Akabeko (in local dialect red cow) is a traditional toy from the Japanese Aizu region located in the west of Fukushima prefecture. Some ten households make the Akabeko today. This toy is made in papier-mâché technique. The toy has a shape of red cow or ox. Red is believed to be a lucky colour. When the toy is moved its head also moves up and down and side to side.

Akabeko – traditional Japanese toy

The origin of the Akabeko can be found in the year 807. A monk called Tokuichi was building the Enzoji temple in Yanaizu. Cattle was used to haul the lumber. Among them was a large red cow. When the temple was finished the cow refused to leave. Locals started to treat her as kind of religious symbol. The legend was created.

First Akabeko toys were made in the late 16th century. In 1590 Ujisato Gamo became the lord of Aizu region. He heard about the above mentioned legend. He decided to use it to earn some money. He ordered the artisans who came with him from Kyoto to make a toy based on the legend. There is an old belief that the Akabeko toy can prevent smallpox and some other illnesses.