Facts Of The Week
Credits to Research Team: Cyril
It is interesting how the horse which is revered as a god in some places like Nikko, in Tochigi, is regarded as a delicacy in Kumamoto. The locals here are so proud of their basashi (horsemeat sashimi) that one cannot consider himself to have visited Kumamoto if he fails to tuck into this dish.
Aside from being savored as a signature dish, horses are also prominently featured in Kumamoto’s largest festival, Fujisaki-hachimangu (also known as Drunken Horse Festival) held in mid-September.
A parade showcasing horses decorated with attention-grabbing and garish stuff, it prominently features the dynamism and energy of Kumamoto City as local residents often pull together to form teams to take charge of a horse and guide it through the streets.
During the actual festival, different groups parade between the Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine and Gokoku Shrine (near Kumamoto Castle.) The parade passes through the main part of the city, and there are thousands of spectators. The horses are decorated and dancers in extravagant uniforms play a big part, as do the musicians. Large drums and other instruments play incessantly in a samba-band style. What with the noise, the colours and the excitement in the air, participants and the crowd are both worked up into a fervour, not to mention to horses, which buck and pull at the ropes which hold them down.
The horse from each team will be pulled along by a group of burly men; this is followed by an energetic leader giving his loudest cheers and rallying his troupe of dancers and drummers to bring the already feverish atmosphere to new heights.
Taking place over several days, there is much preparation needed before the main event. Running up until the big day, groups practice taking the horses out on the street, and the ceremonial drums and bells can be heard at all hours of the day.
Some animal rights activists condemn the festival as being cruel to the horses involved, who are probably frightened by the noise. Whether or not the horses are still made to drink rice wine on the day of the festival (giving it the colloquial name of the ‘Drunken Horse Festival’) I do not know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this practice continues to the present day.
Sometimes, the horses will suddenly quicken their pace and advance towards the crowd, but fret not, for the burly men will keep their horses under control. Also keep a lookout for foals, young horses, that will definitely steal your heart away!