New Zealand gifts White Horse to Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Japan

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Foreign Affairs

Foreign Minister Winston Peters has today formally gifted a white horse to Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan in front of thousands of attendees at a ceremony conducted by Chief Priest Inaba. 

The horse named Kōmaru, which means ‘sheltered’ in Maori and ‘shining’ in Japanese,  is a white 12-year-old purebred Andalusian gelding.  Kōmaru replaces the previous New Zealand white horse, Kōtuku, which passed away in 2017.

The first white horse from New Zealand was gifted to the shrine almost 50 years ago.

“It was an honour to formally hand over the reins of Kōmaru in a presentation ceremony at Toshogu Shrine today.  The white horse is a symbol of the enduring friendship and long-standing ties between New Zealand and Japan,” Mr Peters said. 

Mr Peters visited the shrine, located 150km north of Tokyo, today as part of a three-day bilateral visit to Japan including meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, newly appointed Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Defence Minister Taro Kono, alongside a number of other bilateral calls. 

The Nikko Toshogu Shrine is one of the most famous buildings in Japan.  It was built by the Tokugawa Shoguns, who ruled Japan for over 250 years.  It is a World Heritage site and receives almost two million visitors each year.

Note to Editors:

Kōmaru is the fifth New Zealand white horse gifted to the shrine. The first was gifted after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, to the Japan Equestrian Association, which transferred him to the Nikko Tōshōgū Shrine. When he died in 1976, a second white horse, Marutai, was gifted to the Shrine. Marutai suffered a premature death in 1980, and the third horse, Koha, was presented by then Prime Minister Muldoon in 1981. The fourth horse, Kōtuku, was given to the shrine in 2005 by former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Kōtuku passed away in 2017.   

The sacred white horse is a symbol of the friendship between New Zealand and Japan. The Shrine’s Chief Priest, Hisao Inaba, received the Queen Service Order from the New Zealand Government in 2008 in recognition of his contribution toward the relationship between New Zealand and Japan, as did the previous Chief Priest, Hirooki Nukaga, in 1984. 

The shrine was built by the Tokugawa Shoguns, who ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. It is the final resting place of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. 

The shrine contains both Shinto and Buddhist elements, as was common in Japanese places of worship until the Meiji era. The main shrine and its surrounding buildings are beautiful and elaborately decorated. They are set in a picturesque forest. 

Kōmaru is housed in a spacious stable at the shrine, where he is viewed by thousands of visitors each day.