Driving through the snow, tiny colorful circles decorate the winter trees. Are flowers already in bloom in February? Actually, it’s “Amekko,” the word for “candy” in Akita dialect. At Amekko market, there are more than 100 candy stands under these colorful “candy trees.” A rich variety of candies –such as cut candies, characterized candies, and candies which conveys luck-will please your eyes. It is said that the history of the market can be traced back to the custom of a neighboring prefecture, Aomori. In Aomori, females and children in farming households ate candy with Mochi, a rice cake made from glutinous rice, on every January 15th. Odate City, where Amekko market is held, is located in the northern part of Akita, and shares a prefectural boundary with Aomori. It is thought that the custom of Aomori was introduced to Odate City about 400 years ago, and changed its form to a candy market.
Candy, ame in Japanese and amekko in Akita dialect, was born not as sweets for kids but rather as liquid sweetener as an offering to the Gods over 1000 years ago. In Edo era (17th c. to 19th c.), the form of ame changed from a liquid to a solid by mixing starch syrup and white sugar. This type of solid ame became quite popular, and varieties of it increased in Edo, present-day Tokyo, after it was introduced from Kyoto and Osaka. At that time, candy-sellers were popular with commoners. They sold candies with eccentric clothes, unique utterance and performances. Up until WWII, such candy sellers came to Odate City with wooden candy boxes and distinct music (Charumera).
A retro style candy
Naturally, the popularity of candy-selling came to Akita. Ame sold at the Medieval Amekko market was different from what it is now. It was made from boiled barley and so its color was like that of caramel. It is imagined that this barley ame might have been eaten with mochi. Although this medieval type of ame was relatively familiar with commoners, sweets were precious at that time when sugar was limited even for aristocrats. Therefore, ame was regarded as nutritious and important energy source, and rumors, such as ame can purge the human body of noxious vapors or a person will become a bug if he or she doesn’t eat ame, were spread. At the present, such rumors have transformed into a tale that a person won’t catch a cold if he or she eat ame at Amekko market.
At Ammeko market, you can taste one of the traditional types of ame—Karami Ame—for free. Karami Ame is made of pure starch syrup. An elder person who wears a past candy-sellers’ costume catches and ties up Karami Ame by wooden chopsticks and throws it into people’s mouths. Because this candy is really soft and easily drops, one should not catch it by the hand but directly by the mouth.
White mustache Great God (Shiro-hige Okami) and a girl, Okou
The main event of Amekko market is the parade of the White Mustached Great God. Odate City has a legend that the White Mustache Great God climbs down from a nearby mountain to seek candies. During his travel from the mountain, the God breaks out a snowstorm to erase his footprints. Interestingly, in fact, Amekko market is often held on a snowy day or sometimes even through a heavy blizzard.
Based on this legend, about half century ago, the story of Okou was made. In the story, a tender hard working girl, Okou, makes special medical candy for sick people to show appreciation for White Mustache Great God who cured a disease of Okou’s mother.
Following two legends, White Mustache Great God, wearing white clothes, and Okou wearing Monpe, a work pants for women, parade hand in hand through the street during Amekko festival. A drum and fife band, a Shinto maiden, and Shishimai (dancers in a lion’s mask) follow and bring the parade to life.
- Event date
- Every year on the second Saturday and the follwing day of February
- Odate Amekko Ichi Executive Committee
- Omachi Hachiko Street
- Omachi, Odate city, Akita
- Bleachers Rates
- Number of car spaces
- 1510 at special free parking areas around the venue
- Parking Fee
- (in case of using other parking areas) pay according to the price table shown there
- Corresponding at the time of bad weather
- No postponement for light rain