The First European Description of Japan, 1585|
8 Concerning horses
Frois presumably had in mind the Spanish Andalusian horse and its Portuguese relative, the Lusitano, when he referred to “our” beautiful horses (the world-famous Lipizzaner stallions are also derived from the Andalusian). Equines of all types, including warhorses that were bred from European, Barbary, Arabian, and oriental breeds, were a big part of European culture and identity. This was particularly true of Iberians, who embraced the equestrianism of the Moors (riding a la jineta) to drive the latter from Iberia during the two centuries before Frois was born. Note, however, that relatively few Europeans during the sixteenth century actually owned a horse and in many locales only the nobility had the right to own and ride a horse (Columbus, for instance, petitioned the Spanish crown for the right after returning from America in 1493). In Iberia in particular, commoners were more likely to own a donkey or a mule, which were generally used as beasts of burden (i.e. to plow, haul goods, or power small mills).
Contemporary and later Europeans shared Frois’ negative opinion of Japanese horses. The Englishman John Saris, who wrote a few decades after Frois, is one of the few Western observers who admired Japanese horses, particularly for their mettle. The Japanese horse apparently was descended from the Mongolian horse, whose ancestor was the Asiatic wild horse. Hyland describes it as a short (at 52 inches from ground to withers), stocky, heavy-boned animal, with a rather coarse, big-headed, straight-necked appearance. This high-spirited horse apparently was introduced (or re-introduced) to Japan in the fourth and fifth centuries by mounted warriors from Korea who settled in the Kanto province of Japan. There they initiated what was to become a long tradition of elite warriors who fought from horseback with bow and arrow.
The Spanish Andalusian still has a reputation for a lightning-quick start and an equally quick halt. The unmanageability of Japanese horses was a common complaint of European visitors to Japan. Dogs, too, were and still tend to be, relatively undisciplined. Arguably, neither horses nor dogs were as common or as central to life in Japan as they were in Europe, where horses and dogs were used for many purposes, including hunting and warfare. That said, the Japanese at the time Frois wrote had a long history of valuing the horse for its mysterious ability to attract or communicate with Shinto gods and to positively affect the weather. Larger shrines often kept two live horses for this purpose and many smaller Shinto shrines had horse sculptures or encouraged offerings of horse-shaped figurines and votive tablets called ema.
Europeans were not averse to putting two people on a horse; the smaller Japanese horses were not built for more than one rider. Also, horses in Japan generally were led, not ridden; mostly elites or warriors had access to horses in Japan.
In classical Japanese poetry, horses (actually ponies) almost always race across the fields side by side (koma narabete), in a comic reversal of the norm, which, as Frois indicates, was for elites or dignitaries on horseback to proceed in single file, led by footmen. Roads in Europe were wider because they were frequented by greater numbers of equines, including many that pulled carts, wagons, and coaches. Thus, European horsemen, be they crusading knights or nobles on their way to Venice were apt to ride side by side.
As noted in Chapter one, Europeans equated long, flowing hair with power and virility; what was true for men was true for horses. The Japanese often used a Chinese-style saddle and would stuff the tail into a sack that was then bound to the tail (referred to as “China-tail,” or kara-o).
6. The longer the mane on our horses, the prettier they are; in Japan they cut the mane and at intervals they attach pieces of wheat straw, to enhance the horse’s magnificence.
Okada cites literature suggesting that the Japanese had two major ways of presenting horses’ manes: nogami, meaning “field” or “wild-hair,” which is basically the same as the unfettered mane preferred by Europeans, and the karihoshi or “shaved-priest” style, which Frois emphasizes here. The “wheat straw” inclusions actually were rice straw, which does not have the same humble connotation it has in English, and was auspicious for its association with plenty.
7. Our horses are all shod with iron horseshoes and nails; in Japan no horses are thus shod, but instead are fitted with straw shoes that last for a couple of miles.
