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For the children's toy, see Harugoma.

Motif Information
Motif uma 01.jpg
Rōmaji Uma
English Horse
Kana うま
Season All Season
Seasonal Exceptions None
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Animal

Uma means the domestic horse (Equus ferus caballus). Modern Japanese horse breeds are descended from Mongolian stock imported from Korea during the Kofun era. In pre-industrial Japan, horses were used both as draft animals and for riding in warfare. Today, there are eight extant native Japanese horse breeds, although many are endangered.

Most Japanese horse breeds experienced a bottle-neck effect in early Showa when the government implemented a policy of trying to increase the size of native horses for the military through outbreeding with Western stock. Many breeds had their stallions forcibly castrated, and in the case of the Kiso (木曽馬), only a single stallion dedicated to a Shinto shrine as a shin-me (神馬), a votive mount for the kami, escaped castration to become the founder of the modern breed.

The only non-threatened Japanese native horse breed is the dosanko (道産子), native to Hokkaido. Dosanko are hardy horses that were traditionally used as draft and pack animals.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Uma are not associated with any one season in particular. Kouma (仔馬, foals) are symbols of spring.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Uma have a long association with Shintoism.

A traditional votive offering to a Shinto shrine is a white horse, shin-me (神馬). These horses were kept in the temple precinct and paraded on special occasions as mount for the kami to ride. Various folk beliefs became attached to shin-me including its ability to predict natural disasters. Very few live shin-me are still kept today, having been replaced first by symbolic statues of horses which were dedicated and later by ema (絵馬) depicting horses.

Keiba were horse races held at Shinto shrines as form of harvest divination. Originally, the horses were unbroken and riders held onto a strap around the horse's body, similar to a rodeo rider today. Today, races are still held, but with broken and saddled horses.

The combination of a horse's bit with a flute references Genji's parting gift of a black horse to his friend, To no Chujo. To no Chujo gave him a flute in return. This exchange is considered a touching symbol of masculine friendship.

Auspicious Nature

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Describe how the pattern can be identified. If applicable, explain how the pattern is conventionally simplified.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Station 39: Chiryu, from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido by Hiroshige

A Japanese proverb is Hyotan kara kouma ga deru (瓢箪から駒が出る, Lit. A horse emerges from a gourd)[1] meaning an unexpected thing can happen. This idiom encapsulates a story about Chōkwarō, a sennin who possessed a magic white horse which he kept in a gourd and could travel anywhere instantaneously.[2]

Senjinarasoi (先陣争い) is a competition between riders to be the lead rider in a charge.

In Poetry

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

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  1. Trimnell, Edward. Tigers, Devils, and Fools: A Guide to Japanese Proverbs. Beechmont Crest Publishing. 2004. p.55.
  2. Kurstin, Joseph. Netsuke:Story Carvings of Old Japan. Joseph Kurstin. 1994. p.26.

Image Credits

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Authors & Contributors

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