Mie: Animal Welfare Concerns Alter 700-Year-Old Shinto Ritual

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A horse tries to climb the steep mud wall in the Ageuma Shinji ritual in May last year.

KUWANA, Mie — Concerns over animal welfare are prompting changes to a 700-year-old Shinto ritual in which young men on horseback climb over a nearly 2-meter-high mud wall.

In the traditional “Ageuma Shinji” (horse-jumping ritual) at Tado Taisha shrine in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture, horses with young riders run up a steep slope and jump over the mud wall placed at the top of the slope during the event.

Whether fortune will be good or bad is predicted by how many horses succeed in jumping over the wall.

However, during the event last May, a horse broke its leg and was euthanized. Since the incident, the shrine has received an outpouring of criticism by phone and e-mail.

An animal rights group filed a criminal complaint against the shrine claiming that the event was “an act of animal abuse in the name of a Shinto ritual or traditional event.”

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Left: A slope where a 2-meter-high mud wall was removed at Tado Taisha shrine in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture. Right: The steep mud wall at the shrine is seen in 2011.

Tado Taisha announced measures to improve the situation at a press conference on Feb. 22. The shrine removed the mud wall, made the hill less steep and spread sand over it so that the horses could easily run up the slope.

Horse handlers are also required to abstain from alcohol and to refrain from any violent or intimidating behavior toward the horses. The behavior, such as kicking horses, has long been considered a problem.

The improvements were based on the recommendations of an external committee of experts.

“We would like to continue this ritual in the future as a ritual that fits the times,” said Naohiro Hirano, the chief priest of the shrine.

This year’s ritual will be held on May 4 and 5.