Obon – horses and cows?

So, apparently, Obon happens a month earlier in Shizuoka than in the rest of Japan.  Obon (お盆), or the Bon Festival, is a time when Japanese people remember their ancestors and pray for the dead.  People usually have family reunions and return to their family homes to spend time together.  Originally, according to the lunar calendar, the three-day festival of Obon was celebrated around July 15th.  However, in most parts of Japan, Obon is now celebrated around August 15th.  I’m not sure of the exact reason why people in Shizuoka stick to the old date, but according to one of my students, they do.

And, I have the same student to thank for this amazing gift I received today:

Obon "horse" and "cow" made from a cucumber and an eggplant

“What the?!”, you might very well ask.  Well, these are traditional “dolls”  made for Obon.  The cucumber is a horse, and the eggplant/aubergine is a cow (although I think it looks more like an elephant!).  They are supposed to be put outside your door on the first day of Obon with some incense, then the ancestors’ spirits ride on them between this world and the other world.  I think the incense smoke trail is supposed to help them find their way back home afterwards.  After the first day of Obon, the horse and cow are put on the butsudan (literally “Buddha Altar”) inside the family’s home, and given offerings once a day.  On the last day of Obon, the animals are taken to the river bank, and left to carry the ancestors home. They are not thrown into the river though!

I love this custom, and I was so thrilled to received these vegetable animals at school today!  I’ve seen pictures before but never seen them in real-life.  Thank you to my student for sharing a beautiful, unique custom with me! 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Obon – horses and cows?

  1. Pingback: nippon-ni.net » Blog Archive » Wrong!

  2. I was just at an Obon service in Hawaii and the priest was talking about the cucumber horses and eggplant oxen. I decided to google it and your blog came out. This is so very interesting. Thank you so much! Considering the fact that I am Buddhist, this is the first I’d heard of it.


    • I’m glad you found it interesting! I was lucky to have an elderly Japanese lady teach me about a lot of traditions like this while I was teaching English in Japan. 😉


  3. Pingback: Today’s Watercolor: Obon Cucumber Horse & Eggplant Cow |

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