Yabusame (shooting arrows from a galloping horse) (流鏑馬)

Yabusame is the Japanese traditional skill, practice and rite of shooting whistling arrows from a galloping horse.
It is believed to have been called 'yabaseuma' because arrows were shot from a galloping horse, and over time was changed to 'yabusame.'


As described in the section of Chuyuki (a diary written by FUJIWARA no Munetada) dated 1096, yabusame has been practiced since the Heian period as a practical fighting skill performed on horseback. A technique known as 'the Hidesato-style of yabusame' was practiced during the Kamakura period, and samurai trained in this pastime enthusiastically, giving demonstrations at events organized by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). However, yabusame began to lose importance during the Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods and became unpopular for a while. In the Edo period of 1724, at the direction of the shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA, Sadamasa OGASAWARA, the Ogasawara school's 20th principal, developed a new style of yabusame after the studying the Ogasawara textbook, and trained samurai serving backoffice work in the new form of yabusame and kasagake (shooting a bamboo hat) together with the older style of yabusame. Yabusame was performed at Takadanobaba (present-day location: 3-chome, Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo) in a dedication to the Anahachiman-gu Shrine North in 1728 as part of a prayer ceremony performed to cure Ieshige TOKUGAWA's heir of smallpox (yabusame was again performed there ten years later in appreciation of the complete cure that Ieshige's heir experienced, and an emaki (picture scroll) called "Yabusame Emaki" (a picture scroll depicting archery on horseback) was drawn to record the event). In addition to the above, yabusame was often performed in ceremonies to ward off evil in a shogun family, and when praying for the birth of children, etc. Despite losing popularity for a second time following the dissolution of the bakufu (the Tokugawa shogunate) that was brought about by the Meiji Restoration and for a third time following the outbreak of World War II and its immediate aftermath, yabusame experienced a revival after the end of the war and remains popular to this day. Currently, yabusame is actively performed in many local areas in Japan as a Shinto ritual, and is a main tourist attraction.

Riding grounds

On the straight course, a horse gallops for two cho (approximately 218 meters). On the left side along the run, three targets are placed a specified distance apart. The distance between the rider and the targets is about 5 meters and the targets are hung approximately 2 meter high.
(The distances vary according to the schools or the rules.)
An archer, dressed in hunting gear, spurs his horse into a gallop while shooting his arrows one after another.

Three styles of archery on horseback

Other types of archery practiced on horseback are kasagake and inuoimono (shooting a dog), and these two plus yabusame make up the 'three types of archery on horseback.'

In 'Kasagake', one target is placed 18 to 27 meters from the archer, and in the 'Inuoimono', 150 (a hundred and fifty) dogs are unleashed in a riding ground enclosed with a bamboo fence and shot by three groups of 36 (thirty six) archers. In the Inuoimono, an archer shoots arrows that have a large kabura (round head on an arrow) called 'hikime' to protect the dogs from injury.


Let's take a look at the Tokugawa clan's riding grounds for example.

The straight course is two cho (approximately 218 meters) long. A basou (running track) can be made in one of two ways: by laying a strip of turf measuring about 1 jo (about 3 meters) in width inside a track measuring about 2.5 jo (about 7.5 meters) in width; or by running a length of rope along either side of the track and covering the area inside with sand. The land may be dug a little deeper to make the basou. There are rachi (fences) on the both sides of the basou. A rachi on the left side is called o-rachi (a fence on the man's side) and are two shaku three sun high, while a rachi on the right side is called me-rachi (a fence on the woman's side) and is 2 shaku high, and the rachi was made of wood and also tied with bush clover.

Targets are placed at three locations. The first target is placed at 48 jo, the second target is placed 38 jo from the first target and the third target is placed 37 jo apart from the second target. The targets are placed 3 jo apart from the basou (track) and may be placed five jo or seven jo apart from the basou in the foreground.
The targets are square with sides of 1 shaku eight sun long and are approximately 1 bu (3.3 milli meters) thick and made from hinoki (a Japanese cypress.)
A matogushi (a pole on which a target is hung) is three shaku five sun long, and two matogushi are placed to hold a target with its two corners, one facing up and one down (in a diamond shape.)

The archer wears a suikan or yoroi-hitatare with its bottom and sleeves tied, a mukabaki around his/her waist, a monoigutu on his feet, a ikote and glove on his left hand, a whip in his right hand and a ayaigasa on his head. The archer carries a large sword and an ebira with five whistling arrows on his back, a sword in his waist belt and a bow and an arrow in his left hand.

