Horse Races in Japan - Modern and Traditional
AFNetsuke wrote:I'm not very familiar with horse bits but I can't see one being used as the himotoshi on these Koku kiseruzutsu. It looks more to me like the fitting at the top of an abumi (stirrup). I will need to get a quick pic on my phone and post from there what I refer to. This one will be a solid attachment but there could just as well be a leather piece between the ring and the rest of the stirrup.
Did the Japanese have horse races and if so I suspect wagering was a big part of it. The same wealthy patrons of the races may likely have been coin collectors as well.
Western-style horse racing came to Japan with Meiji times. The Yokohama Race Club, initiated by British residents was established in 1862.
In all other metropolitan areas racing clubs spread up. In 1923 there were already eleven clubs. Racing developped to the JRA (Japan Racing Association). Betting was allowed in 1906, later forbidden, then allowed again. Horseracing in Japan today can be compared to other hot spots like Hongkong, Paris, Ascot.
Horseracing however has a long history in Japan, but has nothing in common with western-style racing, though a horse and someone to ride the horse is part of it.
The first documented horse race was seen in Kyoto in the year 1093 during reign of Emperor Horikawa. This race was a Shinto ceremony. These ritual races spread all over Japan on the Shinto shrines compounds.
Nowaday the ritual is still en vogue on 5'th of May every year in the Kamigamo Jinja Shrine in Kyoto a little to the north from the Botanical Garden at the edge of the Kamo River.
There are 12, sometimes 20 horses, forming teams of two person's each, that means 6 or 10 races. The racing track is a straight strip, no bends or curves. There is a "left team" using the left part of the strip and the second for the right side. The jockeys of the left team are in red traditional costumes, they represent the Kamigamo Shrine, those of the right team are in black and represent the Hachimangu Shrine. Each team has a staff consisting of 2 guardians, a praying supporter with an assistant. The judges belong only to the left team, while the second rated right team have kind of novices of judges. The praying supporters are given court ranks for the day of the event.
The 2 jockeys do not start at the ame time. It is not important, who crosses the finish line first. The second jockey starts, when the first is already on his way. The judges try to find out, whether the distance between the horses shortens or elongates in the end. It may also happen, that the second jockey starts, when the first is through. Of importace besides the vitesse is the character of the horse, the costume, the posture and the overall impression.
Who wins then?
The left team always wins. The left team is the personification of LUCK. When the left wins, then there will be a rich rice harvest for the people. It means Happiness is all around.
And as so often in Japan: The Ritual of Kurabeuma (horse racing) is the duel between Good and Evil. The devil must loose! Very simple and a high ethecal stand, indeed.
Today this race on 5'th of May each year is a local festival for the city of Kyoto and vicinity (including some lost foreigners).
May be you might go this year? Save the date, May 5, entrance is free,