Yabusame: the art of mounted archery

02 May 2018 in Discover Japan

Take a step back to samurai times with this spectacular horseback archery event!


Yabusame started back in the 12th century as a way for samurai to hone their archery skills.


It was also seen as a way of entertaining the kami (Gods in Shinto religion), which is why events are usually held at Shinto shrines. If you’re in Kyoto this May 3, head to the Shimogamo shrine to catch the action!



So, what exactly is Yabusame?

Essentially, it involves highly-skilled archers hurtling on horseback along a track of around 255 metres and firing off arrows at 3 evenly-spaced targets. Each run is over in about 20 seconds – which means hitting just one target is quite an achievement. Hitting all 3 is the Yabusame equivalent of a hole-in-one!

The arrows have a rounded head that makes a loud noise on contact with the target – a cue for spectators to cheer rowdily! Archers are dressed in traditional hunting uniform, carrying samurai swords and their arrows in a quiver on their back.


It all makes for a highly entertaining spectacle.

Traditionally, the number of successful hits is used to predict an outcome, such as fine weather or a good harvest. In Kyoto, the event is said to ensure the success of Aoi Matsuri, the city’s major festival that takes place May 15.

Need a place to stay after the event?

The calm surroundings of riverside HOSHINOYA Kyoto are the perfect antidote to the buzz and excitement of Yabusame!




Photo credits:

kazuletokyoite / CC BY

Glenn Waters ぐれんin Japan. / CC BY

S.R.G – msucoo93 / CC BY-NC-SA


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