Akabeko: The Legendary Red Cow
The legend of Akabeko, or the “red cow,” began in 807 CE when Japanese monks used cattle to help build the Enzoji Temple in Yanaizu, Fukushima. There are many theories as to the specifics of the story, but the most popular version tells of a single red cow or ox that never left after the temple was finished. The locals recognized the cow’s loyalty as a sign of strength and persistence.
The legend of the red cow inspired the creation of the traditional Japanese toy, which was first made in the late 1500s. In 1950, the lord of the Aizu region commissioned doll makers from Kyoto to teach samurai how to make the toys. He believed this would not only help establish a foundation for culture, but that it would also help improve the economy.
The Akabeko toy is made from wood covered with papier-mâché and is constructed in two parts: the cow’s head and neck, and the cow’s body. The cow’s head and neck hang from a string that fits into its hollow body. Like a bobblehead doll, the cow’s head shakes when the toy is moved, inspiring laughter and a soothing mood.