Since Shinto is promoted as a nature religion, one might presume that green issues would be uppermost in its social thinking. However, this is often far from the case, as traditional interests and political support for right-wing nationalism take priority. It explains why many Shinto believers in Japan, contrary to expectations, actually support whaling and the dolphin massacre at Taiji.
Green Shinto has written of animal cruelty in Shinto before, particularly in the glaring example of the Ageuma Ritual held every May at shrines in Mie Prefecture. (For details of the ritual, please see here.)
The horseback ritual forms part of the Tado Festival, in which horses are forced up dangerously steep slopes, and five representatives of the shrines involved have faced animal cruelty charges (click here). Beating, bullying and sticking the horses in the ribs is how the animals are forced up the slope, leading often to injury.
The cruelty is defended by traditionalists who claim it has been carried out for centuries and is therefore somehow justified. It’s an absurd argument, which could be used to condone all manner of abuse from slavery to summary execution. Fortunately the Animal Rights group to which I belong has organised a campaign against the animal cruelty, and in the report below is an account of the results together with the present situation. I’m grateful to the Japanese Coalition for Animal Welfare for permission to reprint the report and for the photographs.
“Part of this article is excerpted from the JCAW newsletter (The Japanese Coalition for Animal Welfare).”
1. JAWS Tokyo has been sending a petition to Inabe Shrine and Tado Shrine (both in Mie prefecture) to stop cruelty to the horses as a leading member of JCAW (The Japanese Coalition for Animal Welfare) since 2002.
2. We had conducted a strong campaign [No cruelty to Ageuma horses] in 2003
3. In 2004, both shrines declared an official promise to keep loyalty to mutual agreement between them and JCAW in the presence of Mie Local officials. So we stopped the campaign.
4. But there are no progress so far in 2006, so we sent a strong petition letter to both shrines again.
5 Five spectators were injured seriously by being involved in the horse accident.
6. Since we found more cruelty deed at the festival site, we sent a bill of indictment to Kuwana Police Department with Video tapes we made to prove many ill-treatments.
7. Kuwana police started investigation for both shrines
8. In 2011, Mie Council for the Protection of Cultural Properties discussed the cruelty issue and conducted inspection to both shrines. Thanks to both investigation and inspection, there was a dramatic improvement to reduce cruelty this year.
9. But we see some change for the worse this year 2014, and we are considering again to organize another campaign [No more cruelty at Ageuma].
Since Ageuma is seen as an traditional cultural event based on Shinto deeply rooted in local communities, it is so difficult to persuade local people involved to change their way of thinking and behavior. But we will keep fighting those ill treatment to the animals.
We don’t think it is a good idea to conduct online petitions, because those local people are not well accustomed to internet communications and there is always strong suspicion about misbehaving of net freaks on touchy issues in Japan.