Somewhere around the 500th step on the long approach to Kompira-san shrine in Kagawa Prefecture, you’ll find a small stable housing two special horses. They are pretty as a picture, but don’t get any ideas about hopping on for a ride, feeding them a little carrot, or even giving them a friendly pat.

These thoroughbreds are shinme, the steeds of the gods, and they are not for mere mortals like us.

Shinme (or sometimes jinme) are offerings to the gods in Shintoism, a custom that goes back to the Nara Period (710-794 AD). A supplicant gives a horse to a shrine in the hopes of currying favor with the gods. The Engi-Shiki book of laws and customs even talks about what color horse you should offer up when praying for specific types of weather or victory in battle. Since the horse is meant for the gods to ride, no one else is allowed to, and the priests and worshipers treat the animal with great respect.

Keeping live horses is a lot of trouble and expense for the shrine, so offering statues and paintings of horses as symbolic rides has become acceptable as well. There are only a handful of major shrines still keeping live shinme horses today, and Konpira-san is one of them.

▼About half way up the steps to the main shrine. The stable is to the left.


▼ The stableIMG_7201

▼Hands off, mortal IMG_7198

▼Too high and mighty to even look up for the camera…   IMG_7203

There are two shinme at Konpira-san, a dark brown former thoroughbred called Toukai Stanto and a white one called Gekkin.

▼Unfortunately, Gekkin wasn’t on display the day we were there, but here’s a picture from Kompira-san’s website20131011_S_244_F3Q6313

Of course, being the reserved steed for the largely absent gods means these two horses don’t have much to do in the way of work, but they aren’t complete loafers either. In addition to their display duties, they take part in a large festival held on October 10 each year. One of the horses is brought out on a lead as part of a special ceremony. Still, pretty sweet gig, right?

078_F3Q5999 copyPhoto: Kompira-san

190IMG_1616Photo: Kompira-san

20131011_kenba_218_F3Q5812Photo: Kompira-san

Given its equine connection, you’ll find lots of horse stuff around the grounds of the shrine, including some of the cutest ema prayer plaques I’ve seen in a long while.



It was nice to see animals being treated with such reverence, but it was also hard to restrain myself from giving ear scratches and pats to the easily-within-reach horses. Best not to tempt divine retribution, I suppose…

Top image: Kompira-san
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