Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Yabusame at Nikko – Samurai Horseback Archery

Yabusame is Japanese horseback archery, a tradition that goes back well over 1000 years. The first samurai referred to their profession as “The Way of the Horse and Bow” – the sword as a principle weapon coming much much later.

This Yabusame event took place in Nikko which is 2 hours north of Tokyo. It’s the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867). The Ogasawara Ryu (school of archery) conducted the event. They do Yabusame there in May and October.

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September 14, 2012 Posted by | Archery, festival, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, Japanese martial arts, samurai, travel, Yabusame | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joma Shinji – Kyudo (Japanese Archery) Exorcism Ritual for New Years

Joma Shinji is a New Year’s Japanese Archery Ritual for driving away evil for the coming year. Six archers dressed in formal samurai kimono known as kariginu shoot two arrows a piece at a large circular target. On the back of the target is painted an upside kanji character for “oni” which means “devil.” Striking the target is believe to expel evil particularly shots which pass through the oni character.

Since ancient times in Japan, arrows have been seen as having the power to banish and destroy evil. Even the twanging of bow strings is thought to ward away evil spirits. During New Year’s, decorative wooden arrows are sold at temples and shrines as good luck charms for the coming year.

Joma Shinji takes place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura on January 5th. The ritual dates back to a time when Kamakura was the military capital of Japan (1185-1333). The first hereditary shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, promoted a variety of military type rituals usually involving archery such as Joma Shinji. In his day, the bow was the primary weapon of the samurai, their profession being known as “The Way of the Horse and Bow.”

Yoritomo was keen that his warriors not become soft even in times of peace. He was all too mindful of what had happened with his enemies, the Taira family. The Taira were once the dominate samurai clan of Japan but they became too intoxicated with the luxuries that power can bring and many of them preferred to excel in non-warrior pursuits such as music and poetry.

War broke out between the Taira and Minamoto and eventually the Taira were utterly defeated in 1185. It has often been pointed out that the Taira’s love of luxury and leisurely pursuits were a major factor in their downfall. Yoritomo did not want the same happening to his samurai so he decided to place his shogunate capital in Kamakura far away from the debilitating influence of the aristocratic culture of Kyoto and he encouraged the continual practice of the bow in annual rituals and contests.

Today the Ogasawara Ryu, a school of Japanese Archery, conducts the Joma Shinji Ritual. The Ogasawara school and clan was established in the Kamakura Era by Ogasawara Nagakiyo who became an archery instructor to Yoritomo. The Ogasawara Ryu does a number of archery events throughout the year including Yabusame, mounted archery.

For more photos check here: Joma Shinji Photos

January 22, 2012 Posted by | 2012, Archery, culture, history, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, japanese history, Japanese martial arts, kyudo, New Years, Shinto, travel, youtube, zen | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

San-San-Ku Tebasami Shiki (Japanese Archery Ritual) and Horseless Yabusame

Over the New Years holidays, Yasukuni Shrine holds an archery ritual known as San-San-Ku Tebasami Shiki. Two teams of archers shoot at targets whose measurements relate to the principle of ying yang. The ritual is held at the beginning of the year and it in olden times, it was the first archery event of the new year.

After the ritual, yabusame was performed. Yabusame is mounted archery where an archer rides a horse and shoots at the three targets. Yasukuni, however, doesn’t have the ground for such an event so they improvised using a fake horse and turning in around in a circle.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Archery, japan, japanese archery, kyudo, martial arts, San-San-Ku Tebasami Shiki, Sport, tokyo, video, Yabusame, yasakuni shrine | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yabusame – Gunslingin’ Samurai (Japanese Mounted Archery)

Yabusame is a Japanese Shinto ritual involving mounted archery. Archers ride at a full gallop and shoot at three targets set up at certain intervals. Hitting all three, an archer is considered to be very skillful. The ritual is purpose is to bring prosperity and peace.

