Japan part 1

It’s been a while already since the last post. May was a busy Month at work before the trip to a country I’ve been dreaming of visiting already for 20 years.


Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun! Photo is taken in Daisetzuan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan.

Besides of traveling two weeks around the country, wondering the cities, countryside, beautiful temples, parks, nature and culture of Japan, me and my accompany got the opportunity to see a glimpse of horse- and farrier industry. And THAT was pretty amazing, too.

Horse races is a big sport. In the country of population over 126 million, the amount of horseracing fans is also huge. As everything in Japan, the racehorse business is very organized. JRA, Japan Racing Association  is managing 10 national racing tracks, other facilites and the two training centers Ritto and Miho, both of them inhabiting over 2000 horses. 15 local tracks join the NAR, The National Association of Racing. 


In Holland Spring Games I met the colleague from Japan, Manabu Furukawa. He shoes racehorses and was able to arrange a tour for us in Ritto training center nearby Kyoto guided by Mitsuo Taguchi, a former jockey and trainer. 


You need a panorama to get the whole sight on the same pic :) All this is only for training purpose. From Ritto the horses are transported to races. Most of the action is going on daily from 6 to 10 am, they are the training hours. After that the tracks are maintained for the next day. In the afternoon there was to be seen well maintained and clean tracks.

Seven tracks with different lengths and surfaces, and four arenas for other action, walking etc, gives the possibility for a training program suitable for every horse and every situation. Auditoriums for trainers and press and even an own building for the Emperor were located next to the tracks. The trainers get the timings and other sufficient information to the auditorium in real time, including the information provided by the cameras beside the uphill track.


A slight idea of the size of the center. On the right side of the tracks most of the buildings are stables, over hundred of them. Every stable has room for 20 horses, so overall there is room for more than 2000 horses. Center has of course also other facilities such as an own equine clinic and apartments for around 4000 workers and their families.


Swimming is excellent training method. 50 meter long swimming pool for horses.


If the horses are not in good condition enough for swimming yet, they are first trained by wading through shorter pools.


Center employs many farriers. This photo is taken from JRA’s workshop. After the workday all the places were clean and tidy.

Besides the JRA farriers the amount of independent farriers working in the training center is approx. 50. Independent farriers have also an own workshop area.

Next something about the farrier industry in Japan.  How do you become as a farrier? I was interested in the education and the structure of the industry. Japan Farriers Association, based already 1948, is the instance taking care of the farrier education. A farrier needed a license until 1970, but after that the law was removed. Practically today a farrier needs first to attend one year of horsehoeing school arranged by JFA and pass the exam to be approved. After that working as independent farrier is still difficult, so many farriers work as an apprentice for 5 years or more. In 5 years after the first test you can pass the next grade and after ten years on that grade it is possible to go forward to the master farrier exam. More information about the education here.

Another horse facility visit we were able to make in Riding Club Crane Tokyo where we met more farriers and were also able see some practical farrier work. Riding Club Crane is not only one stable, but it’s a chain of 32 clubs around Japan. Crane Tokyo alone has 120 horses and there was going on several riding lessons at the same time. Keeping horses is very expensive in Japan, perhaps because of the lack of space. A mountainous country with huge population takes care that the food for horses has to be imported, mainly from United States. Only in the North Island, Hokkaido, there is enough room to farm food for horses. For many people visiting a riding club is a good way to spend freetime with horses. For me it seemed that perhaps the same development is going on here as it is in my homecountry, Finland. Horseback riding is a rapidly growing hobby and industry.


In Crane Tokyo Kazutoyo Nakayama and Shigeaki Saito were introducing the club and I learned more interesting facts about farriery in Japan and was also able to see Mr. Sugaya at work.


Japan has the rainy season, and the conditions are extremly wet and very challenging for horses hoofs and shoeing. The hoofs get very soft and fragile and on the hinds are used lot of shoes with three clips to give more support to keep the shoes in place.


Checking the trim. See the Japanese hoof trimming knife on the right hand. That’s something really special and is used mainly in Japan and Korea. The shape and the sharp blade makes it’s light and easy to use.


Some farriers fit hot and some cold. It’s a personal choice. Shigeaki Saito, who is working as a veterinary in Horse Club Crane, told, that due to the extremly humid and warm climate the hoofs suffer and also white line disease is a huge problem. Hot fitting gives some help for the bad hoofs.


Many farriers in Japan like to wear this kind of glove on the left hand to be able to have a nail holder. Pretty nice idea!

I was quite impressed to notice, that Mr. Sugaya walked to the horse with two hindshoes and didn’t miss a single nail while nailing the shoes on the cracked and soft hoofs. I’d probably spent half a box of nails in such hoofs :D The whole work was same way efficient and skilled. Not too much running between the anvil and horse, the shoes were simply shaped and fitted and then cooled down and in the end there was a nice fit on every hoof.


Even a good knife is not a good tool if it’s not sharp. I was glad that Kazutoyo Nakayama was willing to show how to sharpen the Japanese knife.

When I was planning the trip to Japan, I hoped that perhaps I’d be able to see a small glimpse of farriery in the country, but once again I was astonished of the kindness of people and over all my expectations got the opportunity to see something of both, the racehorse and the riding horse industry. It was great to learn about the farriery on the other side of the world and also to get some good tips to use on my own daily work! I think that good horseshoeing is pretty much the same everywhere, because horses are the same. Instructors from United States and England have been visiting Japan frequently, but still Japan has some own specialties, that are pretty unknown in the West. I believe strongly in the exchanging of the knowledge. It benefits everyone. I’m really thankful of this possibility to share all this and of the effort of all the people I met throughout the trip!

I’m planning to make still another post from Japan. That will be the tramping part of the blog containing pictures of other interesting and beautiful things and places in this many ways amazing country. See you soon!