“Let go of the horses!” After the three-year Corona break, the central Japanese city of Kuwana celebrated the “Ageuma” festival, the festival of the “rising horses”, at the beginning of May. In the agricultural Mie Prefecture, horses have been considered messengers between humans and God for centuries.
Six young men between the ages of 16 and 29 were selected as riders this year. They wore elaborate colorful costumes and led the horses. Your goal: the Tado Taisha Shrine, the Shinto house of worship of “transcendence”, which was probably built 1200 years ago.
First, they had to sprint their horse a 100-meter distance before horse and rider jumped over a two-meter-high mud wall to the shrine. This was followed by prayer for a good harvest. And each rider had three tries. That’s the routine, which is said to be 700 years old.
As in previous years, the event attracted numerous onlookers from near and far this year. The religious significance of the sacrificial ride falls into oblivion. Everyone wanted to see if and how the horses could jump over the wall.
The sad news of this year: only three horses managed the jump. A gray had a fatal accident when he broke his leg at the last hurdle and had to be put down on the spot.
“Cruel and Unnecessary”
This torture calls Japanese animal rights activists on the scene. “It’s cruel and unnecessary. But the shrine defends the event and claims it’s a tradition,” Yuki Arawaka told animal rights group Life Investigation Agency. Arawaka tells DW that the mud wall at the Ageuma festival isn’t part of the tradition. It was added to attract more tourists to the region.
Keiko Yamazaki, a board member of the Japanese Animal Welfare Coalition, agrees with the statement: “The clay wall was only built after the end of the war.” According to the animal protection organization, many horses have died on this wall. “The horses used to be doped to increase their adrenaline levels,” says Yamazaki.
Who’s to blame?
Another animal welfare organization filed a lawsuit alleging animal cruelty. However, local prosecutors dismissed the lawsuit. The city of Kuwana only admitted that many people protested against the festival this year. However, the city is not the organizer. The shrine denied the allegations of animal cruelty. The horses were “treated appropriately” and “lovingly cared for around the clock” before the festival.
The fact that the Ageuma festival is now on the media agenda makes the activists and animal lovers very happy. “Images from the event circulated on social media and cast a negative light on animal cruelty in Japan,” says Yamazaki. Yuki Arawaka also welcomes the huge media echo: “Never before has there been so much anger about the event. I think this is the beginning of the end of the festival.”