Yabusame (流鏑馬) is a type of mounted archery in traditional Japanese archery. An archer on a running horse shoots three special "turnip-headed" arrows successively at three wooden targets.

This style of archery has its origins at the beginning of the Kamakura period. Minamoto no Yoritomo became alarmed at the lack of archery skills his samurai had. He organized yabusame as a form of practice.

Nowadays, the best places to see yabusame performed are at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū in Kamakura and Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto (during Aoi Matsuri in early May). It is also performed in Samukawa and on the beach at Zushi, as well as other locations.

Yabusame 01
Yabusame archer on horseback
Yabusame 02
Yabusame archer takes aim on the second target


Yabusame in Sumida Park, Tokyo, 2013

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

Some Emishi tribes, noteworthy the Hitakami tribe, practice horse archery and were noticed and feared from the Yamato court.[1]

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 shoot at least three arrows. These duels did not necessarily have to end in death, as long as honor was satisfied. One of the most famous and celebrated incidents of Japanese mounted archery occurred during the Genpei War (1180–1185), an epic struggle for power between the Minamoto and Taira 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.

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 rivalry between enemies.

One of the Genji samurai, Nasu no 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 ritual suicide.

One style of mounted archery was inuoumono — shooting at dogs.[2] Buddhist 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.


Samurai on horseback
A mounted samurai with bow & arrows, wearing a horned helmet. Circa 1878.

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 255-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 of In-Yo-In-Yo (darkness and light). The arrow is blunt and round-shaped in order to make a louder sound when it strikes the board.

Experienced archers are allowed to use 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 targets and their placement are designed to ritually replicate the optimum target for a lethal blow on an opponent wearing full traditional samurai armor (O-Yoroi) which left the space just beneath the helmet visor bare.

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, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. 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

Yabusame 04
Yabusame Archer wearing traditional 13th Century clothing

There are two famous schools of mounted archery that perform yabusame. One is the Ogasawara school. The founder, Ogasawara Nagakiyo, was instructed by the shōgun Minamoto no 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 one's bow, aim, and shoot 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 no 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 Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" (1954) and "Kagemusha" (1980). The famed actor of many samurai films, Toshiro Mifune, was a noted student of the Takeda school.

Decline and revival

Yabusame 05
Yabusame demonstrated for United States president George W. Bush (at the Meiji Jingu shrine).

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 musketeers serving Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa shot in volleys and practically annihilated the cavalry charges of the Takeda clan.

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.

Contemporary practice

Yabusame is held at various times of the year, generally near Shinto shrines. On the 2nd Sunday of April every year, there is a Yabusame ceremony held at the Washibara Hachiman-gū shrine in Tsuwano, Shimane. At this ceremony, the Ogasawara school performs Yabusame at the oldest Yabusame Horse Archery range in Japan. In May, the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock festival) in Kyoto includes yabusame.[3] Other locations include Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū in Kamakura, together with Samukawa and on the beach at Zushi.

See also


  1. ^ Aston, W.G., trans. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD 697. Tokyo: Charles E.Tuttle Co., 1972 (reprint of two volume 1924 edition). Takahashi, Tomio. "Hitakami." In Egami, Namio ed. Ainu to Kodai Nippon. Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1982.
  2. ^ Doris G. Bargen. Suicidal honor: General Nogi and the writings of Mori Ōgai and Natsume Sōseki. University of Hawaii Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8248-2998-0, ISBN 978-0-8248-2998-8. Pg 107
  3. ^ "Aoi matsuri". Kyoto City Tourism and Culture Information System.

External links

Aso Shrine

Aso Shrine (阿蘇神社, Aso-jinja) is a Shinto Shrine in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. Aso is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. This shrine holds several Important Cultural Properties, including Ichi-no-shinden (一の神殿), Ni-no-shinden (二の神殿), and Rōmon (楼門).

The Aso Shrine was heavily damaged in the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. The shrine's rōmon (tower gate) completely collapsed. The haiden (worshiping hall) also collapsed.

Carriage driving

Carriage driving is a form of competitive horse driving in harness in which larger two or four wheeled carriages (often restored antiques) are pulled by a single horse, a pair, tandem or a four-in-hand team.

In competitions the driver and horse(s) have to complete three tests including Dressage, Marathon and Obstacle Driving. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports oversees International Shows. The FEI Driving rules are followed in these competitions which aim to protect the welfare of the horse and also ensure fairness in competitions.Pleasure competitions also have classes which are judged on the turnout, neatness or suitability of the horse(s) and carriage.

Equestrian at the Summer Paralympics

Paralympic equestrian competition is a Para-equestrian event that consists of dressage. It has been part of the Summer Paralympic Games since 1996.

