Known by many as the “Candy Man,” Shan Ichiyangi has been perfecting his art for more than 36 years, displaying his talents at festivals and parties for presidents and big-name celebrities.
He has worked with Donald Trump, President George W. Bush and even Playboy, and on Sunday he brought his work to Matsuri — an annual Japanese festival held in downtown Phoenix.
Literally translated, Amezaiku means “sweet candy craft.” It is a dying art that is thousands of years old. Today there are only a handful of sculptors like Ichiyangi.
Ichiyangi creates his pieces by melting down sugar and coloring to a 180-200 F. He has to work fast, molding his pieces with his hands and chopsticks as the sugar cools and solidifies.
By shaping the molten sugar, Ichiyangi can create nearly anything. He has made everything from hearts to carousels and even some unmentionable works at Playboy parties.
“They make weird requests,” Ichiyangi said.
He previously loved creating dragons and fantasy creatures, but today he likes to make anything. “I have no limit,” Ichiyangi said, explaining how he has taken on every request from his audiences. The Candy Man does not look to make exact replicas, but instead creates his interpretation of them.
He often works for large crowds, like the one he gained at Matsuri. The organizers of the Japanese festival have continuously invited Ichiyangi back because of his popularity and ability to showcase his dying art form. The festival is meant to highlight traditional Japanese culture, offering authentic Japanese food, clothing, literature and artwork. This year Matsuri celebrated its 25-year anniversary, while Ichiyangi has celebrated 15 years working it.
Ichiyangi discovered the art form as a young boy in Japan. He would watch the street vendors twirl strands of sugar, making art that resembled blown glass. He came to the United States in 1971 to attend school in Los Angeles and learn English. There Ichiyangi met his master — an experienced Amezaiku sculptor. Ichiyangi approached the man and began assisting him.
In the beginning Ichiyangi did not think of himself as artistic. “I thought I could only buy artwork, not make it,” he said. It was Ichiyangi’s father-in-law who wanted him to learn the craft in depth. Soon after, he began his practice in Los Angeles.
The practice of Amezaiku, Ichiyangi says, has taught himself to be a more responsible person and has opened so many doors for him. He has met many celebrities and even royalty before, but has learned that they are just ordinary people like everyone else.
Above all, Ichiyangi’s work has taught him what he considers to be one of his most important life lessons: never to be scared of anything.
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