The video is a complilation of Yabusame events I have been to over the last two years. There are two different schools of Yabusame – Ogasawara Ryu who perform at Asakusa (here 2007&2008) and Takeda Ryu who perform at Meiji Shrine (2006), Miura (2007), and Kamakura (Spring 2007 & Fall 2008)

The song is called “Gunslinger Man” and it fits with the old tradition of samurai on horseback using bows rather than spears and swords as they did later. The Yabusame costume looks rather cowboy-ish.

The music is by the Exotic Ones:
http://www.myspace.com/exoticones

This also a tribute to the memory of a friend of mine who passed away a few years ago:
Jack Hunter Dave, Jr who wrote and sung the song “Gunslinger Man.”
http://my.att.net/p/s/community.dll?ep=87&subpageid=150399&ck=

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture, entertainment, festival, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, life, martial arts, mounted archery, tokyo, travel, video, Yabusame, youtube, zen | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Momote Shiki – Japanese Archery Ritual Video

On Seijin-no-Hi (Coming of Age Day) in early January in Japan, an archery ritual known as Momote Shiki is held at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo for all those turning 20 for that year.10 Archers at a time shoot two arrows at a central target. The ritual is performed by the Ogasawara-ryu school of archery.

Here’s a short clip of a Shinto Priest shooting the Kabura-ya (whistling arrow):

February 17, 2008 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, kyudo, life, meiji shrine, momote shiki, ogasawara ryu, seijin-no-hi, Shinto, tokyo, tradition, travel, video, youtube | 1 Comment

Momote Shiki – Japanese Archery Ritual

Momote Shiki: Japanese Archery Ritual
Centuries-old ritual held for the fortune of new adults


Archers in old style kimono preparing to shoot n the archery ritual known as Momote Shiki

Seijin-no-Hi or Coming of Age Day is celebrated all throughout Japan on the second Monday of January. Throughout the country, similar ceremonies and activities take place among those newly turned 20 such as the wearing of special kimono, going to shrines, attending speeches, and so on. At Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, a unique ceremony takes place that is often overlooked in favor of seeing the kimono-clad girls that populate the shrine on that day.

Behind the main shrine complex an archery ritual known as Momote Shiki is performed for the good fortune of all those turning 20 and becoming new adults. Archers wearing a style of formal kimono that samurai once wore in olden times shoot two arrows a piece at a central target.


Archers arriving at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

The Momote Shiki ceremony is conducted by the Ogasawara-Ryu, one of the oldest schools of Japanese-style archery. The Ogasawara family has long been associated with martial arts training most especially archery. The founder of the Ogasawara line was Nagakiyo who was born in the mid-12th century. He excelled as a mounted archer and was granted the surname of Ogasawara by the Emperor after the name of his birthplace in modern Yamanashi Prefecture.

12th century Japan was a transitionary time. In prior centuries, the Emperor’s Court ruled the land from Kyoto. Nobles held the reigns of power but as time progressed they began to lose their power to the emerging warrior class. With the increase of violence, the noble administrators had to rely more and more on the formerly despised warrior class to quell the problems. Eventually the warrior class came into its own in the mid-12th century when the powerful warrior family, the Heike or Taira, came to dominate the Imperial Court.


The archers wear a style of kimono worn by samurai 800 years ago

The Heike became arrogant in their new found power thus breeding many enemies. War broke out between them and their powerful rivals the Genji or Minamoto clan. The leader of the Genji was Minamoto-no-Yoritomo. Yoritomo destroyed the Heike family and came to rule all of Japan as Shogun. He ruled from his capital Kamakura which lies an hour south of Tokyo by train.

Nagakiyo had been Yoritomo’s mentor and instructor in mounted archery. With Yoritomo’s ultimate victory, the Ogasawara’s fortunes rose. Yoritomo was keen that his warriors keep their martial skills honed even during peacetime. The reason for this and his decision to set his capital in Kamakura far from Kyoto was the precedent set by his former enemies, the Heike family.


