This item is the Abumi (鐙, stirrup). It is a type of harness, a tool that hangs on the side of the horse and puts the foot on when riding. And stirrups are used with the Kura (鞍, saddle). It is a device worn on the back of a horse to allow it to sit on the horse. The Kakogashira (鉸具頭, ring-shaped bracket) and the Sasuga (刺鉄, rotating needle-like metal fitting), these parts exist for attaching stirrups to a saddle.
Stirrups are used in two ways. One is to put your feet on when you straddle a horse and climb up. The other is used for balancing on horseback while the horse is running. Stirrups were originally created to allow people who were not nomadic equestrians to ride horses easily. It is said the Abumi was introduced to Japan from the continent in the Kohun period (古墳時代, 250-538). At first, it was a simple ring-shaped object. However, it became more practical, and some had highly decorative appearances.
Now, please focus on the design of these stirrups. You would find the Ajisai (紫陽花, hydrangeas) flowers are engraved. The stirrups themselves are made from iron, and for decoration, we estimate silver was used. Hydrangeas are native to Japan, and Japanese people have admired this flower since ancient times. In the Manyoshu (万葉集, Man’yōshū), created during the Nara period, and also in the Wakas (和歌, Japanese poems) of the Heian period, many poems about hydrangea remain. In the Kamakura period, this flower began to be grown as an ornamental. From their appearance of blooming in full bloom, people believed that this plant would “accomplish many things.” And it also came to be considered an auspicious flower among military commanders. According to a theory, hydrangeas became frequently used as patterns after the Edo period. Their large bluish-purple flowers were skillfully patterned into crafts by artists of the Rinpa (琳派) school.
If you pay attention to the sole of the stirrup, you will see that there is also a geometric pattern of rectangles engraved there. We think this design is a kind of Ajiro (網代) pattern, which is also called the Higaki (檜垣, a fence made of thin cypress boards with wickerwork). It is the design in which rows of oblique right and left rectangles are alternately combined. The intersection angle is not a right angle, and the rectangle sometimes becomes a parallelogram, as seen here. It is used for dyeing and weaving tint patterns and is also seen in bamboo works. The Ajiro is a wickerwork trap, fishing gear made of bamboo instead of a net. Therefore, this design represents a large catch. Also, some people believed it would exorcise evil spirits. These meanings might have inspired this stirrup’s design.
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