The most common Japanese preserved foods are sweet, salty and/or hard. Kumamoto has a special product that was originally made as a preserved food, yet is soft. Chosen-ame was brought to Japan by official ambassadors from China around the 7th and 8th century, after they’d drifted out from sea and fortuitously reached the shore of Kumamoto.
Chosen-ame are soft candies that were originally made with glutinous rice, starch syrup, and white sugar. Takeemon Sonoda, who founded a Japanese confessionary store called Sonoda-ya about 400 years ago, is said to be the man who created a new version of the candy that used dark sugar and whole rice. When Kiyomasa Kato, the lord of Kumamoto Castle, called upon his troops for a battle in Korea, the samurai soldiers brought these candies with them, where they proved very handy because of their long shelf life and carbohydrates for energy. The soft candy was thereafter officially named Korean Candy. Since Lord Kato praised Chosen-ame as a great food for the battlefield, the government kept the recipe secret from the public and ordinary citizens did not have a chance to eat the soft candies. Instead, Korean Candy was an exclusive gift for the Shogun in Tokyo or the Emperor in Kyoto as well as the lords of the other provincial castles. It was much appreciated by the rulers of Japan at that time.
Nowadays, although the dark version of Chosen-ame is still available, light-colored versions with white sugar and white rice have become more common, and the traditional recipe is rarely followed strictly anymore. Even in its current form, Chosen-ame are so delicious that it is hard to stop eating them. New flavors like orange and persimmon have also popped up here and there. These make for great souvenirs.
Photo by Nissy-KITAQ
3−1 Sakuramachi Chuo-ku Kumamoto-shi Kumamoto-ken
Kumamoto station Friesta Kumamoto
3-15-1 Kasuga Nishi-ku Kumamoto-shi Kumamoto-ken