Before shooting, the archers give reverence

One of the prevailing opinions of the day as to why the once powerful Heike family fell so completely was their descent into decadence. They spent more time worrying about their appearance and their poetry ability than they did on their martial skills. One Heike general was famous for abandoning his position in abject terror when a flight of geese so startled him that he thought the Genji were attacking. A great part of this stemmed from the Heike’s close proximity to the culture of the Imperial Court.

Yoritomo did not want his followers to become soft and weak like the Heike. He wanted to establish a strong legacy so he set his new capital in Kamakura far from the Imperial Court. Furthermore, he avidly supported the Ogasawara clan in training warriors to maintain their skill and discipline. A number of archery rituals still practiced today were started because of Yoritomo’s stern insistence that his followers retain their martial fighting skills.


A Shinto Priest preparing to shoot a special arrow to begin the ceremony

Archery whether mounted or on foot was strongly emphasized because at this time the much-praised samurai sword had yet to truly come into its own. In Yoritomo’s time, the bow was the principle weapon of the samurai and the symbol of his profession and spirit.

Yoritomo’s shogunate government lasted until the early 14th century. After his Spartan policies were ignored, the Kamakura Shogunate leaders became lax with luxury and in the end they fell to more determined and stronger enemies. The Ogasawara survived the downfall of the Kamakura shogunate and went on to serve the new shogunate government establish by the Ashikaga clan.


A Shinto Priest loosens and removes his left sleeve so it will not hinder his shooting

Sometime after the power of the Ashikaga shoguns declined, the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu established a new shogunate government set in Edo (today Tokyo) in 1603. He requested Ogasawara Tsunenao, the head of the clan at the time, to be a mentor and instructor to his son.

The Tokugawa Shogunate ushered in an unprecedented two centuries of peace. Fighting skills were no longer in great demand; however, practice of the martial arts continued but took on a new form. Archery and other martial skills became less about the physical and more about the spiritual. Archery became viewed as a way to self-improvement; of disciplining the mind and soul.

The Ogasawara clan continued to serve the Tokugawa shogunate until 1868 when the shogunate was abolished. In the midst of a rapidly modernizing Japan of the late 19th century, the Ogasawara continued to teach their traditional arts. However, since there were no more samurai to train in Japan’s new society, the Ogasawara opened their school to the general public.

Today the Ogasawara perform a number of archery rituals throughout the year at a number of shrines. Every spring in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, they perform the mounted archery ritual of Yabusame.

The Momote Shiki ritual is carried out on Seijin-no-Hi, Coming of Age Day though the ritual predates the holiday by centuries. Momote – means “hundred hands.” The ritual is a bit of Shinto mathematics: ten archers at a time shoot two arrows a piece. The number of archers times the number of arrows equals 100. The type of arrow used has white fletching or feather. This is the same type of arrow which is sold as good luck charms at shrines during New Years. The Momote Shiki ritual is the origin of this arrow charm. The Momote Shiki ritual used to be held in private until the Edo Period (1603-1867) when it became open to the general public.

Before the archers begin, a Shinto priest shoots a Kabura-ya, a special red-colored arrow with an turnip-shaped head. The arrow makes a whistling noise as speeds along. The noise is believed to drive away evils from all four directions.


Archers draw the bow above their heads before bringing it down to aim

The archers wear a type of kimono known as a kariginu. The kariginu was the everyday dress of the samurai of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) and was based on clothes worn on hunting expeditions. On their head is an eboshi — a type of hat worn by court nobles in earlier centuries.

The traditional way of shooting the bow is very slow and meticulous. The archers begin by slowly uncovering their left arm and shoulder leaving them and the left side of the chest completely bare. The purpose for this is practicality rather than for ritual purposes.

