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What is an Akabeko?

Akabeko means Red Cow in Japanese.  It is a traditional toy from the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture, in eastern Japan.  Legend says that the akabeko was based on a real cow that would not leave a temple it had helped to build and had devoted its life to Buddha.  It also came to be known to ward off smallpox and other illnesses.  The akabeko has now become a famous craft and symbol of Aizu and Fukushima Prefecture.  

 

The bobble head toy is made from two pieces of papier mache covered wood, shaped and painted to look like a red cow.  One piece represents the head and neck and the other its body. The head and neck hangs from a string and fits into the hollow body.

 

Akabeko are now made by fewer than a dozen family-run workshops, whose members have passed down the technique for generations.  The process takes about 10 days to complete.  The artisan begins by wrapping wetted Japanese washi paper around two blocks of wood, one shaped like the cow's body, and the other shaped like the head and neck.  Many of these blocks have been used for many generations.  Once the paper dries, the artisan splits it lengthwise to remove the wooden blocks.  The craftsperson then rejoins the pieces of molded paper by wrapping more layers of washi around them. 

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