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An eggplant and a cucumber, each supported on four thin sticks, used to be a common sight on the corners of dusty lanes in Tokyo in mid-August.  The cucumber–long, thin, and gracefully curved–and the eggplant–squat and blocky–played a special role in August’s day of remembrance, also known as “o-bon”.

O-bon is the day that deceased ancestor’s spirits get to return to their old homes for a visit.  A feast is laid, candles are lit, and incense scents the air.  All is ready!

But…

Depending on how long the ancestor has been gone, the geography of the old home town may have changed.  The spirits might lose their way.  And the spirits, who have only this one chance, may be in a hurry to arrive at the celebration.

Voila!  Transportation!

The elongated cucumber on its four strong legs represents a horse, to carry the ancestors to their party in style.  The stubby cucumber is a powerful ox, to carry them home from the party–laden with gifts and memories–slowly, perhaps reluctantly.

No one puts out cucumbers and eggplants anymore, but if you happen to pass an open window, you might still catch the scent of incense, honoring those who have gone before us.