Europeans began selectively breeding larger horses for mounted combat during the Middle Ages. The demands of increased weight (armor for the horse as well as the rider) and the pounding impact of combat, often in damp soil, led to the development of metal horseshoes to protect horse hooves from splitting, cracking, deterioration, and bruising. As Frois suggests, the Japanese used relatively impermanent shoes or slippers (umagutsu) made of twisted straw. Thus, Kaempfer commented, “… this country hath more farriers, than perhaps any other, tho’ in fact it hath none at all.” Although the superiority of iron shoes, particularly on rocky surfaces and ice, convinced some samurai to copy the Portuguese, iron horseshoes were largely unknown in Japan a century after Frois. Indeed, the re-introduction of iron horseshoes in the nineteenth century (after Japan was re-opened to the West) caused quite a sensation. Today, Japanese horses all wear horseshoes.
Europeans during the Middle Ages developed and made use of a bridle with various bits and snaffles (metal bars and rings, respectively) that allowed the rider to essentially control the horse via the horse’s mouth and head. Again, horses were never central to Japanese culture and thus the Japanese did not develop a bit technology comparable to that of Europe. This may help explain why Japanese horses often were said to be out of control (see #2 above).
Although Frois’ Portuguese usage speaks of Japanese reins as rolled (emrolada), Okada notes that “ancient” Japanese reins generally were made of white, dark blue, and pale blue hemp that was twisted into a triple braid, which kept it from unraveling.
Europeans embraced the long stirrup during the Middle Ages because it gave the rider greater control of the horse and made it possible to wield a large, heavy sword or crossbow. It also provided stability for those wearing heavy armor and wielding a heavy lance.
Japanese horsemen rode in the manner of present-day jockeys, which presupposed strong, powerful legs (otherwise encouraged by the squatting behavior common to Japanese and Asian cultures, more generally). The Japanese may have favored short stirrups because their horses were relatively short and short stirrups made it easier to see over the horse’s head when shooting a bow. Recent studies of jockeys using high-speed cameras show that much of the time that a horse is galloping the jockey “floats” above the horse; short stirrups and powerful legs (both rider and horse) may have made for a fearsome combo.
The Japanese at one time used open-loop stirrups (adopted from the Chinese) that were similar to those of the West. By the eighth century these stirrups were superseded by a stirrup that had a toe bag, and at times a hard tongue, or what Westerners would call a sole that extended the length of the foot and provided added support. With the exception of horses ridden on ceremonial occasions, the Japanese today use Western-style stirrups.
14. We use spurs; they do not, using instead only very short stalks of vara, which are like our reed canes.
Frois is apparently referring here to a handhold (tegakari) under the front edge of the Japanese saddle. Presumably it was grabbed on to when going uphill or over rocky terrain. If European saddles generally were in the shape of a lazy, inverted “U,” Japanese saddles tended to be in the form of an inverted “V,” or as Isabella Bird phrased it, “… like a saw-horse.”
16. On our horses we use cruppers, caparisons and equipment adorned with brass tacks, on the horses in Japan they use none of these things, only a type of caparison made of tiger hide with the fur side out.
Europeans once spoke readily of cruppers and caparisons the way people today speak of ABS brakes and four-wheel drive. For those unfamiliar with equitation, a crupper is a leather strap that is attached to the back of the saddle and goes under and around the horse’s tail, keeping the saddle from creeping forward. Caparisons are robes; many of us have seen them in movies on horses ridden by medieval knights competing in jousting matches.
Frois’ larger point here seems to be that 1) Japanese horses ordinarily were less well furnished and, 2) the tiger skins that were used by the Japanese as caparisons (mostly by the shogun and nobility) had the fur side out; presumably Frois felt the normal or logical thing was to have the fur side in, as per the following distich.
17. Our saddles are made of leather and wool; theirs are made of wood and lacquer.
Saddles in the West are still made of leather and usually placed over a “blanket” made of wool, felt, or cotton. Again, the horse was not central to Japanese culture and the wooden saddle here mentioned by Frois was designed with a mounted archer in mind rather than a Japanese elite travelling from Kyoto to Edo.
