Rokudo-Mairi & The Haunted Candy Shop

“The Japanese say that the heat of summer is the best time for ghost stories, as the little tingle they give you helps to fight the heat,” writes Jeffrey Angles in his fascinating blog International Date Line. He goes on…

In fact, during the Edo Period (1600-1868), there was a summertime pastime known as “One Hundred Tales” (百物語). In it, a group of friends would light a lot of candles in a dark room. People would then take turns telling ghost stories; at the end of each story, they would snuff out one candle, making the room progressively darker. By the time all the candles were out, one was practically guaranteed to see a ghost!

Very well then. It’s hot and it’s muggy and it’s time for a deliciously spooky spine-tingling Deep Kyoto tale to cool you all down!

Last Sunday (August 8th) I went to the Pottery Festival on Gojo-zaka. Pottery stalls lined the street all the way up from Kawabata to Higashioji. This festival takes place every year between August 7th and 10th. Michael B. (aka Peko) has a good piece about it up on his site “Open Kyoto” so I shan’t bother reinventing the wheel… I want to tell you a spooky story after all. It was at the pottery festival that I bumped into some friends of mine. They invited me to come with them to nearby Rokudo-san, a sub-temple of Kenninji. Here they are (below) being irreverent outside Rokudo-san – (I think they are mimicking a maiko’s typical stance). It’s actually kind of a spooky place… In fact at the start of Obon, they say it is the gateway between this world and the next…

Inside Rokudo-san there were some spooky lanterns. Well, actually, they seem to be advertising local businesses…

I’m not sure what these plants were for but the colours really struck me…

People come to Rokudo-san to invite their ancestors and deceased family members back into this world. Rokudo-san is in fact the spirits point of entry. First they have a monk write the deceased’s name on a kind of invitation slip…

Then they line-up to ring the “mukae-gane” or “welcoming bell”.

This is an image of the Buddhist six realms.

And here is a detail; this is Emma, ruler of the underworld and the chap who judges us all after we have slipped our mortal coils. You can see he has a big crystal ball that tells him whether we’ve been naughty or nice.

Here’s another detail; the Buddhist heaven. Not much happening here. Too much serenity for my liking.

Ah yes, down at the bottom of the picture: the raging fires of hell!

Not far from Rokudo-san is a candy shop that sells “Yurei Ame” – or ghost sweets… The story goes that years ago this shop was visited every night at midnight by a pale young woman of mournful aspect. Every night she would buy one candy, just one, and then drift away into the night…

Here are some more spooky lanterns at the haunted candy shop. Each night a pale young woman visited this shop to buy a single candy… The shopkeeper’s suspicions aroused he followed her… to a graveyard (!) and there she disappeared. The grave where she disappeared was opened and inside they found the body of a young woman and beside it a living baby! It seems that she had been buried while pregnant but somehow the child had survived. Once the child was rescued from the grave, the ghost no longer visited the sweet shop. The kanji on these lanterns reads “Yurei sodate ame” or “child-raising ghost sweets”.

Here’s my friend Massun holding a spooky packet of the “yurei kosodate ame”.

This picture’s a little blurry (maybe the ghost’s fault?) but these are the “yurei ame”. They tasted sweet but not too sweet. A good old fashioned taste!

Both the pottery fair and the Rokudo Mairi spirit welcoming festival take place once a year between August 7th and 10th. The pottery fair is on Gojo between Kawabata and Higashioji and the Rokudosan temple is on Matusbara a little to the north of there.

2 responses to “Rokudo-Mairi & The Haunted Candy Shop

  1. Funny you should mention this story… I just heard the exact same story in connection with a site in Okinawa…

  2. Michael Lambe

    There’s a lot of it about!

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