Although I am an avid horse lover, I have actually never worked with native Japanese horse breeds. When I was presented the opportunity to go visit some native Japanese horses, I took it.
A staff member approached me one day and said, “There is a woman named San Kawata who moved to Yonaguni Island to live with Yonaguni horses. Why don’t you go visit her?” I had not heard of her before, so at first I was unsure what to expect, but the staff recommended that I read Kawata’s books, A Notebook of Horse words, Being with a Horse at the Edge, Being with a Horse in the Dark (*Japanese titles listed below). As I read these three books, my desire to visit her and her horse Kadi grew quickly and I found myself really looking forward to the day of my visit.
Kawata and her Yonaguni horse, Kadi
My flight to Yonaguni Island, which is located on the westernmost tip of Japan, was very pleasant. As my mind wandered pleasantly, I thought about how Yonaguni Island is in fact close to Taiwan and China, and I wondered if there are native breeds in all countries around the world. My flight arrived in Yonaguni where the sun was still hot and sunny, and I headed to Agarizaki, where I was scheduled to meet Kawata, who was introduced to me as a “horse keeper and writer.”
Agarizaki is located on the eastern side of the island and is a natural reserve. There is a farm here where Yonaguni horses roam freely in the fields, alongside cows. I asked Kawata to give me a tour, and the moment we arrived I was awestruck by the beautiful scenery. The view of the ocean, the cliffs, the pastures and the roaming horses was a truly magnificent sight that is unique to this region. A foal that was probably a few months old caught my attention. I was quite impressed by the sturdy legs, feet and the overall build of the Yonaguni Horses and how they were so different from that of Thoroughbreds,. The winds blowing through the cliffs from the ocean was soothing, and it felt as if some unnecessary weight was being lifted from my body. I had a relieving sensation that cannot be expressed in words.
Kawata then took me to the farm where Kadi lives, which was about a 10 minute drive away. We arrived in a quiet woodland surrounded by trees where Kawata’s special partner, Kadi, lives alone, away from the other horses. For a moment I wondered if Kadi may feel lonely, but seeing her relaxed and peaceful demeanour, I could see that this environment suited her. It reminded me of the importance of considering the feelings and needs of individual horses and providing for them as best we can.
Kadi originally lived in the Kitabokujo, which is located on the northern side of the Yonaguni Airport. The year Kadi was born, several horses died due to a severe drought, and the young Kadi lost her mother. As she became weak, she was rescued and taken into human care. Kawata did not know about Kadi’s background, but heard that there was a foal and went to go see it out of simple curiosity. She never imagined that she would take Kadi home with her that same day. Thirteen years has passed since their meeting, and although they may have had their share of difficulties, Kawata and Kadi share a kind of dignified presence that reflects the unique landscape of Yonaguni that I envied very much.
In Kawata’s books, there are many things that people who work with horses can relate to, sympathize, and nod in agreement with. I particularly found that her books reflect the respect she has towards horses, and her very strong desire for all horses, and people who live with those horses in Japan, to find happiness together. Kawata humbly said, “I am not a professional horse person.” However, after my visit I had no doubt in my mind that she was a wonderful horseman.
“Uma ga au” A Japanese saying that expresses compatibility, directly translated to “matching like a horse”
Kawata was born in Kanagawa Prefecture and had no prior contact or experience with horses. Her life with horses began when she spotted Yonaguni horses on Hamahiga Island and was somehow very drawn to them.
I remembered my own father, who was dedicated to horses and spent his whole life living and working with them as a professional equestrian. He told me the beginning of his fascination with horses started when he saw a horse on the school grounds when he was in middle school. After that first encounter, he could not stop thinking about horses and he ended up dedicating his life to them. Perhaps our readers have experienced a similar kind of attraction and emotion towards horses.
Kawata says that she feels her senses are completely different when she is around horses.
When she is not with horses, she feels some kind of pain, but when she is with horses the pain disappears from her. In her book, *Being with a Horse in the Dark she writes “Perhaps looking at the way our hearts and minds work as being similar to an OS (operating system of a computer) will make it easier to understand. I always felt that the OS in my mind was different from the common OS of others in society. Because of this, I had to use a lot of energy when interacting with others, to work on functioning like their OS. The strange thing is, when I am with horses, I can be myself and function under my own OS.”
Kawata told me that although she encountered horses for the first time as an adult, she thinks about how wonderful it would have been if she had been able to be with horses as a child, where she could have experienced growing up under her own OS.
Kawata thought about how there may be other children like her, who feel more compatible with the rhythm and air of horses. She hopes that such children will have the chance to be with horse so she wrote the children’s book, 7 Secrets to Talking with Horses
(published by Kaiseisha). The book introduces hints on how to communicate with horses and are based on her experiences with Kadi.
Kawata also draws the illustrations used in her books. Her illustrations are soft and kind, and I am sure that it is not just me that finds them to be soothing. Reading her books brings a smile to my face.
She wrote the book in hope that children all around Japan and around the world will have the opportunity to interact with horses. I myself hope that more children will experience “matching like a horse” and find that they are compatible just as they are.
In the near future, I will continue to introduce Kawata’s experiences with Kadi and dive deeper into the connections and relationships between humans and horses.
*San Kawata books
“馬語手帖” (Umago Techo, A Notebook of Horse Words)
“はしっこに、馬といる” (Hashikko ni uma to iru, Being with a Horse at the Edge)
“くらやみに、馬といる” (Kurayami ni uma to iru, Being with a Horse in the Dark)
All published by Kadi Books ▶︎ https://kadibooks.com/home/
“ウマと話すための７つのひみつ” (Uma to hanasu tameno 7tsu no himitsu, 7 Secrets to Talking with Horses)
Published by Kaiseisha ▶︎ https://www.kaiseisha.co.jp/books/9784034351703
*These book titles are provisional English translations for this article.
Photo by Yosuke Kashiwakura ▶︎ https://www.yosukekashiwakura.com/