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Horses in Ancient Japan

Ewa Nowogorski

Have you ever wondered where a lot of modern domestic animals in Japan came from?

It is a small island country after all, and the last land bridge that connected Japan with Asia disappeared thousands of years ago under water.

Today, horses are mainly used in racing and gambling, a very lucrative business, with most of Japan’s domestic horses being raised in Hokkaido, where land is cheap and there is enough of it to go around.

Evidence of horses existing in Japan can actually be found as far back as the Jomon Period, from 14,000 to 300 BCE, but they were at the time not used for neither agriculture nor warfare. These horses descended from Korean and Chinese imports, and they were very small. An adult male stood taller than these old horses. It wasn’t until the 4th Century when Samurai started mounting horses and using them in war. Cavalry was often an important component in Japanese warfare, and it was often decisive in battle.

Horses were not only seen as tools for agriculture and war, however. They also became significant religious figures. In the Shinto religion, horses have been known to be the mount of the gods, and white horses were especially considered to be sacred.

Because land is pretty scarce and generally expensive, very few people keep horses as pets or farm hands. There are not that many leisure horse riding facilities either, making horses a rare animal in Japan today.

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