Updated: Oct 24
Shikoku Island, a place of natural beauty and cultural significance in Japan, is home to a hidden gem: the Kikuma Horse Festival. This remarkable event showcases a unique and ancient tradition deeply rooted in the region's history. In this article, we will delve into the captivating Kikuma Horse Festival on Shikoku Island, offering insight into its history and the enthralling experiences it provides.
Otomouna no Hashirikomi: A Time-Honored Tradition on Shikoku Island
The Kikuma Horse Festival is a celebration that dates back centuries. This region has a profound historical connection with horses and the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. Otomouna no Hashirikomi horse racing became established as an annual event in 1093 at Kamigamo Shrine, and Kikuma was one of 20 areas that sent horses to the event. Since the Kamo Shrine in Kikuma was related to that in Kyoto, horses became a part of the Kikuma Shrine’s ritual over time.
Traditionally one of the highlights of the festival were boys who were 15 years of age and younger, riding at full gallop from the shrine torii gate to the shrine itself. Dressed in multicolored clothing, the boys ride elaborately adorned atop colorful padded saddles. Excitement stirs the crowd as they jockey for positions along the route's barriers watching the horses and orders thunder by. Photographers stake out locations to capture the riders as they throw their arms out in acts of bravado for the crowd. Sometimes, the younger riders just hang on for dear life as their mounts race along the course!
In 2018, my husband and I had the privilege of joining a tour of the festival. Surprisingly, our tour group of six Americans were the only foreigners we encountered. The riders and their horses were spectacular! This was an experience that will long be remembered and turned out to be a highlight of our trip.
Here are some of the photos we took during our trip:
“菊間紹介（English version）.” みるきくまわる, 21 March 2022, https://kikuma-go.com/kikuma_english/. Accessed 16 October 2023.
“600-year-old tradition gallops into hearts of "Japan I Am" judges — Japanese Cultural Community Center of Washington Seattle.” Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, 12 August 2020, https://www.jcccw.org/nikkei-news/2020/8/11/600-year-old-tradition-gallops-into-hearts-of-japan-i-am-judges. Accessed 16 October 2023.
Walters, Rod. “Otomouma Horse Festival.” Shikoku Tours, https://shikokutours.com/attractions/Ehime-Prefecture/points-of-interest/Otomouma-Horse-Festival. Accessed 16 October 2023.