ningyo-yaki – a surprisingly delicious local cake filled with red bean paste – which was freshly made for me while I watched.

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Alfred & Claire Ross

Claire has been with Kuoni for 12 years, most recently as head of the company’s specialist products, but her love of travel dates back much further, to the slideshows her globetrotting grandparents used to inspire her with. She has visited many countries in South East Asia and never tires of learning new things about their unique cultures.

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