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Akabeko: Red Cow of Aizu

Akabeko (赤べこ) is a traditional toy from the Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture. The toy is made from two pieces of papier-mâché-covered wood, shaped and painted to look like a red cow or ox. One piece represents the cow’s head and neck and the other its body. The head and neck hang from a string and fits into the hollow body. When you move the cow, the head wiggles side to side which is very cute!

Akabeko - Red Cow of Aizu

I bought this as a souvenir when I went to Fukushima Prefecture, Aizu-Wakamatsu City in winter 2008/09. This was long before the horrible earthquake and tsunami hit the area.
It’s still freaking me out to think about the places I’ve been to and how some of the stations and buildings there got completely destroyed. :(

Speaking of the earthquake, I just read a really heartwarming and great story about it today! A German couple survived the tsunami and they were so impressed by the kindness of Japanese people despite all that. You can read all about it here.
My Twitter followers might already have read it. Remember to follow me on Twitter so that you won’t miss interesting stories like that in the future!

Akabeko - Red Cow of Aizu

Personally I think Akabeko is a great souvenir. You can get it in various sizes, too!
I went for one of the smallest sizes available and so it was quite cheap.
At Aizu-Wakamatsu Station you’ll run into a huge “Akabeko statue”. (Although I don’t know if that’s still there after March 11th – maybe somebody could update me on that? Thanks!!)

Akabeko - Red Cow of Aizu Akabeko - Red Cow of Aizu

“Aizu legend claims that the toys are based on a real cow that lived in the 9th century and showed its devotion to Buddha by willing its soul away or by refusing to leave the site of a temple it had helped to construct. The earliest Akabeko toys were created in the late 16th or early 17th century. Over time, people came to believe that the toys could ward off smallpox and other illnesses. Akabeko has become one of Fukushima Prefecture’s most famous crafts and a symbol of the Aizu region.” (source: Wikipedia)

Akabeko - Red Cow of Aizu

The standard “Akabeko” comes with nothing on its back, but as you can see mine has 2 black boxes! The kanji on the boxes are the same on both sides (金千両) which just means “a lot of money”, so I guess it’s also a lucky charm for becoming rich soon (didn’t happen to me yet, though ..)

Ok, I hope you enjoyed this entry.
It’s still one of my favorite souvenirs and if I ever get to go again I’ll be sure to buy at least ONE more!
Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!~

5 Comments

  • When I started my first full time job an Akabeko keychain was in the drawer. Whoever had worked there before had left it behind. When I changed jobs I took it with me and I still carry it around with me :)

  • I lived in Fukushima for 3 years. I have a stuffed Akabeko cellphone charm that a friend gave to me when I left my job there in 2010. I went back to visit this summer but I didn’t go to Aizu so I can’t tell you about the current conditions there. I did hear that it wasn’t so badly damaged there, since the mountain area was not as bad as central and sea areas. And of course the tsunami was nowhere near Aizu. There was definitely some damage in Koriyama, though. They still hadn’t repaired some steps to the 2nd floor of Koriyama Station and it was already August. I would hope they’ve made more progress since then.

    • Hey there! :D

      Yes, I remember that, but I didn’t know you went back there this year in summer!
      That’s good to know. I sure hope the station and everything there is ok.
      I’ve seen photos of the caslte in spring and it looked perfectly fine, luckily!!

      It’s sad to hear that Koriyama got destroyed quite a bit, though :(

      Thanks a lot for commenting here! :heart:

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