Ever since the 9th century Japanese samurai were all skilled in yabusame – shooting arrows whilst on horseback – which combined the essential warrior skills of archery and horseriding. It developped into a religious ritual designed to please the gods, and nowadays is more of a ceremonial contest which is held usually at shrines and especially for foreign visitors such as Prince Charles and Ronald Reagan. The dramatic yabusame displays take place at some of Japan’s most stunning temples and are a dazzling pageant of colour, speed and skill. Participants wear elaborate medieval hunting costumes, carry two swords and a bow almost as tall as themselves and, after being blessed, and controlling their horses with their knees, gallop at full tilt along a 250 yard-long course and fire three blunt arrows at three targets – the arrows whistle as they fly by and thump when they hit the target which bursts open with confetti. The whole thing takes less than 20 seconds but is absolutely spectacular. The prize is a symbolic white cloth – no money is to change hands during yabusame, and even teachers of the sport may not receive monetary payment, their reward is simply honour and renown.
You can see traditional displays of yabusame this year in Japan;
In Kamakura, about an hour from Tokyo, at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, every 3rd Sunday in April, 3rd Sunday in July, and on 16 September. To get there take the Yokosuka line from Tokyo Station, or the Shonan-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku Station and get off at Kamakura.
In Nikko, on May 17 at 1pm and October 16 at 1.30pm. Take Tobu Railways’ Nikko Line to Tobu-Nikko Station, or the JR Nikko Line to Nikko Station.
In Tokyo itself at Asakusa, in Sumida Park Kototoi-bashi, at 1pm on 8 September 2012. Also at Meiji Shrine, at 1pm on Saturday 3 November 2012.
ReadyClickAndGo can arrange tickets to these yabusame displays and transportation there from your hotel either by public transport or private car with driver, and your own local English-speaking guide. Private day trips and sightseeing tours in Tokyo and Kyoto taking in a yabusame display are available and can be customised to suit your own interests and schedule.