Traditional kimono robes are loose and flowing which could easily inconvenience the shooting of the bow. Female archers however do not reveal their shoulders and chest. They put their arm through a specially designed hole on the sleeves of female kimono then tie up the sleeve.

The bow is raised upwards and brought slowly down while the arrow is pulled back past the ear. Then at last the string is let loose and the arrow speeds towards the target. The emphasis of the ritual and Japanese archery in general is not on striking the target accurately but on the spiritual repose the archer achieves and maintains throughout the whole ceremony. Balance is sought between spirit and bow when the mind is empty but not dwelling on emptiness.


Archers receive a ceremonial serving of sake after the ritual

A Zen Master of the Kamakura Period once wrote:

No target’s erected
No bow’s drawn
And the arrow leaves the string;
It may not hit,
But it does not miss!

Once all the archers have shot the required number of arrows, they receive a small portion of sake and the ceremony is considered concluded. The health and good fortune of the new adults is thus spiritually assured for the year.


February 17, 2008 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture, event, history, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, japanese history, kyudo, life, martial arts, meiji shrine, momote shiki, ogasawara ryu, samurai, seijin-no-hi, Shinto, tokyo, tradition, travel, zen | 10 Comments

Seijin-no-Hi Pictorial Montage Video

The following video is a pictorial montage of Seijin-no-Hi from 2006-2008 taken at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine holds an archery ritual which is pictured here known as Momote Shiki in honor of the new adults.The music is by The Sushi Cabaret Club, a band based in Nagoya, Japan:
The Sushi Cabaret Club

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Archery, beautiful girls, Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, furisode, japan, kimono, life, meiji shrine, momote shiki, montage, photographs, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

KKK – Kimono Klad Kuties: Japan’s Coming of Age Day

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Three kimono clad girls celebrate their Coming of Age

Every second Monday of January, the streets of Japan are overrun with gaggles of giggling girls running — or rather hobbling about — in gorgeously decorated kimonos. They are celebrating their coming of age — their rite of passage into adulthood with all of its wonders and horrors of drinking, smoking, and voting though many have probably been indulging in the former two activities for quite sometime.

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Old and new come together as a Kimono-clad girl checks her cellphone

In the U.S., a person is recognized as a legal adult at 18, however, not completely. Whereas an American 18 year-old can help to decide the fate of their country by choosing it’s next leader, be legally tried in a court of law as an adult, and even kill another human being with a rusty spoon in authorized combat, somehow they lack the maturity to choose whether or not to purchase an alcoholic beverage at a convenient store. That level of maturity cannot be reached until 21, after three years of voting, litigation, and combat.

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A young woman registering at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

Japan’s Coming of Age day is known as Seijin-no-Hi and it is a national holiday. It was first established in 1948, which, incidentally, was the same year when Emperor Hirohito made his first public birthday appearance. Originally, Seijin-no-Hi was scheduled on Jan. 15, but in 1999 it was moved to the second Monday of January.

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Surrounded by photographers

On Seijin-no-Hi, girls will wear a special type of kimono known as a furisode. A furisode has long sleeves, which represents the girls’ unmarried state. Older married women wear short sleeve kimonos. Around their waist is tied a wide belt known as an obi. The obi of young women are often more decorative than those of older women and is tied a certain way. The obi is generally the most expensive part of a kimono with second hand ones running in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars. A full furisode kimono can cost as much as a new car. Some families might rent one or pass one from mother to daughter.

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Free sake for new adults and visitors

Very few girls will go without one on this special day. Seijin-no-Hi is their day to shine, after all. Suddenly, they become celebrities in their own right as numerous people snap photo after photo of these gorgeously-attired girls.

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A young man wearing a formal kimono

The boys mainly dress in western business suits, but some adhere to old customs and will wear a formal male kimono known as a hakama. A haori jacket is sometimes worn over the hakama to give it more of a formal appearance.

