Yabusame finds its roots its roots in the Kamakura period, when it was used as a way to improve the archery skills of Minamoto no Yoritomo’s samurai army. It is very rarely performed in modern day.
Yabusame is a martial art that was first introduced in the Kamakura Period sometime between 1192 and 1199 by Minamoto no Yoritomo, an important shogunate of the time.
It combines elements of horseback riding, acrobatics and precision archery by having riders run a long and narrow path with three equally spaced targets to hit. The riders are given bludgeoned arrows, and have all of twelve seconds to hit all three targets while their horse is in full gallop. It is a truly amazing sport, and is rarely performed in this modern day. However, there is a specific temple in Kyoto, Shimogamo Shrine, that hosts yabusame events once a year in conjunction with the Aoi Matsuri, or Hollyhock Festival. The Aoi Matsuri dates as far back as 567 and ritualizes the yearly wish for a good harvest.
The Shimogamo Shrine, a shrine with its own curious history (which can be read in English here), is quite close to Nicky and I’s work, so we made a point of going. As well, Nicky has been wanting to watch Yabusame for almost four years. The event started at 1pm, but Nicky and I decided to get a head start for good seats, so left home at 7am. We stopped at what is easily my favorite bakery in Kyoto right now, Boulangerie Lapin d’Or, on Imadegawa, where we picked up our food for the day- cube shaped caramel breads, sandwiches and other pastry, before heading to the main shrine.
Though there weren’t many people in line for the paid seats ($20 along the front lines) when we first got there, the line quickly grew. We were lucky we got there when we did! The only downside was that we had to wait in that spot for nearly two and a half hours. At least I brought my crochet project along!
At around noon, they finally started letting people into the sectioned off area. Nicky and I raced to get front seats between two targets. The event was truly spectacular. The horses were beautiful and the riders were poised. Nicky made a wonderful compilation of the video we took that day here: