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The horse has been an integral part of Japanese society for many centuries. From antiquity, the Japanese worshipped the horse as a god. They believed that the "divine spirit" appeared in the human world on horseback, and horses were sometimes offered at shrines for the coming of the gods. Evidence indicates that the horse was first harnessed in Japan during the late 4th century AD during the Kofun period (late 3rd through the late 6th centuries AD). Later within this same period evidence of riding first appeared.

With the exception of racehorses, the horse is slowly disappearing from the Japanese landscape. While horses once played an important role in transportation, agriculture, and the military, today these functions are performed primarily by machines. Despite this, the depth of the relationship between the Japanese people and horses is still evident at festivals and in traditional equestrian arts and crafts.


Each spring since 1093 AD, the Japanese festival of Kurabeuma, or match race, is held at the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. Two warriors, one dressed in red and the other in black, compete in the traditional race. The photo , shows a section of the Kamo Horse Racing Screen, circa 1100 AD, from the collection of the Equine Museum of Japan.