The legend of the Kosodate-Yūrei, or the “child-raising ghost,” is a fairly common folk story known all across Japan. It goes like this: once upon a time, a pale woman would come to a candy shop every night right after it closed to buy one mon’s worth of millet jelly. On the seventh night, the woman said that she had run out of money and that she would give the shopkeeper her haori jacket in exchange for some more candy.
The next morning, as the shopkeeper was hanging the jacket outside, a neighbor walked by and recognized it as the one belonging to his daughter, who had passed recently. Shocked, the two rushed to the cemetery to find a baby crying in the woman’s grave, surviving on the millet jelly from the shop. It is said that the baby was taken in by a temple, growing up to be a respectable monk.
This story can be better understood with some knowledge about traditional Japanese beliefs about the afterlife. For one, it was once customary to bury the dead along with six mon coins as a ferry toll, similar to the Ancient Greek tradition of Charon’s obol. Some versions of the legend also have it that the candy shop stood on top of a slope, likely inspired by the Yomotsu Hirasaka, the slope that leads to the underworld in Japanese mythology.
The very shop from the folklore has survived to this day, in the neighborhood not far away from the Rokudō-no-Tsuji crossroads, which is believed to be a gateway to the underworld. Known as Minatoya Yurei Kosodate-Ame Honpo, or simply as Minatoya, the shop was established in 1599, during the last years of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. According to its version of the story, the ghost’s baby was adopted at the nearby Rokudō-Chin’nōji Temple and died in 1666 at the age of 68.
While the original ghost-raising candy was a simple sort of millet jelly, or mizuame, a thick liquid sweetener made by converting starch to sugars, using glutinous rice and malt, Minatoya’s candy today is solid and more candy-like in a traditional sense. The amber-colored confection is made from malt, sugar, and millet jelly, with an unadorned, yet evocative taste that has been relished for centuries.
Know Before You Go
The shop is closed on Mondays.