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Archers pass by a girl in a kimono

Seijin Shiki is the ceremony that many 20-year-olds attend where they will listen to certain elders, such as the local mayor, wax on about the joys and responsibilities of adulthood. Many of the new adults will go to shrines to pray for their future. Meiji Shrine is a popular spot for these new adults. Kimono-clad girls and aspiring photographers throng the shrine’s complex.

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Shinto Priest prepared to fire a whistling arrow to signify the beginning of the archery ritual

In honor of these young adults, the shrine priests of Meiji hold a Momote shiki — an archery ritual. The ritual begins with two white-clad priests firing blunt arrows that whistle as they speed to the target. In samurai times such whistling arrows were fired to signify the beginning of a battle. In Shinto archery rituals, whistling arrows are used to call upon the attention of the gods. After the priests, rows of archers in colorful robes shoot two arrows a piece at a target. Although the event is held in commemoration for the newly recognized adults, I only saw one kimono girl in attendance. Most were too busy having their picture taken and enjoying their day.

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A Row of Colorfully-attired Archers prepare to fire

After the ceremonies, the archery rituals, and lectures, as night fell the new adults rushed off with their friends to go to parties or to bars in order to celebrate the purchasing of their first legal alcohol drink.

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Having a bite to eat

Seijin no Hi Low Attendance

Kimono Clad Girls a Dying Tradition?

January 10, 2007 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, festival, japan, kimono, life, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, travel | 4 Comments

Bunka-no-Hi: Japanese Culture Day

Japan’s Culture Day Keeps Traditions Alive


Martial arts demonstrators sparring in sight of the Shinjuku Building on Culture Day.

In this fast-paced modern world of whizzing beeping flashing technology where people rush hurriedly about to keep up with these fast-changing times, it’s all too easy to forget the traditions and customs of earlier slower times. Japan’s efforts to keep a tenuous cultural link to its past is the national holiday known simply as Culture Day (Bunka-no-hi).

Culture Day (Nov. 3) was originally a holiday to celebrate the birth date of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). After his death, his birthday was designated as Culture Day, a day in which cultural arts are honored.


A mother and 3-year old daughter dressed in Kimono visit Meiji Shrine

Honoring Imperial birthdays is a relatively new tradition. For long centuries, the Emperor was a shadowy figure controlled by the military dictators known as Shogun and before them the regents and ministers of the Imperial court.

Emperor Meiji was the first emperor in a long, long time to emerge from the shadows to reclaim the power and dignity of the Imperial family. The Shogun government was abolished in 1868, and Japan began its advancement into the modern world.


Yabusame archer prepares himself for the next target

Culture Day also marks the day when the post-war constitution was officially announced — Nov. 3, 1946.


Kendo competition

Every year the Emperor awards individuals for their endeavors and accomplishments in the cultural arts or academic pursuits. The Order of Culture is one of the highest honors to be given from the Emperor. These awards are not limited to Japanese citizens, however. The American astronauts who first landed on the moon in 1969 received the Order of Culture.


Old and new come together

All over Japan many cities and villages put together various art and cultural presentations such as historical re-enactments, parades, festivals, martial arts demonstration, etc. Quite a number of adults and children will wear kimonos and visit shrines and temples. Traditional Japanese weddings are popularly held on this day too.


A female Yabusame archer

Meiji Shrine which enshrines the spirit of Emperor Meiji, holds a number of events on Culture Day. Various martial arts are demonstrated using wooden and steel weapons. The mounted archery ritual known as Yabusame is performed as well. Yabusame involves an archer riding a fast horse along a narrow track while shooting arrows at two or three targets. In the past Yabusame was only performed by Samurai, but now women participate in the ritual as well. This shows that Culture Day is not some inflexible stuffy holiday designed to resist change but rather that it is adaptable to the changing times.


