Traditional Horse Racing (Japan) (古式競馬 (日本))

This article describes Japanese traditional horse racing (running horses for the speed competition and then deciding which horse is superior), called kurabeuma, kisoiuma, or komakurabe.


According to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), in the article of 679 during the ear of the Emperor Tenmu there is a description about actual horse racing to appreciate excellent horses. Therefore, there existed horse racing in this period. However, this appreciation event developed differently as hashiriuma (horse racing) at festivals. Aside from this, horse racing to compete on the horses' speed came to be held as a court function at sechie (seasonal court banquet) on May 5 through 6.

In the horse racing as a court function, the match called norijiri in which the riders competed how skillfully they were able to ride the unhandled horses and run through the course was mainly taken. The horse racing was held by a pair of horses (left side, right side) with ten races to compete for winning the race, obstructing norijiri or the opponent horse itself. The jockeys were selected from among the lower class military officers belonging to the ebu (the section to guard the court) or meryo (the section taking care of imperial horses). They came into the match, each of the left and right rider wearing uchikake in Chinese style (long outer robe of a formal dress for military officers) representing tojiki (the color corresponding to one's official rank) of military officers with different colors and patterns on them. The horse racing was held in Butokuden in the Imperial Palace till the mid Heian period, but it was sometimes held in an angu (temporary lodging built to accommodate an Imperial visit), a rikyu (detached palace), a residence of kugyo (the top court officials) and precincts of a shrine. And later with the ebb of Butokuden, most of the horse racings came to be held extraordinarily. The extraordinary horse racing at Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, Iwashimizu-hachimangu Shrine and Kasuga-taisha Shrine was especially famous. The horse racing was actively held till the Medieval Period. According to "Hanazonoin Shinki" (The Diary of the Emperor Hanazono), the emperor made ironical remarks on January 13, 1325 about the incident that both Jimyoin party that the emperor belonged to and Daikakujito party, the rival of Jimyointo, sent emissaries to Kamakura in order to obtain the favorable judgment over the validity of the succession to the Imperial Throne between the Imperial Prince Kuniyoshi and the Emperor Godaigo from the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) one after another, saying "It looks like a horse racing."

The course was linear and the black wooden fence called rachi was installed on both sides. Along the course three wooden pillars were set up as markers. In the case of kisha (to shoot an arrow while riding a horse), the course was set up so that the wooden pillars could be placed on the left side of the course, and on each pillar matokake (shooting target) was attached as boji (sings placed at the borders of territories). In the case of horse racing, the first wooden pillar was set as umadashi (the start line of a horse race), the second one as a marker 'shobu no ki (wooden pillar for winning or losing)' to horsewhip, and the third one as umatodome (the stop line of a horse race), which is a goal, with a hoko (long-handled Chinese spear) placed for deciding the winner. The spectators were supposed to see the races either in umabadono (a place in the middle of a horse riding ground) facing rachi (wooden fence) or in the tent set up on both sides of umabadono. The jockeys competed for the speed to reach the goal, but the skills of norijiri was considered important. When the jockey fell from his horse before the goal, he became the loser. In addition, there was a rule called mokenouma (an advantage horse) that after the first match the loser started first while the winner started a little later. In this case, the latter horse was called oiuma (chasing horse) and oiuma needed to overtake mokenouma to finish the goal to win.

[Original Japanese]