One cloudless Sunday afternoon, I was drinking tea in a coffee shop overlooking a thick forest. My mood buoyed by the flavorful tea, my only care in the world was perhaps the fact that the person beside me was my wife. Two birds were flying outside the window. Upon a closer look, I saw that one of the birds was chasing the other and prodding it. The one being prodded was trying to fight back, and another bird came along and started backing it up. It looked like probably black kites and crows. The mid-air battle unfolding just 20m in front of me was quite a sight to see. Just then, what suddenly came to mind was a video of a collision of a Vietnamese ship and a Chinese ship in the South China Sea. Each was arguing that the other had bumped into it 30 times, or 50 times, etc. Despite the obvious differences between the air and sea, they are somewhat similar, don't you think? After all, at least for black kites and crows, there is absolutely no way that an all-out war between the two species would erupt.
This issue is a feature about the Japanese Society of Equine Science symposium held last year at the University of Tokyo's Yayoi Auditorium. Entitled "Japan's Horses and Festivals: Making Wishes to the Gods," the symposium was put together for the most part by this journal's editorial board member Masumi Suezaki.
The symposium's first topic was "Ancient Horse Rituals" by Akira Matsui, a foremost authority on animal archaeology. It is believed that it was after the middle part of the Kofun period that the horses that would be the ancestors of the current indigenous horses were brought to the Japanese archipelago. Matsui explained in detail at the symposium the fact that horses were sacrificed in Kofun funeral ceremonies, illustrating his point with cases of excavation from the burial mounds of the masters themselves.
Next, Masumi Suezaki gave a presentation entitled "Wooden Plaques with Horse Pictures and the Horse-headed Kannon Faith." First, he introduced the fact that the roots of the wooden plaques with horse pictures that are currently dedicated to shrines all over Japan were horses that were used as offerings during rituals. Then he showed beautiful slides of the patterns in such plaques. It was also interesting to hear that the horse-headed kannon faith came about as a result of a belief that horses were an animal that devours suffering and earthly desires.
After this, three people involved in festivals that actually make use of horses gave presentations.
Yasumasa Fujiki, a Shinto priest at Kamo Shrine, spoke in detail in a presentation entitled "Kamo Horse Race Shinto Rites" about the history and present-day situation of the "Kamo-no-kurabeuma" horse race Shinto rites that have been taking place since the Heian period.
And Shinozaki Koji, who is closely involved in horseback archery in Nikko, gave a presentation entitled "Festival and Horseback Archery at Nikko Toshogu Shrine." In it, he described what happens in the horseback archery that takes place at Nikko Toshogu Shrine and also introduced scenes of performances in New Zealand and Great Britain.
In addition, Kunie Takahashi, the chief priest of Gonomiya Shrine in Nagano prefecture, delivered a presentation entitled "Flower-horse Festival in Tadachi." He introduced the history and present-day situation of the flower-horse festival, which has been passed down from ancient times in the town of Kiso, but is nonetheless rare nationwide.
According to a study done in 1989 by the Equine Museum of Japan, there were 500 traditional festivals around Japan that make use of horses. So it seems safe to say that the links between Japanese people and horses have continued since the days of old on that wide of a scale. However, for reasons such as difficulties in financing the rearing and borrowing of horses, the number of festivals using horses is apparently decreasing since then. I must say this trend is a sad one.
(Editor-in-chief Ryo Kusunose)