September 17, 2017
by Mayumi Otsuka, Mai Takezawa and Kanako Wakamatsu
If you come to Kyoto, what are you going to buy as a food souvenir? There are very popular food souvenirs in Kyoto, such as yatsuhashi, matcha, and so on. However, have you ever heard of kyoame? Kyoame is a candy and is one of the historical Japanese sweets in Kyoto. It has a pretty design and a very beautiful color, such as pink, purple, green, and yellow. Also, in Chinese characters, ‘candy’ means ‘be delighted by eating’. Therefore, you can be happy by eating the candy called kyoame.
History of Kyoame
There wasn’t any such thing as candy in ancient Japan. Instead of candy, there was starch syrup (the literal translation is ‘water candy’ in Japanese) that was made with rice and malt. However, it was used only as seasoning. In the late Muromachi era (1392~1573), Portuguese explorers came to Japan, bringing their religion and culture. One of the things they introduced was white sugar. However, it was not famous among the common people at that time. It was not until the end of Edo era (1600~1867) that ordinary people found out about white sugar. However, it was very expensive, so some of them could not eat it yet, much less see it. In the Meiji era (1868~1911), Japan began to engage actively in foreign trade. In addition, the skill of making candy was developed, so many kinds of candy were produced. In this way, kyoame was born by using traditional candy-making techniques with starch syrup and the new ones with white sugar.
How to Make Kyoame
At the beginning, the kyoame craftsman makes the paste of the candy. First of all, she boils the sugar up to 110° C, which is raw material of kyoame. Then he keeps boiling the sugar until it reaches 160° C. Then, she uses a special machine to drain the candy of its water. After that, she puts the candy paste on a cooling plate and blends in the flavor and food coloring. This is the basic process of making the kyoame candy paste.
Once the candy paste is made, what happens next depends on what type of Kyoame is desired. In general, there are two methods of making kyoame. One is made by pouring the candy paste into a variety of molds. Another is done by combining some big candy parts together, which differ by color and taste, to make one big candy paste mass. The craftsman then makes the candy paste long and thin and then cuts it into small pieces. That part is very similar to European-style candy making.
The craftsman work is very sensitive because the craftsman needs to adjust his work to a variety of conditions, such as season, temperature, humidity, and so on. To be a kyoame craftsman is a very difficult job because it requires both technical skill and management skill. As proof, some kyoame craftsman have been commended for their sensitive skill by officials from Kyoto city.
Of course, making kyoame is very difficult and almost impossible for ordinary people. However, there is one kyoame store that offers visitors the experience of making kyoame themselves. So, if you go there, you can try to make your own original version of kyoame. Many kyoame stores do not use machines much, as mostly the candy is made by the craftsman’s hand.
Kyoame is popular souvenir for foreigners because the design is very beautiful and it really has the feeling of a traditional Japanese souvenir. On the other hand, kyoame is also a popular souvenir amongst the Japanese, because it is so affordable. Often, Japanese people feel guilty for receiving a souvenir that is too expensive. And in the season of school trips, students often buy kyoame as a souvenir for their family or for their seniors. Kyoame is not so expensive, but the design is beautiful, so it is easy to buy for students. In sum, kyoame is suitable as both a formal or casual gift.
Where to Buy Kyoame
In Kyoto there are several famous Kyoame stores. We would like to introduce two of them.
The first one is called Ayano Kouji. It was founded in 1876. They have 5 kinds of kyoame and the names of each are related to traditional Japanese culture. For example, Shun is related to the change of the seasons, so you can enjoy a different taste at different times of the year. They also make specific Japanese tastes, like like plum, yuzu, kujyou welsh onion, etc.
Open 9:00-18:00 (Monday-Friday)
The second kyoame shop is named Crochet Kyoto. Unlike Ayano Kouji, it is a very new shop, just founded in 2013. They offer 21 kinds of kyoame. All of them are flamboyant and their name is related to both Japanese and European culture. For example, Shiromuku is kind of traditional clothing that brides wear, and it’s taste is that of sakura, or cherry blossom. Another is named Antoinette, from Marie Antoinette. It is related to Europe and its taste is strawberry.
Surprising Fact About Kyoame
In 2004, a company that makes fashion accessories with kyoame was established. It is called Nanaco Plus+. It reproduces traditional Kyoto confectionery with their accessories. If you go there, you can see jewelry or key rings that look just like kyoame. They want us to watch, wear, and eat kyoame. Their goal is to revive the heart of beauty and sensitivity that Japanese felt in times long ago.
Their accessories are made with real kyoame. The company invented a technique to cover the real candy with clear resin. Each piece is hand-made, so you can enjoy differences in size and design. In addition, they also sell cosmetics, such as a lip cream which smells like kyoame. In this way, traditional kyoame can be loved forever.
As you can see, kyoame is a traditional sweet in Kyoto that requires a special technique to make. There are a variety of kinds and tastes, and they have names related to both Japanese and European culture. In addition, you can enjoy Kyoame not only by eating them, but also by wearing them as accessories. Therefore, we recommend you buy a beautiful kyoame as a souvenir during your stay in Kyoto.