Ethnosport Cultural Festival

The Ethnosport Cultural Festival is a 5-day sport and culture festival held annually. Sporting and cultural activities of the Anatolia, Central Asia and the greater Turkic world, but also Japanese, Middle Eastern and other, are held.

For the festival, Yenikapi Square is transformed into a traditional looking Turkic- central Asian village with traditional tents, traditional sports fields and horse areas. 150 horses were involved in the 2018 edition.13 of the tents are set up by different Turkic countries and communities with a 14th tent for Qatar in the 2018 edition.Traditional crafts and dance are among the workshops given in the tents around the festival grounds.

Over 880 athletes participated in the 13 ethnosports in the latest(3rd) edition.

Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha

The Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha (富士山本宮浅間大社) is a Shintō shrine in the city of Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. It is the ichinomiya of former Suruga Province, and is the head shrine of the 1300 Asama or Sengen shrines in the country. The shrine has an extensive location within downtown Fujinomiya; in addition, the entire top of Mount Fuji from the 8th stage upwards is considered to be part of the shrine grounds.

The main festival of the shrine is held annually on May 5, and features yabusame performances.In 2013, the shrine was added to the World Heritage List as part of the Fujisan Cultural Site.

Jinba ittai

Jinba ittai (人馬一体, "person [and] horse [as] one body") is a Japanese four-character compound describing unity of horse and rider which is pertinent to Yabusame, Japanese mounted archery. It is also the design philosophy of Mazda.


Kasagake or Kasakake (笠懸, かさがけ lit. "hat shooting") is a type of Japanese mounted archery. In contrast to yabusame, the types of targets are various and the archer shoots without stopping the horse. While yabusame has been played as a part of formal ceremonies, kasagake has developed as a game or practice of martial arts, focusing on technical elements of horse archery.

List of Japanese martial arts

The following is a list of styles or schools in Japanese martial arts.

For historical (koryū) schools, see List of koryū schools of martial arts.

Maasa Sudo

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Minamoto no Yoshiari

Minamoto no Yoshiari (源能有, 845 – 897) was a Japanese court official during the Heian period, and founder of the Takeda school of archery.

Yoshiari was a son of Emperor Montoku, although he was granted the surname Minamoto which removed him from the Imperial lineage. He was a successful courtier, being appointed as a court consultant at the age of 28 and rising to the post of middle counsellor by 883.He held various positions at court including Grand Counsellor in 891, General of the Left in 893, mentor to Crown Prince Atsuhito and Inspector of Mutsu and Dewa. In 891 he was appointed Grand Counsellor. At the behest of Emperor Uda, he was assigned to the work of compiling a National History covering the period from the reign of Emperor Seiwa to that of Emperor Koko. This was an unusual appointment, in that custom dictated a member of the Fujiwara clan should have held the post of Chief compiler; it is thought that this was an attempt by Emperor Uda to undermine the increasingly influential Fujiwara.Ordered by Emperor Uda to develop a style of mounted archery, Yoshiaki created what was to later become the Takeda school of yabusame.

Mishima Taisha

The Mishima Taisha (三嶋大社) is a Shinto shrine in the city of Mishima in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. It is the ichinomiya of former Izu Province. The main festival of the shrine is held annually on August 16, and features yabusame performances.

Morioka Hachimangū

Morioka Hachimangū (盛岡八幡宮) is a Shinto shrine in the city of Morioka, Iwate in northern Japan. The shrine is noted for its annual festival on the second Saturday in June, which is famous for the Chagu Chagu Umakko, a horse parade which was recognized in 1978 as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property. In 1996 the sound of the bells of the Chagu Chagu Umakko was selected by the Ministry of the Environment as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan. The shrine is also noted for its displays of yabusame horse archery during its annual festival on September 15.

Mounted archery

A horse archer is a cavalryman armed with a bow, able to shoot while riding from horseback. Archery has occasionally been used from the backs of other riding animals. In large open areas, it was a highly successful technique for hunting, for protecting the herds, and for war. It was a defining characteristic of the Eurasian nomads during antiquity and the medieval period, as well as the Iranian peoples, (Alans, Scythians, Sarmatians, Parthians, Sassanid Persians) and Indians in antiquity, and by the Hungarians, Mongols and the Turkic peoples during the Middle Ages.

By the expansion of these peoples, the practice also spread to Eastern Europe (via the Sarmatians and the Huns), Mesopotamia, and East Asia. In East Asia, horse archery came to be particularly honored in the samurai tradition of Japan, where horse archery is called Yabusame.

The term mounted archer occurs in medieval English sources to describe a soldier who rode to battle but who dismounted to shoot. 'Horse archer' is the term used more specifically to describe a warrior who shoots from the saddle at the gallop. Another term, 'horseback archery', has crept into modern use.

