Photo by aki.sato.
This candy is actually Portugese in origin. Introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Portugese traders, konpeito (originally confeito in Portugese) has grown to be a standard and classic Japanese confection. These colorful, cheerful and star-like candies are still often made by hand, and were considered to be the finest of confections during Sengoku jidai (warring states period).
Hand-made konpeito is carefully made by tumbling tiny pieces of ground rice kernels in a large pot, layering sugar syrup on a daily basis. It grows about 1mm per day and crystallizes into this beautiful shape.
Here we can see a mass spawning of konpeito in large drums (dora).
I think konpeito began popularize outside of Japan since its appearance in the Studio Ghibli film 千と千尋の神隠し (Spirited Away) as the feed for the little black balls of soot who help to carry coal into the bathhouse furnace.
Spirited Away 千と千尋の神隠し (c) Disney and Studio Ghibli
If you’re into rock candy and other candies made with just crystallized sugar, definitely give konpeito a try.
Bags of konpeito are available to buy online at sites like J-List.