Then, after the archers and officials finish praying to God and go to the riding course to look around it, they gather at the end of the riding course and line up the horses, while the officials take their places.
After the secretary appears and the first archer kneels down in front of the secretary, the secretary declares 'you may start the yabusame demonstration.'
During these procedures, other archers alight from their horses. The first archer returns to report the declaration to other archers, and upon hearing this, all archers mount their horses at once and go to the riding grounds and arrange the horses in a fan-shaped formation. After the first archer advances his horse, he says a Shinto ritual prayer and then takes out a chukei (a sort of fan) to perform 'ogihaki (motions with the chukei)', the archer starts his gallop and throws the chukei high and forward and hits the first target, then trying to catch the chukei. This is called Ageogi. The archer continues to hit all the targets including the second and third ones and the other archers repeat the same process. The most skillful veteran archer of the five, seven, or even more archers participating that day goes last, finishing the event by performing the following technique: first, he shoots the first target and fixes an arrow to his bow; immediately after this, he takes his whip in his right hand, raises it high, lowers it gently, and then shoots the second target; and finally, he fixes another arrow to his bow, raises his whip high, lowers it gently, and then shoots the third target. This is called Agemuchi and is an extremely difficult technique to perform. The archers meet at the start of the riding course after each shot, and upon completion of all shots all archers leave and the other officials return to their positions and go back to their offices.

Methods of archery include dozukuri (posturing) and yatsugai (fixing an arrow to a bow.)
Just after kicking the horse to start, the archer stands up in the stirrups, spreading his knees, this is called kuramawari, in order to keep three sun spaces between his body and the saddle.
This is called Kura-o-sukasu (making a space between the archer's body and the saddle.)
The archer leans forward with chest back. Archers appear fixing the first arrow in the right position, and take out the second and third arrows from the Ebira (quiver) to fix them in the right position.

Archers shout in yabusame. In ceremonies, archers shout 'In-Yo-I' in a short and deep voice just before the first target, 'In-Yo-I-In-Yo-I' just before the second target in a high-pitched voice for a longer duration and 'In-Yo-I-In-Yo-I-In-Yo-I' in a very high-pitched voice for a very long duration. A-Ya-O', 'A-Ra-Ra-In-Yo-I', 'Ya-A-A-O' and 'A-Ra-A-Ra-A-Ra-A-Ra…' may be shouted for s short duration.

Names of the archers and shooting results for the day are recorded in a diary.
In order to record a diary, a Hosho (a note given from a high-class person to a lower-class person) is folded vertically once and closed at the right end with Mizubiki (ceremonial two-tone paper strings.)

The Tohoku district

Tonogohachiman-gu Shrine in Tono City, Iwate Prefecture performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai (annual festival) on September 15.

Moriokahachiman-gu Shrine in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai.

Sagaehachiman-gu Shrine in Sagae City, Yamagata Prefecture performs yabusame for the Zenjitsu Sai (eve festival) and Rei Dai Sai in September.

The Kanto district

Nikkotosho-gu Shrine in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture performs yabusame in May and October. The Ogasawara school.

Kasamainari-jinja Shrine in Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture performs yabusame on November 3. The Ogasawara school.

Hiei-jinja Shrine in Nihari Village, Nihari District, Ibaraki Prefecture performs yabusame for Hiei-jinja Shrine Yabusame Festival in April.

Kippohachiman Shrine in Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture performs yabusame in September.

Izumoiwai-jinja Shrine in Moroyama Town, Iruma District, Saitama Prefecture performs yabusame on November 3.

Rokugo-jinja Shrine in Ota Ward, Tokyo performs the Children's Yabusame in January. Yubusame has been designated as Tokyo Metropolitan intangible folk cultural properties.

Yabusame is performed on the third Saturday of April at a specially constructed riding course which is near the Sumida-gawa River under the auspices of Taito Ward, Tokyo. The Ogasawara school.

Meiji-jingu Shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai in November.
The Takeda school

Anahachiman-gu Shrine in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo performs yabusame on Health Sports Day in October in a specially constructed riding course in Toyama Park. The Ogasawara school.

Tsurugaokahachiman-gu Shrine in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture performs yabusame for the Kamakura-matsuri Festival in April and the Rei Dai Sai in September. The Kamakura-matsuri Festival in April by the Takeda school and the annual festival in September by the Ogasawara school.

On Zushi Beach in Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, yabusame is performed in November. The Takeda school.

Samukawa-jinja Shrine in Samukawa Town, Koza District, Kanagawa Prefecture performs yabusame on the eve of the annual festival in autumn.
The Takeda school

The Chubu district

Shimomurakamo-jinja Shrine in Imizu City, Toyama Prefecture performs yabusame called 'Yansanma' in dialect which is familiar to local people on May 4.

