For hundreds of years, children (and adults) in Japan gathered to watch their local amezaiku maker put on a show. Using bare hands, artisans mold hot rice syrup into fabulous shapes-on-a-stick, both lifelike and fantastical. Makers can add details using tiny scissors, pulling at the cooling taffy-like mass to create fins and wings. In the past, these crafty confectioners would use straws to gently inflate the candy figurines. But amezaiku comes with a time limit. Within minutes, the sugar hardens permanently, meaning artisans need to work fast and with precision. But the result—ephemeral, artistic lollipops—is worth it.
These days, though, amezaiku-makers aren’t allowed to use the straw method, for fear that it’s unsanitary. That’s not the only challenge to the practice: More modern forms of street-side entertainment have lured crowds away. But the few remaining amezaiku-makers are adapting. Today, many amezaiku figurines take the form of intricate, Instagram-friendly creations, from hyper-realistic goldfish to adorable dancing bunnies.