• Kyodo

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The demand for horses to carry loads up and down the stone steps of this city’s steep hills is declining to the point where the once-common sight is now disappearing.

Seventy percent of Nagasaki is built on hills and until quite recently, horses were used to transport construction materials such as roofing tiles to building sites, parks and houses at hilltops.

But the advent of new roads, high-rise apartment buildings and new technology — such as carriers with rubber rollers that can maneuver the hilly terrain — has cut into the demand for pack horses.

It has also affected demand for the skills of their drivers, such as 76-year-old Asao Koga and his 49-year-old son, Yoshimi.

Koga, who has operated a pack horse service for the past 35 years in the Hakkei district, said that while 20 years ago he kept 50 horses, he is now down to three. The number of pack horse service operators has meanwhile declined from 16 to just a handful.

One horse can carry a load of up to 200 kg, or the equivalent of about 65 roof tiles, and can be rented for an eight-hour shift at between 30,000 yen and 35,000 yen.

The elder Koga said he used to have 60 to 70 orders a month about 20 years ago, boosted by a construction boom in the upper hills of the city, but now the number is down to one order every two days.

“I plan to keep going while I’m alive,” he said. But, remembering the days when pack horses were a common sight in Nagasaki, “it’s a bit lonely now, though.”

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