As we’ve previously mentioned, it’s Obon this week in Japan, and that means festivals, dancing, and ancestral spirits galore! Far from being the terrifying ghosts that you might find lurking in your closest in a horror film like Juon, however, these are spirits that Japanese people are happy to welcome into their houses. In addition to ohakamairi, or visiting graves, Japanese people also offer symbolic sacrifices at their home alters.
Some of the more interesting traditional sacrificial items are the cucumber horses (kyuri uma) and eggplant cows (nasu ushi) meant to carry the ancestors’ spirits to and from our earthly realm, but here’s one designer’s awesome, modern take on this ancient custom!
First, what the heck are cucumber horses and eggplant cows, anyway?
Basically, they are the transportation that carries the ancestors to and from the land of living, collectively referred to as shouryouuma. The horse is meant to represent a quick arrival here, basically showing that we are welcoming the spirits back and happy to have them. The cow, obviously much slower than a horse, is meant to represent a slow departure–to show them laden with offerings from this world and wish the spirits an easy trip back without hurrying them away. These figures are set out on August 13, mukaebon, when the spirits are to arrive and fires are also lit to guide them. Fires are also lit to guide the spirits on August 16 when they make the trip back to their realm.
Generally, the horse and cow are made simply, using toothpicks or waribashi (disposable wooden chopsticks) and a cucumber and eggplant.
▼Very traditional shouryouuma. Kind of cute, right?
But this is the 21 century! Surely we can do better than boring old horses and cows?? Well, Twitter user Kimishin, a mechanical designer and hobbyist figurine designer, seemed to think so! He has created a variety of truly unique shouryouuma, some of them even based on Gundam armor!
Here are a few of Kimishin’s amazing designs from over the last four years.
The pair below is from Gundam’s Zanscare Empire: the cucumber being the Doggorla suit and the eggplant being the Adrastea-class battleship.
▼The Adrastea-class battleship in bike mode.
▼And the battleship in flying mode!
▼Here’s what the battleship looks like in the show, in case you haven’t seen it.
▼The Doggorla suit, which has a dragon design.
▼And this is what the armor looks like in the show!
Not holding back with his creativity, Kimishin created the following shouryouuma from his own imagination. Though, if we’re being honest, they really should be in a movie or something. They’re already pretty scary in vegetable form!
The eggplant creature on the left is meant to be a space alien and, holy cow, does it ever look the part! The cucumber monster on the right is a “genetically modified” creature. The double strands of cucumber peels wrapped around its body are representative of DNA.
▼The “hair” on this guy’s head is actually corn silk.
▼This is the most terrifying eggplant we’ve ever seen!
▼And here’s a home alter decked out with all the sacrificial material including monster shouryouuma. They almost look like they’re watching us! Yikes!
A regular horse and donkey show!
Branching off in a totally different direction, Kimishin made the swiftest horse known to man: Pegasus! The designer wrote that the goal with these was to do something “simple.”
In addition to the Pegasus, Kimishin also put together a vegetable version of the Town Musicians of Bremen statue.
▼The tail here is also made of corn silk.
It seems that the figure riding the Pegasus is meant to be wearing a cowboy hat.
▼Based on the Bremen statue, this figure is composed of an eggplant, a cucumber, a tomato, and a blueberry. Kimishin wrote that all of the produce was home-grown. Is there no end to his abilities??
▼The actual statue in Bremen, Germany. Not bad!
A tank and a dinosaur walk into a bar…
And the final shouryouuma pair today is an anime-esque tank and a dinosaur!
▼Kimishin wrote that the tank seemed like something from an anime, but he didn’t indicate which one in particular.
▼And this adorable little guy is a dinosaur! Again, Kimishin didn’t write which dinosaur, but we’re guessing it’s a Stegosaurus.
Japanese Internet users seemed a bit confused by Kimishin’s creations.
Is it really okay to cut the shouryouuma?
I bet this guy loves to play with his food…
Do these have any effectiveness as a shouryouuma?
Are these kinds of shouryouuma really okay??
If you cut them up, the ancestral spirits can’t ride them! The spirits need the plants’ real parts for stability and to exist.
The ancestors are all the “new type!”
I think creating these unique designs is fine. The old people might be a bit grumpy about it though. But Obon customs are pretty intense. Still, do you think the spirits will be coming back in this heat??
Not everyone was put off by Kimishin’s designs–in fact a lot of comments were very positive. But it does show a difference in opinion about how best to celebrate the holiday.
As for us, we think these designs are stellar!
Kimishin’s webpage, Kimix-Gogo (Japanese only), also features some handmade figurines and unique snow art, in addition to his comics. It’s not all entirely safe for work, so we recommend using discretion when viewing in public.