Something not on the menus anywhere in America or in many countries around the world, horse meat is a highly prized delicacy in Japan, considered a luxury food item. It tends to be rare and expensive. It is only sold in certain places during certain parts of the year. It is very much a seasonal item.
I never tried horse meat and I can confidently say that I never will. But many Japanese people are intrigued by horse meat and do not feel empathy for horses the way many Americans do. They are no different from cattle.
Horse meat was not always consumed in Japan. Horses were extremely rare in Japan, and before they were brought there, very small prehistoric populations existed. Modern horses were introduced in the 5th century, and they were introduced from China.
The origins of using horse meat as food is unclear, but it is believed that the first person to eat horse was a Japanese lord called Kiyomosa Kato in the 16th Century. It is believed that while he was in battle, his food rations ran out and he was forced to eat his dead horse to survive.
Today horse meat is traditionally eaten raw, cut into thin slices and dipped in soy sauce. It is commonly served with ginger and onion slices on the side. It is sometimes called “sakura niku” or “cherry blossom meat” because it has a pinkish color to it. Fatty parts, particularly from the horse’s neck, are a favored portion of the horse. The meat is also sometimes cut and stabbed on skewers and grilled.