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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Performing Arts
Yabusame
A type of mounted archery in which the rider shoots at a target from a galloping horse. Arrows with a turnip-shaped head are used. There is a theory that the etymology of the word Yabusame is a contraction of yabaseume and it is thought to mean to shoot arrows on horsback. Three targets are placed along a track which is about 218 meters (two chō) in length. The archer wears a costume comprising straw headgear (aya-i-gasa), cloak (suikan), a bracer or arm guard (igote), gloves, fur chaps (mukabaki), shooting shoes (monoigutsu); he carries a long sword (tachi) and short sword (koshigatana), a quiver of arrows (ebira) on his back, and has a bound wisteria bow (shigedō). The number of archers is not fixed; it can number from a few to sixteen. The practice of mounted shooting is known from as early as the reign of Emperor Shōmu in the Nara period. Yabusame is listed in the Shin-Sarugakki by Fujiwara no Akihira (989?-1066) as one of the shooting arts, along with shooting from a running horse (haseyumi), ambush (machiyumi), deer hunting with blazing torch (tomoshiyumi), shooting on foot (kachiyumi), mounted archery (noriyumi) and shooting a distant target from horseback (kasagake). It is also recorded in the Chūyūki that in 1096, on the 29th day of the fourth month, retired Emperor Shirakawa watched yabusame at the riding ground of the Toba Palace. This suggests that in the capital in the late Heian period, Yabusame was popular among the warriors (bushi) as one of the military arts. From the late Heian to early Kamakura periods, Yabusame became a ritual in shrines and temples: it was offered as a petition to the gods for fortune in battle. In the early Kamakura period, it became a regular feature of the Kosatsuki festival at the Shin-Hie shrine, and in the Hōjō'e (a festival to free caged animals) of Tsuruoka Hachimangū. As it extended to various regional shrines and temples, yabusame as a religious ritual practice became the mainstream and after the Kamakura period it withered as a practice amongst the warriors. By the Muromachi period it had died out, and while there were attempts to revive it, these failed due to a lack of knowledge of the ancient practices. According to the Teijō-zakki (1843), during the Kyōhō period (1716-36) the Shōgun Tokugawa Yoshimune planned a revival of Yabusame. He ordered all the military families and feudal lords (daimyō) to present their records concerning Yabusame traditions and teachings. Urakami Yagozaemon collected these, compiled and published the book Yabusame Ruijū, thus establishing anew the rules and forms of Yabusame. The yabusame practiced today at the Ana Hachimangū at Takadanobaba in Shinjuku, is said to go back to 1728 when the Shōgun Yoshimune ordered it as a petition for the healing of his son Ieshige's smallpox. Yabusame is also an offering at festivals at the Tsuruoka Hachimangū and other regional shrines.

— Takayama Shigeru
Footage of yabusame performed at Meiji Jingū.

Tokyo, 2006

©Sakamoto Naoko

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