Stilts are used from ancient times as a tool to walk on rugged terrains or flood plains. They are nothing but poles or posts used to stand above the ground. From Europe to Japan, these were used quite extensively in the past. Let’s have a look at what makes them so special!
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Stilt walking is used not only to move on bad tracts but also to have a fun time. Long stilts are used today in circuses all around the world, while small ones are used as toys by children. It is said that the ancient people first used them to watch their cattle or sheep when they were grazing. In some areas such as Spain, festivals are also held using these stilts and there are many stilt walking records set by people around the world.
However, it is unclear how these stilts came to Japan. The Japanese simply adore this stilt walking and see it as a nice recreational activity. Its mentioning in Japan can be traced back to the Heian era and the Muromachi period of the early medieval times. It was only from the Edo period that timber (kind of bamboo) toys have become much common.
“Takeuma” is the Japanese version of stilt walking and is mainly for kids. The Japanese make footholds and use it as a walking exercise. Takeuma literally translates to “bamboo horse” and is a popular activity among Japanese kids of previous generations. It is very rare to see it today with the advancement of the Internet and other modern games so many schools are encouraging kids to pursue this activity again as it is considered healthy. In fact, there are museums that let you try takeuma so that newer generations could bring back the lost tradition.
The stilts in Japan are mainly made of bamboo as bamboo toys are quite common in Japan. (Some kids play with a bamboo helicopter called “taketombo” which is very famous.) There are many great timber workers who design different kinds of stilts. Usually, takeuma has a pleasant footrest for one to walk easily, while some are very long with little footrest. The children use these poles to mimic horse riding adults.
There is also a festival called the Takeuma Matsuri which is held on the 5th of May every year in Takashima, Shiga of Japan where hundreds of people walk on stilts at the same time.
Do not forget to try stilt walking in Japan. It is a nice way to explore the Japanese culture and you might as well re-live your childhood memories.