A young girl’s dream in Japan that began with creating faces and animals out of Play-Doh lead her into the candy-coated world of taffy-crafting—with even sweeter things to come.
Pink penguins, winged-hippos, and orange octopi—these are just a few bite-sized candies created in exchange for a smile at the African Library Project charity event Tuesday evening.
A mother and daughter held up an iridescent unicorn and gold-flecked eagle in awe.
“I simply cannot eat this,” Mika Kuramoto says to her daughter before continuing, “I want to display it at home!”
While the International Day of Happiness only lasts 24 hours, renowned Japanese candy artist Miyuki Sugimori, better known as Candy5, has decided to challenge that with her sweet taffy creations.
As a crowd formed around the petite woman adorning a candy-covered top hat and bright green eyeshadow, Sugimori effortlessly crafted a purple taffy teddy bear between her fingertips before handing it over to a grinning child.
“It’s so sweet!”13-year-old Rana Kuramoto excitedly exclaimed in between nibbles on her newfound treat; pausing to further describe it as “enjoyable and more entertaining to eat” because of its fun features.
Creating “entertaining” candy is only part of the reason why Sugimori enjoys crafting everything from animals to emojis.
“[My candy] is very unique because there are five elements that are used.”
“You can hear the crackle of the candy, you can smell it, you can see it, you can eat it, and you can feel—it’s so important!” Sugimori said while surveying the growing crowd around her table.
Sugimori’s journey to becoming the world’s first female candy artist in 300 years, of this traditional craft, is an interesting one.
“My first job I had involved me cooking Japanese rice in a restaurant kitchen,” Sugimori said.
“I couldn’t talk to guests; only work—but [making] candy is so good because a little girl can come up to me and ask for a blue elephant or a little boy might want a yellow dragon.”
The importance of inclusion and communication seemed to dawn on Sugimori as she smiled before continuing, “there are so many guests here that I can talk [to] and see—It’s an experience I can get and give away!”
“This event reminds me that it is good to be a giving person,” Sugimori said.
“I want to give my candy to these children because it makes them happy—and it’s good to raise donations for other children in collaboration with the charity.”
Next to Sugimori’s booth sat a small clear donation box filled with various dollar bills. A portion of the proceeds collected would be going towards The African Library Project—the cause of the night. The initiative, which coordinates book drives around the United States to create libraries in African villages, encouraged guests attending the event to bring in a children’s book and an open heart.
Each book and charitable donation goes towards developing libraries in communities in Africa, such as in Botswana, Ghana and Sierra Leone. With the creation of more libraries, children would have access to better education and opportunities for a higher paying job.
No stranger to working towards a better life, Sugimori felt a special attachment towards the project.
Twenty years prior, Sugimori found herself in Japan honing her candy-crafting skills under Master Kimura Takeo, struggling to support herself financially. The task of crafting candy wasn’t as sweet as it may sound at first and was nothing compared to the memories Sugimori had when she used to practice molding faces out of Play-Doh as a child.
Gesturing towards a steaming hot metal bowl, Sugimori shook her head as she described her early years in training when she’d burn her fingertips upon touching the bowl.
“My skin started to peel,” Sugimori stated while holding out her palms to display her calloused fingertips.
“I tried to teach my daughter [the craft], but she started crying and said, ‘mommy I don’t want to do this!’” Sugimori said while pulling at a gum-like textured ball of taffy.
Sugimori learned to adapt to the scorching temperature of the plate and would press her bare hands onto it until she adjusted to the heat. “I have strong hands now!”
Sugimori eventually became one of 15 people trained in the art worldwide.
It earned her enough money to move out of the country — and into Orlando Florida’s, Disney World.
“[Disney World] invited me to do candy-crafting shows for entertainment,” Sugimori said while rolling a ball of taffy between her palms. The artist would woo crowds with multi-colored candy figurines for the next 17 years.
But this was before she noticed a disheartening trend that would later cause her to make a massive change.
“Disney was a beautiful great place, but for rich families only,” Sugimori said. Three months ago, Sugimori traded in palm trees and ocean breeze for yellow taxis and the bustle of New York City.
Giggling, Sugimori explained how she used the “strong” culture of New York City as a color palate for her work, already finding creative inspiration from the Statue of Liberty, to the high-fashion storefronts of Madison Avenue.
“The colors I would use in Japan are different,” Sugimori said, comparing her hometown to her new neighborhood. “Japan is very subtle, I’d use pastels like a little bit of pink, a little blue—[but] New York screams greens, reds and yellow!”
While it was a giant change, the move offered Sugimori an opportunity she couldn’t refuse—to create her art for families of all backgrounds. Placing her taffy onto a metal plate heated up to 200 degrees to keep it malleable, Sugimori carefully adds a drop of green food coloring into her soon to be frog creation.
“In New York, there are so many people from around the world; the poor families, the rich families,” Sugimori says while kneading her taffy.
“I make candy for rich families here, but I give free candy to the poor families,” Sugimori said—because everyone deserves the sweet things in life.
With a number of accomplishments already under the taffy aficionado’s belt, what could be next for the candy artist?
“I want to go around the world, and meet all kinds of people,” Sugimori said with a twinkle in her eyes before adding, “especially those who love candy!”