Samurai. Horses. Feats of martial prowess. Sounds like a good time to me.

Especially if it involves period dress, you can bet I want to be there. I don’t often see processions in Kamakura style outfits, so that made me very excited!

This is Yabusame, a horseback archery started first for keeping warriors sharp in times of non-war, and continued in many spots throughout Japan today for the entertainment of the gods. However, Tsuwano is home to one of the oldest Yabusame ranges still in use, making it one of the more impressive places to see this event as well. (I’ve also seen Yabusame at a neighborhood shrine festival and it was… not as riveting, to say the least). You can read more about its history and practice in these articles:

“Tsuwano Yabusame Festival” by Jake Davies
“Witnessing the ancient yabusame ceremony in Tsuwano, Japan” by Clyde Holt

I’ll write more about my experience!

It was the second week of April, so many of the cherry blossoms had already fallen, but many were still scattering–enough that I found a few in my bag and in my hair. The weather was between warm and cool throughout the day, and it was a good day to stand outside for an outdoor event. Unlike other Shinto rituals I’ve stood outside and waited for, this one started right around the time it was promised (once at 11am, and again later at 2pm).

It started with a procession of the horses, warriors, and various footmen and attendants. They walked one way down the track, and then back up the other way.



These outfits are called “Suikan” and I love them.


There was a bit of a crowd, but it was easier to see the whole thing than I expected it would be. It’s a very long track, which provided the crowd lots of space to disperse, and there is a slight slope along which people in the back stand to get a few over people’s heads. There are three targets down the track to stand near and watch, so as far as crowded Shinto rituals are concerned, this one provided a number of good vantage points.

With no time wasted, they began having archers-both men and women–ride their horses down the track every few minutes. That means, with my cheap old point-and-shoot camera, I had plenty of chances to snap pictures. Which is good, because many times I didn’t get a photo until the horse was already long gone.



By each target, there was a group of people dressed like this. If they hit the target, the guy with the stick would raise it in the air.


The arrows had big, blunt tips that made big thumping sounds when they hit the targets, and quite often when they were hit, the boards–at about the height of a warrior’s face–would break. The boards, including the ones that were not hit, were collected after each run and later sold, I believe, with the ones that were hit being an especially nice good luck charm. By that time, the boards were already covered in calligraphy.

Thankfully, people like my friend Melissa had much better technological skills. This is a slow-motion video she took of an archer breaking a target (thanks for letting me post it, Melissa!):

Overall, the event took about 45 minutes, which left us both satisfied and with plenty of energy and time left to see the town. I’ve been wanting to see this event ever since I came to the San’in region, and it was a well-spent 45 minutes.

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