Samurai Warrior – Broken Heart
most noted Japanese Long Rider was Baron Yasumasa Fukushima (1852-1919). This
descendant of a noble Samurai family was sent to Berlin, Germany on military
duty in 1892. When the time came to return home, the dashing Japanese horseman
elected to ride his horse Gaisen, (Triumphant Return) 14,000 kilometers from
Berlin to Tokyo, Japan. A fellow soldier, General Rafael de Nogales,
described the equestrian explorer thus, "Fukushima’s courage, drive and
exuberant cheerfulness were amazing. For a man like this nothing was
Yet even Samurai warriors must suffer emotional hardships on the long gray road, as is evidenced by the heart-breaking account the Baron wrote regarding the loss of his beloved horse, Gaisen.
Baron Fukushima purchased his horse Gaisen, which means “Triumphant Return” in Japanese, while stationed at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin, Germany. He purchased the horse for 1,000 Deutsch Marks from an English Officer probably stationed at the British Embassy in Berlin. The saddle, harness, and various equipage came to an additional 200 Deutsch Marks.
On February 11th, 1892, the Baron departed from the Japanese Embassy in Berlin on one of the longest equestrian journeys of the late 19th century. The Long Rider travelled for 488 days - across two continents through Germany, Poland, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria - before finally returning home to Japan.
The journey began well but when Fukushima arrived in Novgorod, Russia on April 12th 1892, Gaisen was beginning to show the strain of the difficult journey. Traveling conditions had been extremely hard, and finding food for Gaisen had been an on-going problem. When the team arrived in Moscow on April 24th, they stayed at the Headquarters of the Russian Cavalry. By this stage Gaisen was nearing exhaustion, so Fukushima requested permission to have his horse inspected by the Cavalry Veterinary Unit. This request was granted and the Long Rider remained in Moscow for thirteen days in order to give Gaisen every opportunity to recover.
With Gaisen apparently on the mend, Fukushima set out again on May 7th. But by the time they reached the village of Bokorofsk that night, the Long Rider’s horse had developed a limp. Fukushima also noticed that his mount was having difficulty breathing.
Yet the next day Gaisen appeared to have recovered sufficiently enough for the team to press on. Once again, during the course of that day’s travel Gaisen began to limp, at which time the Japanese Long Rider dismounted and walked alongside his horse for the rest of the day. By the time they arrived at the village of Baresk, Gaisen’s limp had become so bad that Fukushima sent for another veterinarian. This fellow informed the Baron that the limp was not serious and that the horse just needed additional rest. Having been invited to stay at the local police captain’s house, the Baron decided to stay an extra night to give Gaisen time to recover.
Believing that Gaisen was rested, Baron Fukushima departed thinking that if they travelled carefully all would be well. At first Gaisen seemed to be his old self. Horse and rider were proceeding slowly, allowing Gaisen to take many rest stops, when trouble caught up to them. Gaisen’s pace began to fail. The Baron quickly dismounted and tried to soothe his horse. But the brave Gaisen collapsed to the ground. It appeared that Gaisen was suffering a stroke.
They remained stranded on the road until they were found by a local policeman. He arranged for the Baron’s saddle and possessions to be sent on by carriage to the next village, Borodino. With great care the Baron managed to get the trembling Gaisen back on his feet and walk him slowly to the village.
Once again a local vet was called and once again the practitioner of equine science noted there was nothing seriously wrong with Gaisen. According to the vet the horse was suffering from acute leg inflammation, so he applied tincture of iodine to relieve the pain. Fearing that this treatment was not sufficient, Fukushima obtained ice and tenderly placed it around Gaisen’s swollen tendons.
The morning of May 11th dawned. The Baron was under orders to press on. But Gaisen’s condition had not changed. Fukushima decided with the utmost sadness that he needed to obtain another horse to replace Gaisen. The Long Rider made arrangements with the village head man to provide Gaisen with food and care during his absence. Fukushima then returned by train to Moscow, bought another horse named Ural in honour of the mountains he was about to cross, then rushed back to see Gaisen.
He arrived at Borodino in the afternoon of May 17th, 1892, only to find Gaisen still lying in the stable awaiting his return. When Gaisen recognized Fukushima he raised his head. Fukushima could not help running up to Gaisen and stroking his head and nose. The Baron spent all day with Gaisen, talking to him, feeding him by hand, and trying to postpone what both knew was their imminent separation.
“It is such a pitiful thing that Gaisen has become so badly ill, here is this place where he is without anything to comfort his misfortune,” the Baron wrote in his journal. “He cannot stand for my visit but he shows his gladness. When I kneel next to him, his head is down but he moves his ears at my every movement. Even now he makes sounds so sadly, shaking his mouth. It looks like he is trying to say something. I am moved so much by seeing this that I begin crying.
These past ninety days have been a tough trip for both of us. We wandered together across snow covered fields and through deep forests. I was alone and without any friend, only this dear horse shared the troubles and the difficulties of the road with me. He was my one companion and reliance. I had hoped to make this trip a success mounted on Triumphant Return, but this will not become true. He is lying down now and cannot stand. Tomorrow I will be forced to leave him.
If Gaisen was a human, I wonder how he feels. Thinking of his helplessness now and the future, I cannot help feeling so bad and painful.”
Dawn of the next day, the Japanese Long Rider prepared to make his reluctant departure. Fukushima had provided the head man with money in the hope that Gaisen would eventually recover, and asked the local police captain to oversee the horse’s nursing.
In his journal, the Baron wrote, “My beloved horse could not stand. It is an emergency which makes me ride on without him, away from this place full of painful regret called Borodino.
Swinging back into the saddle, the Long Rider departed sadly.
His journey towards Japan took him through the Ural mountains, where he crossed from Europe into Asia. In Kirghizstan, Fukushima traded Ural, who had bitten him several times, for two local horses named Altai and Hsi Ang. On September 24th the trio climbed the high peak ridge of Uran-Duppa, crossing the border from Russia into China.
On January 15th, 1893, Altai developed a limp due to a burn caused by a careless blacksmith. Fukushima had planned on leaving the injured horse but his companion, Hsi Ang would not leave without Altai. So the Baron decided to wait until both Altai and Hsi Ang could once again travel together. The weary travellers arrived in Yokohama, Japan on June 29th, 1893, where the horses were put out to green pastures at Fukushima's home. They spent their later years at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo where they lived a peaceful life.
Yet the Baron had one last act to complete. Samurai warrior that he was, upon his return to Japan he placed a special trophy on the shrine of his family altar. Following the ancient farewell manner used in battle, Fukushima had cut off some of Gaisen's mane to take home with him to Japan. This lock of his beloved horse’s mane was deified on the altar at Fukushima's home.
Next to Gaisen’s mane, the Japanese Baron placed the poem he had written in honour of Triumphant Return
A horse, forgot what he was,
A man, forgot what he was,
We used to feel the difference,
Alas, after much tiredness you received a wound.
I must leave you wiping tears.
A horse, forgot what he was,
A man, forgot what he was,
Beloved horse can not stand because of illness,
I must leave you against my hope.
The memory of Baron Fukushima and Gaisen is still revered in Japan today, where the museum of Matsumoto maintains a display which includes the Long Rider’s uniform and journals kept during his long journey from Berlin to Japan.
The Long Riders’ Guild would like to thank Richard La Tondre, who is currently translating the Baron’s book, “Tanki Ensei" (The Lonely Expedition) into English. This excerpt will soon be available in Dick’s new book, “The Golden Kite.”
Main Stories from the Road page
Top of page