The Mysterious Japanese Horse
The history of the Japanese horse is the subject of much debate.
Scientists agree that all Japanese native horses descended from the horses of mainland of Asia. However they do not agree as to how the horses got to Japan. They could have arrived on their own accord over a land bridge, or imported by humans. What we know for sure is that the horses probably did not swim to Japan, and that they definitely were not indigenous. So far, fossil records of horses in Japan only date back to the 4th century. Or some say the 6th century. See the confusion?
Some scientists believe whole-heartedly that no Japanese horses existed during early eras such as the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, or Neolithic periods. However, new archaeological discoveries have revealed rare bone fossils of horses from prehistoric times. As to where the truth lays, the choice is yours.
The land bridge theory is indeed plausible. Since horses are poor swimmers, they could have come from the Asiatic continent by a land bridge when sea levels were low during the late Pleistocene era, which was 18,000-35,000 before present day. At that time the sea lvel may have dropped to 130 meters, and those cheeky horses may have trotted over the ensuing land bridge right to some Japanese islands.
The next question is: from where in Asia did the horses hail? Guesses include Korea, northeastern China, or southeastern Russia. Moderately sized true horses lived in those areas, making the guesses quite possible. However, the horses in Japan were smaller than those on the Asian mainland, which either a) blows a hole in the theory; or b) makes one ask whether the horses shrank once they got to Japan?
Also consider that a tooth from a Manchurian or North China Steppe horse was found in Japan. The tooth dated to the Middle Pleistocen period. So, we must also consider that Japanese horses could conceivabley trace their roots back to North China. The plot plot thickens! Some experts do believe that this population of horses may have died out, and that modern Japanese horses are NOT their decendents. This is mainly due to anecdotal evidence, as Chinese accounts of the Kofun-era (250 - 538 AD) stated that Japanese people did not have horses. However, just because the Chinese visitors did not SEE horses did not mean that they were not there. Maybe they were hiding. However,from the Kofun era forwards, there is plenty of evidence (and little debate) indicating that the Japanese had domesticated horses by this point.
Since that time horses have been in used in Japan for warfare and as a religious symbol. Horses were not widely used in agriculture until the Meiji Era, though they were used as pack animals to carry goods on the highways. People of the upper classes also rode them.
Throughout the centuries larger purebread horses have been imported from Europe and North America in order to adapt the Japanese horses for desired uses.
Today, Japanese horses include the:
TLS Living is currently selling a striking Japanese wall sculpture of a horse. This truly captures the spirit and beauty of Japanese horses. See it here: