It’s a little late to be talking about O-Bon – it finished on August 15th here – but I managed to get a couple of interesting pictures.
Anyone who spends the summer in suburban Japan will encounter cucumbers and eggplants with four pieces of chopstick pushed into them (to create legs) placed on street corners. (I admit to being baffled on my first encounter – I thought they were some kid’s handiwork.)
These are called shoryouma (精霊馬), in which shoryo refers to the spirit of the dead (typically an ancestor) and uma is a horse. Curiously, the cucumber represents a horse and the eggplant represents a cow, but there is no customary name for the cow alone. The pair are known as horses!
The role of the horse and cow are not defined exactly. Depending on whom you talk to:
The horse is for the spirits to arrive on so they come quickly. The cow is for the spirits to depart on so that they leave slowly.
The cow is for the spirits to arrive on and the horse is for them to return on.
The horse is for the spirits to ride and the cow is to carry their belongings.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover straw versions too. The shape is sometimes difficult to tell apart – one website I found during my research suggested only the shape of the tails were different!
There are other Bon decorations, but these tend to be displayed indoors. Shoryouma are the only kind of Bon decorations one simply stumbles upon.