Kasagake (笠懸)

Kasagake' (笠懸) is a traditional Japanese form of horseback archery technique/practice/event/form where the archer mounted on a galloping steed shoots 'Kaburaya' arrows (arrows that whistle) at targets. Compared to 'Yabusame,' the Kasagake form of archery is considered more like actual combat. Because Kasagake targets are more diverse, Kasagake is more difficult; however, it is less formalized than Yabusame and more entertaining. Japanese traditional horseback archery consists of three forms: Kasagake, along with Yabusame, and 'Inu oumono' (dog hunting).
Currently, Kasagake is also written as '笠掛.'
It is said that the town called Kasagake in Nittagun, Gunma Prefecture takes its name as a result of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo once playing Kasagake.


The origins of Kasagake style horseback archery are unclear; however, first appear in Sadaie TAIRA's work of 1057 entitled "Asomi (rank) Sadaie's Diary." Around the same time, FUJIWARA no Akihira also wrote about the topic in his work "Account of the New Sarugaku." In later periods, a misleading view circulated that the practice first started with MINAMOTO no Yoritomo. Initially, entertaining and playful Kasagake targets were made from conical shaped reed caps ('Ayaigasa') which were plastered with an adobe like render ('Azuchi'). However, the back of the target was a 55 cm diameter piece of timber or alternatively, a wooden board with cowhide stretched across it which was padded inside with cotton, wool, or straw, etc. (much like a cushion) which was suspended from a timber frame.
(As seen in the upper right side picture)
Kaburaya' arrows (that make a whistling sound) were used. This form of practice had a degree of realism akin to archery on the battlefield or hunting and, it was possible to check if the arrow had hit its mark on the target etc. Also, as a form of entertainment, wagers were made on the skills of the horseback archery competitors which led to the 'Kasakake' form developing separately and independently from the more formalized and somewhat awkward 'Yabusame' form of horseback archery.

The 'Kasagake' form of horseback archery began to be popular from the Heian period and reached its peak of popularity in the Kamakura period. Along with 'Yabusame' and 'Inu oumono' forms of horseback archery around that time, they occurred under the collective title of 'three horseback archery forms' at various locations. With the advent of the Muromachi period, the shogunate fell into decline and along with it, horseback archery subsequently declined. In the mid Edo period, a revival of horseback archery was seen under Yoshimune TOKUGAWA; however, following the Meiji restoration, it once again fell into decline.

In the present day various schools of horseback archery including the Takeda and Ogasawara schools hand down and preserve the rules, etiquette and traditions.

Kasagake can still be seen at the Kasagake horseback archery event held at Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, the Miura City Dosun-matsuri Festival and Midori City Kasagake events.

*Please note: the following paragraphs (variety/style of riding grounds, costumes) differ slightly depending on the region/style and are noted for reference only.

Riding Grounds/Costumes

The riding grounds for Kasagake archery form a 109 m long straight line (or 51 lengths of an unstrung bow). The riding track itself is called a 'Saguri' with the boundary of the edges marked. The target is set up 33 bow lengths (approx. 71 M) away from the starting point of the riding ground on the left hand side of the direction traveled. Riding custume consisted of a 'Hitatare' (court robe) and 'Mukabaki' (chaps/leggings), but sleeves were not tied up and an arm guard (bracer) was not used (but is used in the present day). A conical hat made of reeds ('Kasa') is not worn whereas a hard, black lacquered hat ('Eboshi') is worn. This is because in the past individuals' conical ('Kasa') reed hats were used as a targets.

Varieties and Styles

There are various styles of Kasagake archery which differ depending upon the type of target and, aim of the event.

Tokasagake (Long-Range Kasagake) Archery

Short range Kasagake archery is usually used to express 'standard' Kasagake. The target is a circular disk 55 cm in diameter made of tanned leather. The target secured at three points and hung from a timber frame is set between 11.35m - 22.7m away from the track. One target is used (whereas three are used in Yabusame style archery). The arrows used are called 'Ohikime' which have a large turnip-shaped arrow head which whistles when shot, and are fired after the archer brings his steed to a gallop. It is called 'Tokasagake' (Long-Range Kasagake) archery because the archer shoots at the target from a distance.

Kokasagake (Short-Range Kasagake) Archery

After shooting at the long-range target, the archer rides along the track in the other direction and fires at the short-range target. The target is an approximately 4 to 8 sun (1 sun – 3.03 cm) (approximately 12 -24 cm) square wooden board, which is attached to bamboo poles and is set up at the place approximately 2.3 cm away from the 'rachi' (a fence).

and 4 sun in each direction or, 5 sun in each direction but the basic small target is 8 sun across so, size is by no means uniform. and 4 sun in each direction or, 5 sun in each direction but the basic small target is 8 sun across so, size is by no means uniform. Because the target was set close to ground level, short-range Kasagake archery differs from long-range Kasagake archery in that in short-range Kasagake archery, the archer sees the target below leg level. The arrows used are smaller sized versions of the 'Hikime' arrow which have a large turnip-shaped arrow head which whistles when in flight. Kokasagake' archery gets its name from the small size of the target used. In the years following the Genkyu era (1204-1205), 'Kokasagake' archery slowly disappeared. Proficient archers became scarce but it is said, Tokimune HOJO was a renowned archer.
(Documented in "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East) April 25, 1261.)
In the 2001 NHK serialized TV drama "Tokimune HOJO," there was a scene depicting a Kasakake competition between brothers Tokimune and Tokisuke.

Kuji (ballot) Kasagake

Gambling and competitions were overseen by referees and monitors. Five ballots were put into a bamboo pipe which, were then drawn in succession by ten archers. After the ten archers had completed the Kasagake archery event, the winners were determined by the number of targets hit by the archers drawn together in the ballot.

Shinji (Shinto ritual) Kasagake

Shinji Kasagake became a fixture in shrine religious festivals and events and, fulfilled a role in the dedication of temples. Offerings of deer, quail and fish were used as targets.

Hyakuban (lit. one hundred times) Kasagake

Hyakuban Kasagake events were held when people prayed for something or when prayers were fulfilled. The archer shot 100 times hence the term 'Hyakuban' (lit. one hundred times) Kasagake was used.

Tanabata Festival Kasagake

This event occurs during the Tanabata festival. A target is either hit seven times or, a target placed in seven different locations is hit (usually, a Kasagake target is shot at 10 times).


Hasamimono events are events where a fan or other object held in place between two pieces of bamboo is used as a target. More often used as a form of entertainment. Hasamimono events were not solely limited to Kasagake archery events. Hasamimono style archery took place at archery events with archers standing and, at that time at festivals/as general entertainment and standard archery events.

[Original Japanese]