June 11, 2012

STRUTH! Japanese horse play for thanksgiving

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that while people in many parts of the world set aside a day each year as Thanksgiving for good harvests and the results of man's toil, last weekend Australian writer Hilary Roots found a much more unusual form of Thanksgiving.

It was in Japan, and rather than in tribute to man or crops, it was in honour of the humble work-horse and its once-role in the rice fields pre-mechanisation.

Hilary, who now resides on New Caledonia's Isle of Pines, was visiting Northern Japan when she says she came upon the Chagu Chagu Umakko Festival, that for centuries has been held on the second Sunday in June each year in Morioka in Iwate-ken Prefecture. Tens of thousands of locals lined the streets as a hundred immaculately groomed work-horses draped in brightly-coloured cloths and sporting myriad trinkets and ornaments were paraded through the city by men, women and children in their own equally spectacular garb that's unique to the region.

The four-hour procession was followed by public and private partying throughout the day and into the evening… while the horses that are still bred today for sentimental and ceremonial purposes, were allowed out to rest after their big day of the year.

Writer Hilary tells us that Morioka is a city of 300,000 that combines the best of the modern while respecting the traditions of its past. Its lively restaurant scene features unique local noodle dishes and Sake, while local craftsmen still produce centuries-old products made nowhere else in Japan, including hand-woven indigo-dyed small textiles, and unusual cast-iron kettles and tea-pots.

The Tohuku Shinkansen Bullet Train races 535km up-country from Tokyo to Morioka in just 2.5 hours.

(Photo: Hilary Roots)

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