Okada cites a contemporary account of the residence of a Japanese magistrate, which also places the stables near the front of the house. Although in 1585 the mounted samurai warrior no longer decided battles (infantry with rifles now made the difference), ownership of a horse (made apparent by a stable at the front of the house) was of great symbolic importance for samurai.
For guests and horses alike the Japanese welcome is arguably both more efficient and friendlier. Because horse fanciers always will take you to their stables to show off, one might as well get it over with at once, at the same time you have your own horse “parked” and groomed down.
It is somewhat surprising that Frois did not comment on how differently horses were stabled in Japan as compared with the West. This was one of the first things that nearly every nineteenth-century visitor noted. Here is Alcock, the first British Ambassador to Japan:
… the horse’s head was where his tail would be in an English stable, that is, facing the entrance. It certainly seems a much more rational thing, to be able to go up to your horse’s head, when he has an opportunity of recognizing you, rather than to his heels, with a preliminary chance of a kick and a broken leg.
Mr. Ed, the famous talking TV horse, always faced the camera, so either he was acting Japanese or sometime in the middle of the twentieth century Americans came to place the “head where the tail ought to be!” Nowadays most “box” stalls are big enough that a horse can face any way it pleases and some people feed them from an inside window and others hang a bucket from the front of the stall in what is (unbeknownst to them) the Japanese style. The world of horses, like that of humans, is becoming gray.
Okada has suggested that Frois is pointing to a contrast between the use of individual mangers or “hay-tubs” (which was the norm in Europe) and the use of a collective hay trough in Japan. Frois’ use of the adjective “low” may also be speak surprise, as low troughs are what pigs ate from in Europe.
When most English speakers think of a “manger,” they think of a Christmas nativity scene rather than a small bucket or hay tub. In her otherwise uninspiring book, A Diplomat’s Wife In Japan (1899), Mrs. Hugh Frazer recounted how the term’s multiple meanings posed problems for the Japanese:
I did not realize the intense difficulty of translating our thoughts into Japanese till the day after our Christmas tree, when O’Matsu came to me looking very puzzled, and said she would like to ask a question: Why did Imai Sam (the gentlemen who made the little address about the meaning of Christmas) say such a dreadful thing about “Jesu Sama”? He had said that Jesu Sama was put into a bucket, such a thing as ponies have their food in!
Horses do not usually sleep for extended periods like humans. They instead take frequent short naps of several minutes duration. Adult horses mostly sleep standing up, with the front legs and one hind leg doing most of the weight bearing (the horses shift their weight and have leg bones with a “stay apparatus” that allows their muscles to relax without collapsing). Lying down is more stressful for an adult horse, although horses will lie down for a brief rest if given the opportunity. In this regard, and as Frois suggests, the stables of European nobility seem perfectly suited to horse behavior.
Japanese screens, or byôbu, from the early seventeenth century affirm the use of a rope tied around the horse’s stomach and attached to the rafters overhead. Such stabling of horses, particularly the emphasis on restricting the horse’s behavior while at rest, often has appeared cruel to outsiders. First, Alcock:
When not eating, however, their head is often tied up rather above the level of the neck, without any freedom or power of moving from right to left, merely to keep them quiet, which is great cruelty, and all to save a lazy groom the trouble of cleaning them if they lie down.
Although Alcock makes no mention of a belly lift, not allowing the horse to lie down is the same idea. For reasons made clear in the next contrast, a Japanese stable might not make a good bed, anyway. This was further suggested by Isabella Bird, who observed the belly sling used with ponies in Korea.
At the inn stables they are not only chained down to the troughs by chains short enough to prevent them from raising their heads, but are partially slung at night to the heavy beams of the roof. Even under these restricted circumstances, their cordial hatred [of one another] finds vent in hyena-like yells, abortive snaps, and attempts to swing their hind legs round. They are never allowed to lie down, and very rarely to drink water and even then only when freely salted. Their nostrils are all slit in an attempt to improve upon Nature and give them better wind. They are fed three times a day on brown slush as hot as they can drink it, composed of beans, chopped millet stalks … I know not whether the partial slinging of them to the crossbeams is to relieve their legs or to make fighting more difficult.
