Saiten keiba (horse racing festival) (祭典競馬)

Saiten keiba was a horse race held at shrine festivals, etc. as dedication or as entertainment.


Recorded history of saiten keiba goes back to the Heian period. Traditional form of saiten keiba was a tournament style race of two horses or 'Kisha' (shooting arrows on horseback) on a straight track of a few hundred meters. Saiten keiba can be seen today at Kamo Wakeikazuchi Jinja Shrine (Kamigamo-jinja Shrine) as Kamo no keiba (Kamo Horse racing, taking place in May every year).

After 1861, western style horse racing (modern horse racing) began to take place at the foreign settlement in Yokohama City. It was a race by three or more horses on an oval track and the form of the modern horse racing was taken over by Japanese and this form of race gradually spread everywhere in Japan, however, the traditional saiten keiba were used as the venue. Horse racing taking place at Shokon-sha Shrine in Kudan, Tokyo Prefecture under the Hyobusho (the ministry of military) in 1870 led to this new way of horse racing.

After the Meiji period, saiten keiba was especially active in regions where there were horse farms. Although some adopted modern horse racing, in many cases, others kept the traditional form.

With the Rules and Regulations of Horse Racing revised in 1910, it was stipulated that races other than officially permitted ones could not take place unless permission of local governors was given to Sangyuba Kumiai (Union of horses and cattle) or organizations of which purpose was to improve the breeding or increase horses, however, saiten keiba as a local entertainment was omitted from such restrictions. And when these organizations obtained permission from the local governors and the races took place, they were often held at the same time of local festivals.

After 1927 when the Rules Related to Regional Horse Racing were promulgated, races other than those officially sanctioned were treated as local horse races, and modern-style saiten keiba gradually disappeared because the Rules stipulated the required conditions regarding the facilities and organizer in detail. However, there are many regions where horse racing takes place to coincide with the dates of local festivals as same as races held by Sangyuba kumiai under the Rules, and such local horse racing is related to saiten keiba historically and culturally, or directly connected to it. The aforementioned saiten keiba as Shinto rituals such as Kamo no keiba are taking place even today.

[Original Japanese]