Skip to main content

 photo DSCN0477_zpscad60561.jpg

While there is evidence of horses in Japan in the prehistoric periods, it is not until the Kofun era (250 to 538 CE), that archaeologists have evidence of horses being used for riding. This evidence comes in the form of terra cotta models uncovered in the mounded tombs of this period. These models show harnesses and saddles that are nearly identical to those used in Korea. This suggests that the horses, and the way in which they were used, came to Japan from Korea.

At the present time, genetics show that Japanese horses derived from the small sturdy Mongolian horses. In Japan today, eight horse breeds are recognized and all of these are small in stature—averaging 13 to 14 hands. Since there is relatively little pastureland in Japan, horses were generally stabled when they were not being ridden.

During the Heian period (794 to 1185), the era in which the concept of the samurai arose, horses became an essential part of every noble warrior’s equipment. This was an era in which power was centralized around an imperial court based in Kyoto. While it is common to assume that the sword was the soul of the samurai, the samurai’s primary fighting skill was horse-mounted archery. The samurai was the way of the horse and the bow.

 photo DSCN0478_zps0b42e1d0.jpg

 photo DSCN0476_zpsc24ac271.jpg

During the Heian period, warfare was sometimes based on ritualized duels between mounted archers. At the beginning of the battle, warriors would issue challenges before charging each other, shooting their arrows, and then wheel their horses around to return to their lines. This ritual can be seen in today’s yabusame performance which Ian Bottomly, in his essay on horse accoutrements in The Art of Armor, describes this way:

“During these displays, a series of riders gallop along a prepared track (baba) about 260 yards (240 m) long. Along the left side are three cedar-wood targets, spaced such that the rider has just sufficient time to nock and release an arrow as he passes.”
 photo DSCN0553_zpseef8f9e8.jpg

 photo DSCN0554_zps00ce3f4c.jpg

The early Japanese regarded the horse as the possessor of magical powers. Equestrian culture—horse riding, iron weapons, and armor—played a crucial role in establishing the Yamato state in the sixth century. The Japanese used their horses for warfare rather than for transportation, cultivation, or food.

The bow and arrow also have deep associations with spiritual powers. The sound of the bow could be used to summon friendly spirits as well as warding off evil.

The samurai made sure that their horses would always be treated with the utmost care.

Horse Armor:

 photo DSCN0723_zps6bd7a0e4.jpg

 photo DSCN0474_zps9c911ead.jpg

In Japan, the use of horse armor was a relatively late development: it came into use around 1600. The horse armor was made from small squares of lacquered leather which was sewn to a hemp lining. The lacquer enhances the durability of the leather.

 photo DSCN0544_zpsc7d1229a.jpg

 photo DSCN0551_zps4a3db432.jpg

 photo DSCN0552_zps52e92bc5.jpg

Shown above are horse masks intended to protect the front of the horse’s head without covering its eyes. These were made out of boiled leather that was molded and lacquered to represent dragons or caricatures of horses.

 photo DSCN0722_zps6d8f5c85.jpg

 photo DSCN0723_zps6bd7a0e4.jpg


Traditional saddles and stirrups were designed to provide a stable platform for archery. With regard to the manufacture of saddles, Ian Bottomly, in his essay on horse accoutrements in The Art of Armor, reports:

“It was the custom for a saddle maker to bend oak saplings into a U shape so that his son or grandson would inherit trees whose grain followed the contours required for making the curved pommel and cantle of the saddle.”
The use of leather in Japan was restricted because of Buddhist prohibitions about killing animals, and thus the old form of the girth was folded cloth. Later, strong hemp cords sewn together were used.

 photo DSCN0547_zps773ac7d1.jpg

 photo DSCN0549_zpsc6387ed0.jpg

The saddle and stirrups shown above date to the late Edo era in the nineteenth century. The saddle is made from wood, and the stirrups are forged iron.

 photo DSCN0550_zpsefe02afb.jpg

 photo DSCN0656_zps5eaa29cc.jpg

 photo DSCN0692_zpsaa4c4b32.jpg

 photo DSCN0480_zps1dc4cac6.jpg

 photo DSCN0545_zps97603869.jpg

Stirrups, such as those shown above, were usually forged from thick sheet iron. The sole had a raised rim to hold a wooden sole plate in position.


Painted screens often display mounted Samurai warriors.

 photo DSCN0697_zps18b19b9c.jpg

 photo DSCN0698_zpsc2a57bb8.jpg

 photo DSCN0699_zps2c41a74a.jpg

 photo DSCN0700_zps6a51902c.jpg

 photo DSCN0717_zps4623a4eb.jpg

In the scene shown above, a samurai demonstrates his skill for the shogun. According to the display:

“Pressing his stallion in a gallop, he stands in his stirrups and aims at a small wooden target. During a run of 280 yards, he will shoot at three targets.”
 photo DSCN0485_zps2626ae54.jpg

Special Note:

In 2012 the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection was created in Dallas, Texas. A fraction of the holdings from this collection were presented in a special exhibition at the Portland Art Museum. All of the photographs in this diary were taken at this special exhibition.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Sun Jan 26, 2014 at 08:15 AM PST.

Also republished by Shutterbugs, Pink Clubhouse, and Koscadia.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site