Horse archery developed separately among the peoples of the South American pampas and the North American prairies; the Comanches were especially skilled.

Ogasawara Sadamune

Ogasawara Sadamune (小笠原貞宗, 1294–1350) was a Japanese nobleman and a major figure in the formation of the Ogasawara-ryū.

A close ally of Ashikaga Takauji, Ogasawara was placed in charge of court etiquette. His approach to etiquette was influenced by Seisetsu Shōhō (Ch'ing-cho Cheng-ch'eng), with whom Ogasawara studied Zen Buddhism and Chinese literature.Having inherited the headmastership of his family's school of kyujutsu and yabusame, he was archery instructor to both Takauji and Emperor Go-Daigo. He stressed the importance of inuoumono (dog-shooting) in archery practice, even writing a treatise (the Inuoumono mokuanbumi) on the subject. He also authored the Shinden kyūhō shūshinron, now regarded as a classic text on kyujutsu.Despite having instructed Emperor Go-Daigo, Ogasawara sided with the Northern Court during the Nanboku-chō period, and was given control the province of Shinano. He was responsible for repelling Prince Muenaga from Kai.

Soo, Kagoshima

Soo (曽於市, Soo-shi) is a city located in northeastern Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. It is near Miyakonojō, Miyazaki.

As of April 2017, the city has an estimated population of 37,038 and a population density of 95 persons per km². This is down from the 2006 population data, which was an estimated population of 43,752 and a population density of 112 persons per km². The total area is 390.39 km². Soo is one of the many small cities in Japan that have a steadily decreasing population.

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Tsuwano, Shimane

Tsuwano (津和野町, Tsuwano-chō) is a town located in Kanoashi District, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.

As of March 2017, the town has an estimated population of 7,478 and a density of 25.0 persons per km². The total area is 307.09 km².

Tsuwano is remotely located and surrounded by hills. Though geographically closer to Yamaguchi, the capital of Yamaguchi Prefecture, it is in Shimane Prefecture. A train trip to Matsue, Shimane’s capital, takes as long as four hours. As it is close to Yamaguchi prefecture, many tourists who come to Tsuwano also visit Hagi on the Sea of Japan and Yamaguchi at the same time, and Tsuwano is often mistaken as being in Yamaguchi prefecture.

Popularly called the "Little Kyoto of San-In," Tsuwano is known for its picturesque main street, "Tono-machi," which is lined with Edo-era buildings and Koi ponds. It also boasts one of the oldest still-used "Yabusame" (horse back archery) ranges in all of Japan, and its annual Yabusame festival on the second Sunday of April is a large tourist draw for the San-In region.

On September 25, 2005 the town of Nichihara was merged into Tsuwano.

Unusually, Tsuwano is somewhat home to two Catholic churches. The Catholic church in Tsuwano itself is dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier, who visited Japan as a missionary in 1549–50, and is located on its main street. The Santa Maria Church at Otome Pass was dedicated in 1951 and is part of a memorial for Japanese Christians persecuted and tortured in Tsuwano by the government during the Edo and Meiji periods.

Other notable locations and tourist attractions within Tsuwano include the ruins of Tsuwano Castle, where the Kamei clan ruled the Tsuwano fiefdom from the 17th through mid 19th-centuries, and the mountainside Taikodani Inari shrine with its "1000 vermilion torii." In 1773 Tsuwano's seventh-generation feudal lord Kamei Norisada had Taikodani Inari built to enshrine a share of the spirit worshipped at the Fushimi Inari in Kyoto. This shrine was built to pray for the safety of Kamei's castle and peace among his people. As one of five Inari shrines in Japan, it attracts people from throughout western Japan to pray for prosperity and good fortune in the coming year.

Watatsu Shrine

Watatsu Shrine (度津神社, Watatsu-jinja) is a Japanese Shinto shrine in Sado, Niigata, an island in the Sea of Japan.


Yebira, ebira and shiko are types of quiver used in Japanese archery. The quiver is unusual in that in some cases, it may have open sides, while the arrows are held in the quiver by the tips which sit on a rest at the base of the ebira, and a rib that composes the upper part and keeps them in place.

There are many types of ebira, some more ornate, some ceremonial, some more plain. Other types of ebira are more substantial and more boxlike, much like quivers from other countries. The ebira was used traditionally by samurai in combat or hunting, and also is used for ceremonial archery in modern-day Japan, such as in yabusame. It could be quite decorative. It is completely different from the cylindrical yazutsu, which is used only for carrying Kyūdō arrows. Some ebira could hold up to three dozen arrows.The ebira can be slung over the back, or kept on saddle by horse archers.

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