May 3rd – Yabusame at Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto


On May 3rd, myself and a few other Carls walked to Shimogamo Shrine to see Yabusame, a traditional horseback archery with a history spanning over a century. At Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto Yabusame is performed as part of the events for the first day of Aoi Matsuri. An announcer introduced and described the event in English and in Japanese.

In yabusame, archers, using special turnip headed arrows, shoot at three targets down a stretch of road. They must draw the arrow, nock it, control the horse with their knees, and fire while the horse gallops. They have very little time in order to do this, coupled with the challenge of doing so from a moving horse. Hitting all three targets is an admirable accomplishment.

The event began with a small procession. Around fifty individuals (and a few horses!) proceeded around the track in traditional Heian period attire. There were traditional instruments being played as well at the head of the procession. Even the horses were equipped with very light, traditional looking tack.


After the procession, the archery began. Five archers in a row would take their try at shooting all three targets, then ride back to the start of the track so the next set of archers could mount up on the horses. We were at the front of the track with a good view of the first target. We were even able to witness a few archers hit all three targets.

Future Carls interested in this event may wish to know they should firstly get there early (like  1/1.5 hours early) if they want really good seats/standing room. We arrived half an hour early and while we got room easily enough, the “prime” seats at the middle and end of the track were already taken. Secondly, the event takes a few hours, but it varies based on how many archers/if there are delays. Unless you buy the small green ribbon, which entitles you to sit in the special patron section with chairs, you will be standing this entire time. Thirdly, if you stick around until the end, you can buy pieces of the shattered targets that have prayers (I think) written on them. Fourthly, the man behind me used a stepstool to make photography easier. I was envious of him.

It was totally worth it to go. The archers were amazing. The day before, we’d actually spotted one of them on the train, carrying her bow home. It’s a great way to see Heian culture in a somewhat “actiony” and exciting way.


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