Youth practicing their skills and disclipline

On the grounds where the old Shogun Castle once stood, a kendo competition was held this Culture Day at the Budokan Hall. This is where the Beatles played when they toured Japan back in their heyday. Kendo is a traditional martial arts based on the samurai fencing schools of the past in which the participants garbed in armor from head to waist fight with swords of bamboo.


It’s a nice day for a white wedding at Meiji Shrine.

Whatever its origins, a Culture Day holiday is a wonderful idea. The modern world needs such days to reflect on the cultures of the past by both learning from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them and keeping traditional arts alive to be passed down to future generations.

Kendo
“The Way of the Sword”

Kendo is one of the oldest traditional martial arts still practiced by many in Japan. It derives from the old schools of sword fencing that samurai attended to improve themselves both physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Today many top Kendoka (practitioners of Kendo) are police officers. It’s a rather expensive pastime to get into, as the equipment all told can run upwards in the thousands of dollars.

Kendoka use split bamboo swords and wear armor that covers most of their body. The most recognizable feature of their armor is the cage-like face mask. In competition earning points is quite difficult, as a Kendoka must demonstrate a perfect attack with sword, body, and spirit.

November 18, 2006 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture day, festival, horses, japan, karate, Kendo, life, martial arts, matsuri, Meiji, samurai, Sport, tokyo, travel, Yabusame | 12 Comments

YABUSAME: Japanese horseback archery

BEFORE THE SWORD CAME THE BOW

Early samurai history, when a bow and arrow was a weapon of honor, discipline


A yabusame archer wearing formal hunting clothes from the 13th century

It has often been said: The sword is the soul of the samurai. Much has been written in Japan and around the world about the Japanese samurai sword and its nigh-mystical aspects.

The sword was an indispensable weapon of the samurai warrior, even when guns began to steadily come into use during the 16th century. A sword was a mark of samurais status and honor. They were heirlooms to be passed down generation after generation. Swords of exceptional make were often given as gifts of great honor.


Yabusame depicted on a folding screen

And yet in the early history of the samurai, it was the bow, not the sword, that was praised. Early samurai warriors referred to their profession as the Way of the Horse and Bow.

Stories about a heros prowess with the bow abound in the folklore and military legends of this time period. Enemies both mortal and monstrous were often dispatched with a well-aimed bow rather than with a sword.

History of the Bow and Mounted Archery

Japanese bows date back to prehistoric times. The long, unique asymmetrical bow style with the grip below the center emerged under the Yayoi culture (300 B.C. – 300 AD) Bows became the symbol of authority and power. The legendary first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, is always depicted carrying a bow.

The use of the bow had been on foot until around the 4th century when elite soldiers took to fighting on horseback with bows and swords. In the 10th century, samurai would have archery duels on horseback. They would ride at each other and try to fire at least three arrows. These duels did not necessarily have to end in death, as long as honor was satisfied.


Procession carrying yabusame targets

One of the most famous and celebrated incidents of Japanese mounted archery occurred during the Gempei War (1180-1185), an epic struggle for power between the Heike and Genji clans that was to have a major impact on Japanese culture, society, and politics.

At the Battle of Yashima, the Heike, having been defeated in battle, fled to Yashima and took to their boats. They were fiercely pursued by the Genji on horseback, but the Genji were halted by the sea.


An archer readies his arrow as he speeds by the target.

As the Heike waited for the winds to be right, they presented a fan hung from a mast as a target for any Genji archer to shoot at in a gesture of chivalrous rivarly between enemies.

One of the Genji samurai, Nasu Yoichi, accepted the challenge. He rode his horse into the sea and shot the fan cleanly through. Nasu won much fame and his feat is still celebrated to this day.

During the Kamakura Period (1192-1334), mounted archery was used as a military training exercise to keep samurai prepared for war. Those archers who did poorly might find themselves commanded to commit seppuku, or ritualistic suicide.

