Akabeko (赤べこ Akabeko, red cow) is a legendary cow from the Aizu region of Japan, who inspired a traditional toy. Aizu legend claims that the toys are based on a real cow used to build the Enzō-ji temple in the ninth century.
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 hangs from a string and fits into the hollow body. When the toy is moved, the head thus bobs up and down and side to side. 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. It has also been recognized as a symbol of the larger Tōhoku region, of which Fukushima Prefecture is a part.