The Japanese do like sweet things but prefer more complex tastes, often finding western cakes too sugary. Umami, the so-called "fifth taste", was isolated from seaweed by chemist Kikunae Ikeda in Japan in the early 1900s.
Tokyo – Been There

Sweet lessons in a Japanese passion

Photo by Ton Koene

Tokyo – Been There Sweet lessons in a Japanese passion

The greatest lesson I learn in Tokyo about Japanese food is from a former glass-blower, now spending her days making candy treats from hot, spun sugar.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

“It is hard to get used to handling the heat,” says Maiko Kato. “You have to work the candy in hot air to make it softer and easier to shape. You only have three minutes before it hardens.”

Kato-san works at Takahiro Yoshihara’s Amezaiku shop in Tokyo’s Sendagi district, which is filled with narrow alleys and traditional shops. Amezaiku is the art of making delicious creations from rice-candy, in the shape of animals or flowers on a stick. She makes a flying horse for me, shaping a hot ball of candy with her hands and sharp scissors to make ears, then a muzzle, legs, tail and wings, adding eyes with dots of food coloring.

“When I was a child in school, I heated candy and made my own,” she says. “I did glass art when I graduated. It is a similar process, very fragile. Glass art keeps forever and that reflected my mind at that time. I prefer candy art now because I do not need to keep that moment. Enjoy it now. When someone eats it, the memory keeps forever.

“When something disappears, we appreciate the loss. The memory is better than the thing itself. Travel is a better gift than toys for children. We say ‘Ichi-go, ichi-e’ – one chance, one moment. Appreciate the moment.”

Her words echo with me for the rest of the day. I realize that the one thing uniting everyone I have met in Tokyo’s food trade, from fishmonger and knife-maker to sushi chef and candy-maker, is complete dedication to the moment. That may be the real secret of Japanese food.

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Tokyo 5

The island of Tsukuda is one of the oldest areas of Tokyo, with tsukudani shops such as this one that date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868). Tsukudani is a traditional rice topping made from seafood preserved by cooking in soy sauce and sake. Photo by Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Ton Koene

Canon EOS 5D-III

Aperture
ƒ/2.8
Exposure
1/80
ISO
800
Focal
14 mm

The island of Tsukuda is one of the oldest areas of Tokyo, with tsukudani shops such as this one that date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868). Tsukudani is a traditional rice topping made from seafood preserved by cooking in soy sauce and sake.

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