The horse in Japan 日本の馬

sacred animal


Imported from Asia in the 4th century, a horse is an emblematic animal of Japanese culture. Whether at the heart of Shinto rituals or ancestral military equestrian Imported from Asia in the 4th century, a horse is an emblematic animal of Japanese culture.


Japanese equestrian culture takes many forms inherited from military equestrian arts, Shinto rituals, and traditions of the imperial court. Very popular from the end of the Heian period (794-1192) to the Kamakura period (1192-1333), yabusame is an equestrian martial art in which a galloping rider must hit three targets. In this very high-level military art, the archers demonstrate exceptional skill. You can attend yabusame demonstrations in shrines during festivities, such as at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gû in Kamakura, every year in September. Horse racing, called kurabe uma, has been held since the Heian period (794-1185). Originally at the imperial court, these races, now integrated into Shinto ceremonies, are contested in particular at the Kamigamo-jinja in Kyoto every May 5.



Yabusame at Sumida Park in Tokyo


Parade of horses through the streets of Morioka, on the occasion of the Chagu Chagu Umako festival (2nd Saturday in June).



The dakyu, old Japanese polo shirt

Since the first horse races organized in Yokohama in 1862 by foreign residents, races have been very popular in the archipelago. The JRA, the Japanese racing association established in 1954, oversees the proper organization of professional racing. Over the decades, Japan has risen to the rank of a Tier 1 nation in horse racing; organizing international races of the highest level. In recent years, the success of Japanese horses in major competitions has propelled Japan to 3rd place in the world in the horse racing rankings for thoroughbreds. Almost 90% of these competition horses, whose reputation is now worldwide, come from breeding studs located in Hokkaido.

The most prestigious race in the country, the Japan Cup, inaugurated in 1981, is held in November at the Tokyo Hippodrome, located in the city of Fuchu. This has housed a horse racing museum since 1991. In addition, a horse museum opened its doors in 1977, on the former Yokohama racetrack in Negishi; where modern racing was born. Amateur horse races take place regularly throughout the archipelago and bring together members of riding clubs from all regions. These kusakeiba welcome competitors of all ages: from children competing in pony races to the elderly!

In addition, the city of Obihiro in Hokkaido has been organizing a unique race in the world for more than a century; banei tokachi. Draft horses weighing almost a ton pull a sulky with a jockey and a load (approximately 1 ton) on a sand track with two obstacle mounds. Beyond the speed, it is especially the endurance and the power of the horse as well as the technique of the jockey which make the difference in this kind of competition. Impressive?



Rider unfurling a large banner

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