Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ashifuse Ritual at Kamo Shrine


Omi-Hachiman Kamo Shrine Ashifuse Horse Race Ritual

The Ashifuse no Soume, or simply "ashifuse," is an annual horse racing ritual that is held on May 6th each year at Kamo Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Omi-Hachiman is a fairly rural part of Shiga Prefecture that is known for agriculture and the raising of livestock such as cows and horses.

The Kamo Shrine in Omi-Hachiman was the site for the first national horse farm which was established by Emperor Tenchi in the 8th century. The shrine is dedicated to Kamodai, the god of horses (so, by modern extension, vehicles and transportation safety), so this place is considered the number one guardian of horses and horse-related people, branding itself the "Holy Land of Horses" in Japan. Kamigamo and Shimogamo shrines in Kyoto are also related to this shrine, that is why those shrines also host some horse related events (such as racing and horseback archery).

The Ashifuse no Soume is a 400m long race between two horses (one rider in a red surcoat, the other in a black surcoat) at a time with seven horses participating. The horses this year included a dosanko, a kiso and 5 thoroughbreds. The dosanko and kiso are native breeds of Japanese horses that are considered endangered. Earlier this year news was published about a local farmer near the Kamo shrine who is making efforts to preserve these two breeds of horses; the dosanko are a breed from Hokkaido and the kiso are a breed from the Kiso River area in Nagano.

The horse race is held after religious ceremonies (prayers, purification and distibution of sake), fireworks (fired during daylight) and a parade procession which leads to a small sub-shrine near the finish line of the horse riding area (baba 馬場).

After the ashifuse visitors are invited to take short pony rides on the horses which are led by horse handlers for a lap around a section of the riding area near the main shrine.

Photo journal from 5/6/2019:

A shot of the Ashifuse race
The dosanko on the right is one of the native breeds of Japanese pony.
There are 8 native horse breeds in Japan, dosanko being the most popular.

Wide angle shot of the ancient, sacred cedar tree of the shrine that fell and crushed the shinme horse statues.
Note the blue tarp which is used to cover the head of the fallen horse statue.

The base of the fallen cedar, which came down during a typhoon.

Koinobori along the Shiratori river banks.
There is a nice bicycle path here and you can rent a bicycle at the station for 500 yen.

Kazaridaru, sake barrels with special embles that serve as a kind of mikoshi for the parade that precedes the Ashifuse races.

The bronze statue and the slab it was on were crushed by the falling tree.
There was also damage to a nearby stone lantern and a storehouse.

A signboard with a list of annual events for Kamo Shrine.
In addition to the horse racec in May, there is also an archery event for the new year.

The parade group getting ready to leave the shrine.

People in modern an period clothing.

A tengu mask with paper shide.

Someone dressed as a court lady in the procession.

A white horse with a sakaki tree branch tied to it.

Man carrying a sasaki tree branch with a shide tied onto it.
This is called a tamagushi, and is used as a symbol of purification.
Horses and kids being led along the procession route.

Chigo, sacred children, in their costume walking along with the procession. Kids always have trouble with these hats

A group of kids leading one of the parade floats out.

Kids carrying a type of miniature shrine which is a sake barrel with some shide talismans on top.

Some bored looking kids in the parade.
Note the one boy holding a sasaki branch.

The parade passing by a bamboo grove.

Kids wearing there festival surcoats.They are kicking up a lot of dirt as they walk along the horse racing track.

The sasaki branch and tengu mask are set on the altar at a small side shrine by a kannushi, Shinto priest.

Another shot of the crushed shinme, horse spirit statue.

The opposing teams of black and red are traditional for the Ashifuse race.

Riders taking their horses to the starting point of the race.

This rider seems to be on one of the thoroughbreds; which is much taller than the kiso or dosanko breeds.

The starting point for one of the race rituals.

A large scramble at the end, with all of the horses running together.

A rider from the black team.

All of the horses from the event in a final lineup.
Some plain clothes horse handlers in among the riders in formal ceremonial attire.
There are always seven horses at this ritual.

A procession of people leaving the sub-shrine at the finish line after the races.

A man carrying a mask worn by shishimai dancers.

A small girl going for a horseback ride.

Kids posing for photos during their horse rides.

A racer in a traditional outfit.

Two horses starting the 400m long course.

A final scramble where all seven of the horses run down the course.
The plain clothes horse handlers seem to be taking the lead.


  1. http://www.theequinest.com/breeds/kiso/
  2. http://kamo-jinjya.or.jp/
  3. http://www.theequinest.com/breeds/dosanko/
  4. http://www.nihon-kankou.or.jp.e.wp.hp.transer.com/shiga/252042/detail/25204ba2212056269
  5. https://tabi-mag.jp/ashifusesoume/
  6. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2018/06/b54e620bd1f4-feature-farmer-strives-to-preserve-indigenous-japanese-horses.html