The Legend of Akabeko
There are at least two legends that explain why akabeko is cherished in Aizu. In 807 CE when the temple Enzo-ji was being constructed in the small town of Yanaizu, the cliff-top position of the site made transportation of heavy building materials difficult. The legend is that a red cow, in a herd of cattle, helped to transport the materials and refused to leave the site of the temple even after it was finished. Yanaizu continues to be regarded as the home town of akabeko.
Another legend is set in the time of Japan’s outbreak of smallpox, in the late 16th century CE. There was a belief at the time that akabeko toys protected children from the disease. The circles painted on akabeko’s side are said to represent pockmarks from smallpox. The colour red is also thought to protect against illness and is associated with good health.