Candy drops that served as a symbol of hope for war orphan Setsuko have been on sale for more than 100 years, but their end is near.

“Studio Ghibli food” has practically become a genre of art unto itself, with the anime studio’s detailed depictions of meals making stomachs growl and mouths water whenever fans think of them. But as delicious as things such as Laputa egg toast and Ponyo ham ramen might look, there’s arguably no Ghibli food with more thematic and plot significance than Grave of the Fireflies’ candy drops.

The tin of fruit-flavored candies carried around by war orphan Setsuko contains one of the few sources of comforting happiness she has left. Once the last one is gone, her brother Seita uses the tin as a water canteen, letting his sister enjoy the residual sweetness on the inside of the container, and after Setsuko’s life come to a tragic end, the tin takes on a deeper meaning still.

The candies, Sakumashiki Drops, aren’t a fictional creation, but an actual confectionary brand that first went on sale in 1908. They were created by Sojiro Sakuma, an entrepreneur from Chiba Prefecture who saw how popular fruit candies imported from overseas had become in Japan, and wanted to create a domestic version so tasty that it would then be Japan’s turn to export its candy drops abroad.

▼ Setsuko has been periodically featured on special Sakumashiki Drops tins following Grave of the Fireflies’ 1988 release.

Sakumashiki Drops didn’t manage to achieve the global sales success that Sakuma had hoped for, but they found enough fans in Japan to stick around in candy shops for over a century. Sadly, their time is coming to an end soon, as Sakuma Seika, the company that manufactures Sakumashiki Drops, says it will be going out of business early next year.

The Tokyo-based confectioner cites falling demand and rising ingredient and energy costs, resulting in a loss of over 151 million yen (US$1.02 million) in its 2021 fiscal year. Likely compounding the problem is that Sakuma Seika offers only a modest number of products aside from Sakumashiki Drops, mostly other fruit-flavored hard candies and lozenges, but none have become sizable hits.

Though Sakumashiki Drops are going away, a similar substitute will remain available. In addition to Sakuma Seika’s Sakumashiki Drops, there are also Sakuma Drops (without the shiki, which means “style”), an almost identical candy made by a different company that’s also called Sakuma Seika, but written with different Japanese characters.

▼ Left: Sakumashiki Drops, made by Sakuma Seika (written 佐久間製菓)
Right: Sakuma Drops, made by the other Sakuma Seika (written サクマ製菓)

Making things even more confusing is that both Sakuma Seika companies are headquartered in Tokyo. The one going out of business, though, is the one that makes Sakumashiki Drops, which are the candy seen in Grave of the Fireflies, and the company will be shutting down on January 20.

It’s worth pointing out that this actually isn’t the first time for the Sakumashiki Drops maker to shut down. During World War II, all three of the company’s factories, located in Tokyo, Osaka, and Manchuria, were destroyed, and the company was officially restarted in 1948. So there’s always the chance that the company, or at least the Sakumashiki Drops brand, could see a revival at some future date. For now, though, fans of classic anime and/or classic candy might want to pick up a tin while they’re still available.

Source: Tokyo Shoko Research via Yahoo! Japan News via Hachima Kiko, Sakuma Seika (1, 2)
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Insert image: Sakuma Seika
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