Chitose ame is a thin, long candy which typically comes in colors of red, or white sometimes interwoven in stripes. It is similar to candy canes that are popular during christmas. What's special about it is that it is not just a candy, it is given on one of the most important rite passage days for children in Japan. With such an interesting backstory that goes years back, it's hard not to be curious about this candy. Let’s find out what makes chitose so ame-izing!
Chitose ame translates to “a thousand year candy” and is given to children of specific ages during a particular festival in Japan called Shichi-go-san. The Shichi-go-san is a traditional Japanese rite that celebrates the passage of children into the ages three, five, and seven. These odd numbers are usually associated with luck and are considered an important stage in their lives. The children are dressed in their traditional clothes and taken to the shrine for prayers and good wishes.
There are various reasons for the Shichi-go-san festival, but it started in the first place because of the higher mortality rate among children at that time. Therefore, the celebration of the odd lucky numbers three, five and seven was believed to bring longevity. Also, the combinations of these numbers “three, seven, and five” equals fifteen; all are odd numbers, and are said to bring and represent good luck. Back then, it was believed that the pure souls of the kids these ages were still not attached to the current world and could go back. So, reaching these ages successfully calls for celebrations and gratitude, which are duly observed at the shrine.
The Shichi-go-san festival goes a long way back to the Heian period, during which only the aristocrats or court nobles were allowed to participate. But recently, there has been no class classification on who can attend the festival. Chitose ame is gifted to children during the Shichi-go-san festival to symbolize good health, growth, and longevity.
This festival is held annually on the 15th of November and little children get to take pictures in their adorable traditional outfits. Also, the name Shichi-go-san literally translates to “seven-five-three”, and the festival is dedicated to “three or seven year old girls” and “three or five year old boys” while in some places, it is for “three or seven year old girls” and just “five year old boys”.
Chitose ame has not always been interwoven with the Shichi-go-san festival, and it was sold by street vendors. However, because of its fun shape and sweetness, it became popular with kids. Nowadays, it is seasonal, just like how candy canes are mostly sold during christmas, chitose ame is extremely popular during the shichi go san festival.
After prayers and the festivities take place at the shrine, parents would give these candies to their children to help celebrate growth and to pray for good health and prosperity. From its name, which means “thousand-year candy”, it is pretty obvious why this candy was chosen to be gifted to the children of these ages during the festival.
Chitose ame is a hard candy stick made from sugar so it tastes very sweet. It is usually sucked on instead of chewed because of its hardness. It's great that it is a seasonal candy in Japan because it wouldn’t be very healthy for children to indulge in this type of sweet candy all year long.
Because it is widely sold for easy access and consumption, people don’t usually make chitose ame at home. It can be bought from the stores or supermarkets during festive periods. However, if you want to make this delicious candy at home, you need just a few ingredients; water, sugar, food coloring to change color and corn syrup. Making chitose ame is a tedious process because handling molten sugar is difficult. Not only is there a chance that you can burn your finger, if it starts cooling at the wrong temperature then it could be ruined.
To make chitose ame, you would need 3 cups of sugar, 1 cup of corn syrup and a quarter cup of water. Next, mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and boil it on low heat. When the thermometer reads 285F (140 C), the candy would have reached the soft crack stage and can be molded.
At this stage, people add the food coloring to change the color of the candy. It is then left to cool. After some time, you can knead the candy with a spatula until it becomes stretchy. Next, cut off small pieces and shape it into a stick. leaving it at room temperature would allow it to firm up. That's it! the chitose ame candy recipe.
Chitose is usually gifted in a specially decorated bag in Japan. Cranes and turtles are the symbol of a happy, long life in Japan so the candy bag would have one or two of these animals printed on it for the Shichi go san festival. The brightly colored bags designed with turtles and cranes will definitely drive the point of good luck, healthy growth, and longevity home.
Looking for something delicious with weighted significance to give kids special to you? A Pack of Chitose ame is definitely the right choice. Not only would it depict the level of affection, but it would also convey the good wishes the giver desires for the receiver of the gift. ZenPop Japan offers a subscription based monthly snack pack from Japan, click on this link to check it out!
This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem, and edited by us.