Stable floors of wood planking, particularly of cedar, undoubtedly kept the unshod hooves of Japanese horses relatively free of moisture, which otherwise would have caused the hooves to deteriorate and crack. (Europeans used metal horseshoes in part to keep their horses’ feet dry.) Frois noted elsewhere that in 1565 he visited a Kyoto mansion that had a stable at the entrance made of sugi (Cryptomeria japonica), a fragrant smelling Japanese cedar that is always used for constructing Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and other sacred or honored places. According to Frois, the only part of the stable that was not of cedar were the rush mats used by the horses’ human attendants!
24. Horses in Europe urinate on the floor of the stable; in Japan they remove the horses’ urine with long-handled ladles.
The Japanese made use of two kinds of ladles, one for scooping up water to wash the horse and another for receiving the horse’s urine. The latter had a handle that was a little over five feet long and a scoop that was nine inches across and ten inches deep. While horses can drop their dung on the run, to urinate they must “set up” by moving their legs apart. Attentive grooms who were quick to the ladle apparently were successful in keeping the stable floor reasonably clean.
As noted, Europeans relied on a variety of equines for transportation and as beasts of burden. Although Frois focuses in this chapter mostly on horses (ridden by elites), mules and donkeys were more common than horses in Iberia as late as the nineteenth century. Zebras always have been rare in Iberia. During the mid fifteenth century the Portuguese began trading and raiding for slaves in West Africa and also initiated a lucrative trade in gold and a variety of exotic animals, including zebras. Frois is correct that the Japanese had no mules, zebras, donkeys, etc.
The French translators of the Tratado suggest that the point of this contrast was that a saddlecloth used on a beast of burden (i.e. a mule) was used on elite horses among the Japanese. If on the one hand the Japanese did not mind nudity, on the other they liked multi-layered dress. This same tendency is seen with respect to horses. Speaking practically, their wooden saddle naturally needed more padding below.
27. For us it would be ridiculous for a nobleman to go about with the halter on his horse and the lead rope in his own hand; in the Kingdom of Bungo, the sons of the king often go about in this manner.
Ridiculous? Not if you like to sit back and enjoy the ride. From the Japanese perspective, galloping across an open field was something warriors did out of necessity during battle. As for the province or “kingdom” of Bungo, on the southern island of Kyushu, it became a Christian stronghold early on, thanks to the conversion of the local lord or “king,” who was converted by none other than Frois himself.
Again, most Japanese elites were not particularly interested in galloping, but rather in sitting back, taking in the countryside and receiving the prostrations of their retainers. The first American Ambassador to Japan, Townsend Harris, was undiplomatically blunt:
The Japanese are no horsemen; both hands are employed in holding the reins; they have no martingale[], the horse therefore carries his head very high with his nose stuck out straight. They therefore have no command over them.
As discussed in the following chapter, Europeans embraced a humoral theory of health and disease, believing that the health of human beings (as well as horses) required a proper balance of various humors that could be maintained or restored through bleeding. An Englishman, William Dade, recommended drawing blood from a horse’s neck on the first day of April to help them stay healthy the whole year. Farriers (those who shoed and doctored horses) used a bloodletting tool called a fleam, which looked something like a pocketknife with different sizes of cutting blades.
The Japanese did not practice phlebotomy. What Frois means by “bled” is being stuck by needles. Acupuncture was indeed practiced routinely on horses. It could draw a little blood but was hardly comparable to European bloodletting. The “fire,” or moxa, combustion treatment, which is described in the next chapter, was primarily preventative and apparently was intended to stimulate the immune system. (It was done on a calendrical/ritual, basis.) Ambassador Harris believed that the treatment helped explain the poor behavior of Japanese horses.
It might seem to be common sense to release and pull on the reins of a horse to make it go and stop, respectively. However, horses can be trained to respond to any number and variety of commands. Indeed, today it is common for well-trained dressage horses to stop when the reins are released. Some horse fanciers will tell you that you do not need to do anything with the reins to stop a “good” horse; all you need to do is shift your weight back slightly.
