August 16, 2019

Eggplant Cows and Cucumber Horses: Obon in Japan

It's Obon this week in Japan! Obon is an important annual Buddhist tradition when our ancestors’ spirits visit their homes from the spirit world to be reunited with their family. In this period, a lot of people return to their hometown for family gathering.

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When I was living in Japan, my family always visited my husband’s parents’ house in central Japan during Obon. My mother-in-law was busy shopping and cooking for the entire family, so I usually helped her clean the alter and set out offerings which were favorites of each of the ancestors my mother-in-law had prepared for the occasion. There were sweets, fruits, green tea, sake, and always along with them were cucumber horses and eggplant cows.

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They are called shoryoma, spiritual conveyances. The cucumber, which represents a quick-footed horse, serves as a fast vehicle to guide our ancestors home because we want to welcome them as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, the eggplant, which signifies a slow and big cow, is used to send them back to their world so they can carry their favorite food and drinks we honored them with, and enjoy some sightseeing on the way back to their world.

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I have made a cucumber (actually a green squash) and an eggplant cow with some bamboo cocktail picks. I do not know if my ancestors will visit my family all the way to the U.S., but I hope they do! And on their journey back on the cow, I hope they would enjoy some sightseeing of America!

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