Okiagari Koboshi are dolls with rounded bottoms, so that when you push them over, they don’t fall but roll back up into standing position. Dolls such as these are made all over Japan, with different styles and looks depending on where they come from. In fact, two other prefectures also feature dolls that wont knock down, Gunma’s Daruma dolls and Ishikawa’s cute Okiagari dolls. I’ll be writing about Gunma Daruma soon, but today let’s focus on Fukushima.
Okiagari dolls across the board are considered good luck charms of perseverance and resilience, and are usually made of paper mache. Fukushima dolls are painted most commonly in red and blue, with white and simplistic faces.
These were bought at Ouchijuku, but they can be found all over Fukushima
Mini Okiagari Koboshi with a matching mini postcard!
The most famous time to buy these dolls is during the Tokaichi (10th Day) Market in January in Aizu-Wakamatsu. You should throw a handful on the ground to check how well they stand back up, and buy the ones that do since those are considered lucky! Be sure to purchase one for each member of the family, plus one for future growth!
Fukushima Prefecture’s second postcard is a cute little red cow called “aka-beko” in Japanese. “Aka” is the word for red, while “beko” is a local dialect word for cow (usually “ushi”). Legend has it that during building a temple called Enzoji, a local village donated timber for its construction, but had a hard time transporting the large amount to the area. Somehow a red cow was involved, though whether it appeared out of nowhere to help, or was used to transport faithfully then died when the temple was completed, is contested. Whatever the original story, the cow is considered a symbol of good fortune and devotion to Buddha, and is popular for all ages today.
The cows are usually made out of paper mache and string. The head is connected to the body in a way that allows it to move side-to-side and up-and-down. It is very cute!
You can find them at many places in Fukushima for sale. I bought mine at Ouchijuku, but they are available around the prefecture.
My own akabeko with the mini Akabeko card!
If you arrive at Aizu-Wakamatsu station, there is a giant akabeko on display outside for more picture-taking opportunities. You can also visit Enzoji Temple to see an akabeko there as well, along with a cow statue and to hear the story. Read more about Enzoji here.
Ouchijuku is a post town isolated in the mountains a little south of Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan north of Tokyo. In the Edo period, post towns were frequent along major roads connecting different areas of the country, as not only were samurai required to visit their lords often, non-samurai classes were regulated to traveling only on foot, necessitating frequent stops along the roads for food and lodging. Ouchijuku is located along the Aizu Nishi Kaido route, connecting Aizu with Tochigi Prefecture’s famous Nikko. Although many post towns along this and other routes are still there today, very few have been preserved to look and feel like they did in the Edo period. Ouchijuku, therefore, is one of the few that take visitors back to a bygone era.
Ouchijuku can be reached by train to Aizu-Wakamatsu and then by bus, or by car. The town has several restaurants and shops, a museum, a small shrine, and an even smaller temple, but no places for tourists to stay, so overall not much time is needed to explore the area, making it a quick and fun day trip from other places. You can read more about it at Japan Guide here.
Postcard and post town
Another view from the small temple lookout
Looking up toward the small temple
There are many shops selling food and souvenirs along the way
Many famous souvenirs can be bought there, two of which are also featured on Fukushima’s postcards: Aka-beko and Okiagari Koboshi, both of which I’ve also written about here.