Tokyobling's Blog

Spirited Away – 精霊馬

Posted in Stuff by tokyobling on August 16, 2009

This weekend is the Japanese festival of Obon, the Japanese day of the Dead, Halloween or Dia De Los Muertos, Walpurgis Nacht. The theme is the same all over the world, it is the day when the living welcome the spirits of the dead back to our world. To guide them back we light lanterns, enact festivals and special dances to make sure our ancestor spirits feel welcome. It is a very famous holiday in Japan and is a time when most people try to take time of to visit their families. Hence highways are clogged, city streets are unusually quiet and people who are unable to go back to their hometowns haunt the streets of Tokyo feeling sorry for themselves.

One aspect of the Obon festival are these cleverly designed dolls made out of cucumber and eggplant, the Shouryou-uma (literally Spirit Horse). People build these little figures out of fresh vegetables and leave them near the door of their homes or near the entrances of the cemetery. The two figures represent a horse and a cow, the long leg of the horse will carry the spirits swiftly to their old homes and the short legs of the cow will make them linger for a long slow comfortable journey back. Of course, depending on who you talk to the opposite is held as true: the cow will bring the spirits back to our world, but slowly, and the swift horse will take them back to make sure they don’t linger around after their welcome has worn thin.

My friends have told me of this custom and these figures but I had never seen one until yesterday morning at the gates of the local cemetery. The wood used is broken chop sticks, and a glass of water is offered to appease the thirsty spirits. Japanese summers can be murderously hot.

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  1. Japanerd | chukichi said, on July 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    […] Spirited Away […]


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