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‘Yabusame,’ Traditional Japanese Horseback Archery

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2022.04.14 (Thu)

By Charlotte, long-term Tokyo resident & history-loving traveler

I’m sure you often see medieval European knights fighting on horseback in history programs and books. Samurai and other Japanese warriors also fought while riding horses. Aside from this, the Japanese have also used horses for ‘yabusame,’ a ritual and competition combining horsemanship and archery. This article features ‘yabusame’ and “Asakusa Yabusame,” an event in Taito City where you can see ‘yabusame’ right in front of your eyes.

‘Yabusame’ is a traditional horseback archery competition where participants shoot arrows at targets while riding a running horse. It was especially booming in Japan from the 12th to 14th century as a shrine ritual and form of training for warriors. The high-pitch sound made by the arrow as it flies through the air is said to ward off evil spirits. Although ‘yabusame’ declined for a time after the 15th century, it was revived in the Edo period (1603-1868) and is still held as a Shinto ritual throughout Japan today.

There's an annual ‘yabusame’ event in Asakusa, Taito City, that offers the opportunity to see these heroic archers in the flesh. Usually held every April, the Asakusa Yabusame tourist event is a revival of a New Year's event that was held at the Asakusa Shrine in the Edo period, the very same time when ‘yabusame’ was revived. Unfortunately, this year's event has been postponed due to the impact of COVID-19 until next year. However, many people still look forward to visiting every year to witness the impactful ceremony firsthand.

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