Looking at the huge amount of cargo this horse is carrying, you’d expect the poor animal to keel over any moment. Japanese horses, in spite of their small size, were as strong as European horses, though, and regularly carried enormous loads.
It also looks like this particular cargo consists of charcoal, so the load is probably not as heavy as it appears from the volume. Notice the flimsy “horse shoes.” They were made of straw, and naturally wore out extremely quickly.
The mago (packhorse drivers) were so used to these straw horse shoes, that removing them and putting on new ones apparently only took about two to three minutes. All this changing also had a benefit. Because the horse shoes only lasted for a certain distance, mago were able to measure the distance they had traveled by counting the number of horse shoes used.
Horses saw them as beneficial, too. They had a tasty snack when their regular meal was delayed.
1 Bird, Isabella L. (1911). Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: An account of travels in the interior including visits to the aborigines of Yezo and the shrine of Nikko. John Murray: 42.
2 A mago (馬子) is a packhorse driver.
3 A ri (里) is a Japanese unit of distance measuring about 3.927 kilometers or 2.44 miles.
4 A sen (銭) was one hundredth of a yen.
5 These straw horse shoes are called waragutsu (藁沓).
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Reference for Citations
Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: Farmer with Loaded Horse, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on December 11, 2023 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/287/farmer-with-loaded-horse