One cruel style of mounted archery was inuoumono shooting at dogs. Buddhists priests were able to prevail upon the samurai to have the arrows padded so that the dogs were only annoyed and bruised rather than killed. This sport is no longer practiced, to the relief of dog-lovers and dogs everywhere, no doubt.

Yabusame Ritual Mounted Archery

As part of a Shinto rite, Japans indigenous spiritual belief, mounted archers wearing traditional hunting clothing of the Kamakura Period charge down a single narrow track to shoot at three wooden targets arranged at certain intervals. This rite is called yabusame. It is believed that the sound of an arrow striking the wooden target transfers the courage of the archer to the audience.


A perfect hit!

Yabusame was designed as a way to please and entertain the myriad of gods that watch over Japan, thus encouraging their blessings for the prosperity of the land, the people, and the harvest.

A yabusame archer gallops down a 208-meter-long track at high speed. The archer mainly controls his horse with his knees, as he needs both hands to draw and shoot his bow.

As he approaches a target, he brings his bow up and draws the arrow past his ear before letting the arrow fly with a deep shout. The arrow is blunt and round-shaped in order to make a louder sound when it strikes the board.


An archer speeds past after a successful hit.

Experienced archers are allowed to used arrows with a V-shaped prong. If the board is struck, it will splinter with a confetti-like material and fall to the ground. To hit all three targets is considered an admirable accomplishment.

Yabusame is characterized as a ritual rather than a sport because of its solemn style and religious aspects, and is often performed for special ceremonies or official events, such as entertaining foreign dignitaries and heads of state. Yabusame demonstrations have been given for the formal visits of US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. A yabusame demonstration was given in the United Kingdom for Prince Charles, who reportedly was fascinated and pleased with the performance.

To be selected as a yabusame archer is a great honor. In the past, they were chosen from only the best warriors. The archer who performs the best is awarded a white cloth, signifying divine favor.

Famous Schools of Archery and the Impact of Zen

There are two famous schools of mounted archery that perform yabusame. One is the Ogasawara school. The founder, Ogasawara Nagakiyo, was instructed by the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199) to start a school for archery. Yoritomo wanted his warriors to be highly skilled and disciplined. Archery was seen as a good way for instilling the necessary principles for a samurai warrior.

Zen became a major element in both foot and mounted archery as it also became popular among the samurai in every aspect of their life during the Kamakura Period.

Yabusame as a martial art helped a samurai learn concentration, discipline, and refinement. Zen taught breathing techniques to stabilize the mind and body, giving clarity and focus. To be able to calmly draw ones bow, aim, and fire in the heat of battle, and then repeat, was the mark of a true samurai who had mastered his training and his fear.

The other archery school was begun earlier by Minamoto Yoshiari in the 9th century at the command of Emperor Uda. This school became known as the Takeda school of archery. The Takeda style has been featured in classic samurai films such as Akira Kurosawas Seven Samurai (1954) and Kagemusha (1980). The famed actor of many samurai films, Toshiro Mifune, was a noted student of the Takeda school.

The Decline and Revival of the Bow

With the arrival of the Portuguese and their guns in the mid-16th century, the bow began to lose its importance on the battlefield. At the Battle of Nagashino in 1575 well-placed groups of musket-men firing in volleys practically annihilated the cavalry charges of the Takeda clan.


An archer is awarded a white banner signifying divine favor of his skills.

Mounted archery was revived in the Edo Period (1600-1867) by Ogasawara Heibei Tsuneharu (1666-1747) under the command of the shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751). Given that the nation was at peace, archery as well as other military martial arts became more of a method of personal development rather than military training.

Today, Yabusame is held at various times of the year generally near shrines. It never ceases to amaze and thrill spectators. The excitement builds as a horse and an archer bear down the track toward a target. When a successful hit is made, the resulting sound is echoed by the cheers of the exuberant crowd.

A Second before Impact

August 7, 2006 Posted by | Archery, horses, japan, samurai, Shinto, Sport, Uncategorized, Yabusame | 19 Comments