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Perfect Souvenirs for Children! 5 Traditional Japanese Toys

Toys have been made all over Japan since ancient times. These traditional toys are linked to local customs and beliefs and are rich in color and variety. Below are five toys that are a must buy when you visit Japan.

1. Chagu Chagu Umakko (Iwate)

Chagu Chagu Umakko (Chagu Chagu Horse Festival) is a festival wherein about 100 farming horses wearing colorful costumes parade all over town. The horses march over an approximately 13km stretch from Iwate’s Takizawa City to the center of Morioka City. The bells on them make a “chagu-chagu” sound as they walk. A festival unique to the southern Morioka area that is known as a horse-breeding center since olden times, this kind of festival is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. The local toy that is named after this festival is lovingly called chagu chagu umakko, too. The colorful wooden horse is clad in a beautiful costume and also makes the sound of ringing bells – just like the real thing.

2. Akabeko (Fukushima)

Akabeko is a local toy that represents the Aizu region in Fukushima. This papier-mache cow that is made from washi (Japanese paper) is characterized by its swaying neck and its appealing features. It originated from the red cow that apparently stopped an epidemic that had spread during the Heian period (794 – 1185). There is even a temple in Fukushima that still has a stone statue of a cow that has become the model of the red cow legend. This toy is treasured by the people of this region as an amulet for warding off evil, and they believe that a child with an akabeko will be spared from disaster or illness.

3. Inu Hariko (Tokyo)

The Inu Hariko, a papier-mache dog, is a local toy of Tokyo. It was created in the Edo period as a charm for praying for smooth childbirth as well as for the good health and development of children. This toy used the dog as a motif since dogs can bear many puppies and still have an easy delivery. The dog has a “*den-den daiko” (pellet drum) or a “take no zaru” (bamboo basket) on its back, with each item holding a different meaning. The den-den daiko creates a sound on both sides of the drum, so it is used for praying for a child to be decent (same on both sides) and obedient. Meanwhile, the take no zaru has the “take” (竹 or bamboo) radical on top of the kanji character for “inu” (犬 or dog) that makes it look like the character for “warau” (笑 or smile), so this symbolizes the hope that a child will always be smiling.

*This is a children’s toy that has a small drum suspended on a rod, with bells or pellets hanging on threads on both sides of the drum. If you roll the rod, the pellets will hit the drum to make a sound.

4. Kaga Hachiman Okiagari (Ishikawa)

The Kaga Hachiman Okiagari (self-righting doll) is a local toy of Kanazawa in Ishikawa. Patterned after the shape of the crimson wrapping when the enshrined deity at Hachimangu shrine was born, this toy was created to pray for good health and happiness for children. It has an adorable look as its body is covered in Japanese paper, colored in chalk and vermilion, and then painted with pine, bamboo and plum. There is a base under the body of this doll, so it is able to rise back up after it falls every single time. With that, it has become famous as a representative of “nana korobi yaoki” (always rising after a fall). It is also used as a talisman for good fortune and warding off evil, as well as for weddings, birth and shop openings. Today, it comes in various other colors besides red.

5. Kingyo Chochin (Yamaguchi)

Characterized by its red and white body and humorous face with large and bright black eyes, the kingyo chochin (goldfish lantern) is a representative folk craft from Yamaguchi. This toy is said to have begun around 150 years ago with the dye of a traditional fabric called “yanaijima”, being applied to “nebuta” (a large lantern made from bamboo, wood, wire and paper) from Aomori. It is made by assembling the frame of the lantern using a thin strip of bamboo and then covering the frame with shoji paper. In ancient times, it was made by adults and then given to children. During festivals and other events, children would walk with these lanterns with candles inside.

Aside from the above, there is a wide array of local, traditional toys all over Japan. There are also many spots where you can experience making these local toys, so please check them out!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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