Japan’s Most Beloved Loser

How a horse inspired a whole nation

Iris Reinbacher

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A horse race with several horses.
Photo by TakeBo on photo-ac.com

One of the most important words a Japanese learner can memorize is ganbatte. It is ubiquitous: Parents say it to their children learning a new task. Teachers admonish their students with it before their university entrance exams. And managers use it to welcome new recruits on their first day. So, ganbatte means victory? No. It simply prompts you to give it your best. And who knows, with that attitude you can even make headlines on national news.

To be fair, it does help if you’re a horse.

An unlikely celebrity

Haru Urara — her name means Glorious Spring — was born in 1996 on a horse farm in Hokkaido, northern Japan. Famous racehorses made up her pedigree, but yet, there must have been something about the young filly that put off the usual buyers. The life of a designated racehorse that shows no promise is usually a short one, but her owner decided to train Haru Urara himself.

Two years later, she was ready. She had moved south to Shikoku and ran her first race at Kochi racecourse, where she finished 5th. Whether horse or human, rookies hardly ever climb the pedestal in their very first competition. You need to gain experience and confidence and allow some time to improve.

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Iris Reinbacher

Scientist by training. Writer by choice. Japanophile by calling. What I’m up to: goinggaijin.com What Kyoto is up to: whatsupinkyoto.com