When you arrive in Aizu-Wakamatsu, right at the JR Station’s exit you’re greeted by a large red statue, representing a cute red… cow. Meet akabeko 「赤べこ」, the symbol of Aizu.
Akabeko means “red cow” and was originally just a traditional bobble-head doll, made from painted and lacquered papier-mâché. Today, akabeko is available in almost any conceivable type of merchandise: phone straps, key chains or pins, dolls made of plastic or cloth and, of course, the original, handmade papier-mâché doll. But there’s a lot more… Akabeko is not just a toy, it is also a lucky charm… and to understand it, I will tell you its story:
More than 1000 years ago, in Yanaizu, a town not far from Aizu-Wakamatsu, started the construction of Enzo-ji, a very important temple. The wood required for construction was transported by an ox and, after the construction was finished, the ox… refused to leave the temple. The locals allowed the ox to live at the temple, named him “akabeko” and the ox became a symbol of devotion to Buddha…
Many years later, at the end of the 16th century, the castle from Aizu-Wakamatsu, Tsuruga-jō, became the headquarters of daimyo Gamō Ujisato and when he heard the legend, he came up with the idea of making a toy based on akabeko.
But afterwards, an epidemic of smallpox hit the area and somebody noticed that the children who were having the red cow toy were not getting ill… And since in Japan the red color is associated with protection against diseases, akabeko became an amulet for good health…
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Yesterday’s Japan Photo: