Chagu Chagu Umakko Horse Festival

Horse Cultures of the World

The festivals celebrated in Japan have a unique cultural significance and are a feast for the eyes. The colours, the ceremonial dresses, the details, they are all quite extraordinary! Held on the second Saturday in June, the Chagu Chagu horse festival sees some 100 horses, fitted with brightly coloured harnesses and lots, I mean LOTS of bells, parade for around 15 kilometres from Takizawa City to Morioka City in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture.

June is usually the wet and rainy season in Japan, but strangely enough the day of Chagu Chagu seems to be always blessed with sunshine. June is also the month for farmers to finish the rice planting season, and in the olden days the festival was celebrated by the farmers to reward their horses who would plough their fields – the farmers would also take the horses to the shrines and pray for their health. Over the years the practice became a custom and now every year, the farmers decorate their horses with colourful sashes and bells and join in the parade. The Iwate Prefecture in Japan is known to be the horse-breeding district, so the horses are the most treasured assets of the farmers.

During the festival you can see children mounted on the horses with their legs tied to them to prevent them from falling. Hundreds of people and tourists line the streets to watch the parade passing through.

‘Chagu Chagu’ is an onomatopoeic expression for the bells sounding as the horses trot along and this merry jingling of bells has been selected by the Ministry of the Environment as one of “the 100 best sonic scenes of Japan to be preserved into the future.” The bell was used in ancient times for warding off wolves.

The Chagu Chagu Umakko festival is a classic example of Japanese culture and tradition, which portrays a strong bond between man and nature.


Reference & image credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation 

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