Europeans may have preferred to till the earth with oxen as a plow pulled by oxen turned the soil to a greater depth, often resulting in greater crop yields, over time. Still, many a field in Frois’ Iberia was plowed with mules. Because Iberian farmers often became haulers once their crops were harvested, they preferred mules over oxen. Mules also were valued for their endurance, toleration of heat, and ease of feeding, to name but several advantages they had over oxen and horses.
This is the last mention of saddles. Frois neglects to mention perhaps the most interesting contrast involving packsaddles, which is how they were ridden. On each side of the Japanese packsaddle was a side trunk (port mantle) that was used to carry something light and voluminous. Behind the rider, helping to fasten those trunks together, was a stronger back trunk, or atozuki, for valuables, made of “thick strong grey paper.” Kaempfer continues:
… the middle cavity between the two trunks, fill’d up with some soft stuff, is the travelers seat, where he sits, as it were upon a flat table, otherwise commodiously enough, and either crossleg’d or with his legs extended hanging down by the Horse’s neck.
It is not clear why in this contrast Frois chose one specific area of Japan to contrast with Europe. Moreover, in #16 above, Frois already indicated that the Japanese, in general, did not use cruppers. (Recall that the crupper is a strap that goes around the horse’s rump and helps keep the saddle in place.)
In both Europe and Japan bells and rattles obviously warned people to stand clear. With respect to Japan, Okada surmises that Frois was referring to either gyoyo (literally “apricot leaf,” which were trinkets that hung behind Chinese-style saddles) or kanrei (which were hollow, donut-like bronze bells). The Japanese continue to take driving seriously; cities like Tokyo are loud not because people are impatient (as in New York) but because it is mandatory—indeed, automatic—for drivers to use their horns whenever they back up or otherwise perform a potentially dangerous maneuver.
The Japanese raised cattle primarily for draft animals, presumably without interest in particularly large (thus costly to feed) and aggressive animals. Iberians raised cattle for a variety of purposes, including bullfighting. As an aside, a form of “bullfighting” where two bulls go head to head (not unlike sumo wrestling) is popular in parts of Japan (e.g. Okinawa) and also Korea.
Neither Shintoism nor Buddhism are predicated on the notion of a great chain of being that implies that human beings can use other life forms as they see fit, in the manner of the Judeo-Christian worldview laid out in Genesis (I:28). Perhaps more importantly, equines were never as numerous in Japan as in Europe and thus the Japanese were accustomed to carrying loads. Because the grass in Japan is not as calcium-rich as in Europe, horses may have been more prone to leg injuries and thus Japanese concern for their horses also may have been a matter of prudence.
There is also a difference between European muleteers and the Japanese who work with horses. In the Japanese language both those who care for horses and those who use horses to haul cargo or for other transportation services (usually the same person) are called simply mago, “horse-child” in Chinese characters, where “child” has the nuance of the American slang term “boy,” meaning a person doing menial work, especially but not always service-related. Japanese-English dictionaries provide only the awkward “road-horse man,” so there appears to be no simple English equivalent, as both muleteer and groom miss the mark.
Who can say whether this was due to a Japanese tendency to be exacting or for the reasons of kindness or prudence noted above? Living in Japan for twenty years, Gill was always struck by a Japanese reluctance to make a “rough guess.” The Japanese usually insisted on making him wait until they arrived at a precise figure or answer.
38. Among us, an unsaddled horse is led by a man using a halter; in Japan the horses of noblemen, even those that are very gentle, have to be moved by one man with a rope in front and another with a rope in the back, like a roped bull.
This difference between strapping beneath the saddle and strapping over top of it may reflect the fact that European horses often were ridden at a gallop. It also may reflect the different manner of cinching up the girth. The Japanese have long excelled in all forms of binding and fastening. Kaempfer was impressed with the way horses could be “unsaddled and unladen in an instant.”
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