Fujisanhongusengen-taisha Shrine in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture performs yabusame on May 5. The Ogasawara school.

Mishima-taisha Shrine in Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture performs yabusame for the annual festival in August. The Takeda school.

Fujiomurosengen-jinja Shrine in Fujikawaguchiko Town, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi Prefecture (former Katuyama Village) performs yabusame in September (on April 29, 2007.)
The Takeda school.

Omuroasama-jinja Shrine (Shimoyoshida, Fujiyoshida City) in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture performs yabusame for horseshoe fortune-telling on September 19 instead of samurai-class yabusame. It is designated as Fujiyoshida City intangible folk cultural properties.

At Suwa-taisha Shrine in Shimosuwa Town, Suwa District, Nagano Prefecture, yabusame is performed for dedicating (offering) shinji.

Nyakuichioji-jinja Shrine in Omachi City, Nagano Prefecture performs yabusame for the annual festival in July.

Hachiman-jinja Shrine in Toki City, Gifu Prefecture performs yabusame for the annual festival in October.

The Kinki District

Tado-taisha Shrine in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture holds a 'Yabusame Festival' on Labor Thanksgiving Day in November.
The Ogasawara school

Okahachiman-gu Shrine in Iga City, Mie Prefecture performs yabusame on the Sunday closest to April 15.

Shimogamo-jinja Shrine in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture holds Yabusame Shinji to pray for the safety of the Aoi Festival's procession on May 3, and it is an archery ritual for bowmen to shoot arrows from horseback. The Ogasawara school.

Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine in Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture performs yabusame on Health Sports Day.

Osakatenman-gu Shrine in Kita Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture performs yabusame for the Aki Dai Sai (autumn festival) in October.

Isonokami-jingu Shrine in Tenri City, Nara Prefecture performs yabusame for the 'Togyo-sai Festival.'

Suga-jinja Shrine in Minabe Town, Hidaka District, Wakayama Prefecture performs yabusame called 'Kurabe Uma (horse race) in the autumn festival in October.

Rokujohachiman-jinja Shrine in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture performs yabusame in October.

Sasaba-jinja Shrine in Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture performs yabusame in October.

Oarahiko-jinja Shrine in Shinasahi Town, Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture performs yabusame for the Shichikawa-maturi Festival on May 4.

The Chugoku district

Kibituhiko-jinja Shrine in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture performs yabusame for the Shuki Rei Dai Sai (autumn annual festival.)

Yoshikawahachiman-gu Shrine in Kibichuo Town, Kaga District, Okayama Prefecture performs yabusame for the Toban-sai Festival in October.

Horihachiman-jinja Shrine in Akiota Town, Yamagata District, Hiroshima Prefecture (former Kake Town) performs yabusame for the annual festival in autumn.

Jigozen-jinja Shrine (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine's Geku (sessha (a related shrine))) in Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture performs yabusame on May 5 for the Goryoe-sai Festival within the Boy's Festival based on the old calendar.

Fukuehachiman-gu Shrine in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture performs yabusame in October.

Washiharahachiman-gu Shrine in Tsuwano Town, Kanoashi District, Shimane Prefecture performs yabusame in April.
The Ogasawara school

Kakinomoto-jinja Shrine in Masuda City, Shimane Prefecture performs yabusame for the Hassaku-sai Festival based on the old calendar August 1.

The Shikoku district

Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kotohira Town, Nakatado District, Kagawa Prefecture performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai in October.

Kamo-jinja Shrine in Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture performs yabusame for the 'Otomo Uma' in the autumn festival in October.

Nonehachiman-gu Shrine Toyo Town, Aki District, Kochi Prefecture performs yabusame for the autumn festival in October.

The Kyushu district

Iimori-jinja Shrine in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture performs yabusame based on the old calendar September 9.

Kinji-jinja Shrine in Kashima City, Saga Prefecture performs yabusame for the 'Uma-kake (horse run) Shinji' in November.

Yodohime-jinja Shrine in Matsuura City, Nagasaki Prefecture holds the 'Shisa-kunchi Yabusame Festival' in October.

Miyazaki-jingu Shrine in Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture performs yabusame in April.

Imibetsugu-sha Shrine (Oita Prefecture) in Kunimi Town, Higashikunisaki District, Oita Prefecture holds 'Betsugu-sha Yabusame' in October.

Aso-jinja Shrine in Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture performs yabusame for the Shuki Dai Sai (Tanomi-sai Festival.)

Shijukusho-jinja Shrine in Kimotsuki Town, Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima Prefecture performs yabusame on the third Sunday of October.

[Original Japanese]