Sunday, October 26, 2008
Skating horses. Absurdity as reported by the Times.
Ogosuki, Japan. Special to The New York Times.
This small island in the China Sea just 30 kilometers (18 miles) off the coast of central Japan is known, and has been known for millennia, for three things: the fragrance of its lush cherry blossoms which are regarded as Japan's most lovely, its ancient wooden pagoda which dot the hills of the island and its rare breed of horse, the Ogusukiri.
The Ogusukiri live nowhere else. Like Shetland ponies, they are small but sturdy and are particularly well-suited to the narrow lanes of the mountainous terrain where farmers have been using them for thousands of years as dray animals. That all changed one day some decades ago when a local farmer, Tanaka Takimoro strapped a pair of hand-made ice skates on his Ogusukiri, Bonsai, and taught the horse to skate.
Takimoro, speaks in the halting English he learned while working for Allied occupation forces in the immediate aftermath of World War II. (Ogosuki was occupied and used primarily as an Allied convalescence and recreation center. The last American troops didn't leave the island until 1972.) "For much of the year our many little lakes are frozen. The Ogusukiri are smart and playful. I thought they would enjoy to skate."
Enjoy they have. On an island where winter comes early and leaves late, on any given day dozens of Ogusukiri can be seen with rough-hewn double-bladed wooden skates, called Ogususkati, strapped on their hooves gliding on the ice. The skating has become a phenomenon across Japan and a major source of revenue for the island.
Takaski Shinsei, mayor of Ogusuki prefecture, says that thousands of visitors from the mainland fly in every weekend to see the horses. "They see, they stay, they pay. And they bring back each weekend more visitors to see the Ogusukiri. The Disneyland has animals doing amazing things, but they are cartoons. Here, it is real. Here the horses do skate and the people laugh."
Posted by George Tannenbaum at 9:28 AM