This is a story of Honmoku Motomachi, my hometown in Yokohama, a neighborhood on the southwest coast of Tokyo Bay. Not too long ago, the land extended to tidal flatlands that were abundantly endowed with a wide variety of marine life and provided sustenance and a livelihood to generations of fishermen. Yokohama means “horizontal beach,” and it aptly described the area until industrial development took off there in the early 1960s.

During the Kamakura Era, Shogun Yoritomo’s warriors kept their horses on the pastures of Honmoku. According to local legend, an evil spirit took over many of the prized animals. During the Muromachi Period, an annual ceremony to purge these spirits was begun: Straw figures of horses were taken by Shinto priests in ceremonial boats and set adrift on the outgoing tide. If the symbolic horses floated back to shore, the area had to be purified with yet another ceremony, or misfortune might return. In later years, the ceremony was combined with a boat race after the straw horses were set adrift.

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