In a modest shop in Tokyo, a tiny octopus is frozen mid-backflip, speckled arms uncoiling to reveal dozens of impossibly small, clear suction cups. Beside it, completely still, an orange goldfish is stuck in place, graceful as though swimming in its upside-down plastic bag. Later, though they’ll have reservations about ruining these works of art, two strangers will put the animals to their mouths over and over until each has dissolved. The octopus and the goldfish are traditional Japanese candy. The centuries-old art of amezaiku has been used to make candies for temple offerings in Kyoto and street performances in Tokyo, each piece painstakingly crafted from a clear, sugary syrup generally made from starch and acid. The techniques amezaiku artists use today are nearly identical to those of their 19th century predecessors. They must heat the syrup to about 90ºC/200ºF, and as it cools, use spatulas, scissors, tweezers, paintbrushes and food dye to tease out rabbits and dinosaurs while their customers watch. For hygienic reasons, amezaiku artists no longer blow through straws to cool their work. Instead, they spread their syrup into shallow metal cooktops or operate a rubber pump. A candymaker must withstand incredibly high temperatures as they hand-sculpt their material before it hardens, occasionally reheating their work using tiny blowtorches or charcoal briquettes.
While this traditional candy emphasizes the joy of “eating with the eyes,” let’s celebrate a sampling of some of the uniquely Japanese flavors that set Bokksu apart from your average candy box or snack crate. As you’ll soon see, many of our favorite candies are actually Bokksu exclusives! As is typical of our snacks, though, each candy really is as beautiful as it is delicious.
Let’s start with the Handmade Yuzu Sake Candy, a custom creation of one of our maker-partners, the Kyoto-based Daimonji Ame Honpo. This family business is one hundred years-old and still experimenting with new flavors. Yuzu, a tart citrus fruit popular for its refreshing juice and aromatic peel, speckles the candy through. While this candy retains no harshness, it does contain 0.1% alcohol. Please savor responsibly. Next up, Petite Strawberry Milk Candy. Milk and yogurt are not often found in Western candy, but they are commonly used in Japanese sweets for a bit of creaminess or tart bite. This particular candy borrows its flavors from two toppings of a favorite summer treat, kakigori, or shaved ice: strawberry syrup and silky condensed milk.
While wandering through Bokksu’s proverbial aisles, we managed to pass through several seasons. The mikan of Handmade Mikan Candy is a cousin of the tangerine and a popular winter fruit. It can be eaten frozen in summer and roasted in winter (with the skin on, of course). In this pillow-shaped candy, perfectly “mikan orange” in color, you’ll find the fruit’s natural tang nicely balanced by an extra dash of sugar. Handmade Itotemari Candy Mix contains a few mikan-flavored pieces of its own. This is another Bokksu exclusive crafted by our aforementioned maker-partner Daimonji Ame Honpo. Some might consider it another point in favor of the Bokksu snack box delivery service, but we’d also like to highlight the mix’s lesser-found flavors, like quince and melon. When it comes to looks, Handmade Itotemari Candy is round and striped to resemble its namesake itotemari, a traditional children’s handball wrapped in embroidered designs.
Perhaps the selection which has most in common with amezaiku is yet another Bokksu exclusive: Handmade Sakura Candy. It’s one thing to be named or colored after Japan’s most famous flower, but these are actually made of sakura. A soft pink flecked with real petals, Handmade Sakura Candy is crafted using sakura preserved using the traditional method of harvesting, pickling, and drying the flowers in salt. Sakura, as cherry blossom lovers will attest, is here today, gone in a week. Like amezaiku, their fleeting beauty makes them even more special.
Local candy scouts and the small family businesses with whom we partner make sure that each Bokksu snack box contains rare and thoroughly Japanese teas, candies, and snacks. Each shipment also includes a meticulously researched and designed guide complete with map, eating tips, and cultural context. We like to think we’ve earned the loyalty of our die-hard fans because they know that every month, their Bokksu snack box delivery will bring them delicious, authentic flavors and fascinating information. With Bokksu you don’t just get a taste of Japan; you get an entire trip.