With July nearly over, one of Japan’s biggest holidays gets underway next month: Obon. Not only will it be celebrated all across the country, but also in Animal Crossing: New Horizons with traditional cucumber horses and eggplant cows.
Held typically in August for three days (though, for some in Tokyo, it’s held a month earlier), the Buddhist festival marks the return of one’s ancestors. People in Japan visit cemeteries and clean their family’s gravestones, don light summer kimono called yukata or jinbei, watch fireworks, and attend festivals where they eat, drink, and dance.
Summer festivals are truly one of the best times to be in Japan. But this year, with 37 per cent of the population under a state of emergency through August 31 due to spiking covid-19 cases, this Obon season will hardly be typical. People will still celebrate, though mass gatherings seem to be out, which makes enjoying summer in Animal Crossing more relevant than ever.
At home, people will still make horses and cows out of cucumbers, eggplants, and toothpicks. These Obon mainstays are also coming to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the sight of them might seem surprising at first. I remember the first time I saw a cucumber horse at the home of my wife’s grandmother. “That’s so my husband can visit,” she told me.
The horse cucumber and eggplant cattle are called shoryouma (精霊馬). The “legs” of each can be made from toothpicks, shortened chopsticks, or any other wooden sticks. The idea is that the ancestor will use the horse to get home asap, and then return on the slower cattle, sticking around in this world just a wee bit longer, soaking up the scenery on the way back.
The cucumber horse can be placed outside on the family’s doorstep with incense to enable the ancestor’s journey home. (I’ve also seen them placed in hutches in the entryway as well.) Sometimes the eggplant cow is also displayed; however, since its purpose is the return trip, that might not be necessary.
The shoryouma set is then placed on the family altar, which is filled with offerings. These can be food and drink the ancestor enjoyed in life, such as oranges, potato chips, soft drinks, or even alcohol, like beer. The eggplant cow is also suited to “carry” these offerings back with the ancestor on the return trip.
Making the cucumber horse and eggplant cattle is straightforward, but in the past few years, creative types in Japan have let loose, making some truly wild shoryouma. (For example, check out these Mad Max inspired ones!)
Of course, shoryouma have previously appeared in Animal Crossing — and will continue to do so in the inevitable future iterations. The latest seasonal free update drops today. The eggplant cow and cucumber horse will be available via Nook Shopping between August 10 and 16, just in time in time for your Animal Crossing ancestors from games of yore to hurry home to New Horizons.
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