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Yabusame at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine: Video Introduction

Image of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
Photo:Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura

This video, titled "Yabusame Horseback Archery 20 Shots|Kamakura 2019" (鎌倉 鶴岡八幡宮 流鏑馬 20連発 Yabusame Horseback Archery 20 shots Kamakura 2019), was uploaded by "keity."

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is located in Kamakura, Kanagawa. Yabusame (traditional Japanese horseback Archery) is a Shinto ritual of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine Festival in which archers dressed in traditional hunting attire shoot at targets while controlling their aim from horseback.

The video begins with the yabusame ritual and shows the archers shooting arrows called "kabura-ya" which whistle when loosed. Accurately shooting the arrows from horseback at high speed requires the archer be incredibly skilled.

Check out the video to see the awesome footage of the archers performing on horseback.

The History of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Image of the stone steps leading up to the main shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
Photo:The stone steps leading up to the main shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura

The history of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine dates back to 1063, when Minamoto no Yoriyoshi, the ancestor of Minamoto no Yoritomo, who founded the Kamakura shogunate, moved Ishimizu Hachimangu Shrine from Kyoto. Yoriyoshi was a devout worshipper of Ishimizu Hachimangu Shrine and enshrined the Shinto deity Hachiman as the Minamoto Clan deity near Yuhigahama beach in Kamakura.
Later, Minamoto no Yoritomo returned the shrine to its present location on Kyoto and laid the foundations for Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

In 1180, Minamoto no Yoritomo established the first samurai government, the Kamakura Shogunate, in Kamakura, and in the same year, he moved the Hachimangu Shrine, which was associated with his ancestors, to its present location.
The shrine was revered as the guardian deity of the Shogunate, Kamakura, and the eastern provinces of Japan.

Additionally, the shrine hosted, and continues to host, a number of festivals that were important to the shogunate, including life release ceremonies, yabusame, sumo wrestling, and bugaku (traditional Japanese court music and dance), all of which have been handed down to the present day.

One of the most famous historical events at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the assassination of Minamoto no Sanetomo, which happened on the large stairway leading up to the shrine. When you visit the shrine, you can climb up the very same stairs the assassination took place on.

What is Yabusame? The History of Japan's Traditional Archery

Image of yabusame

Yabusame, the ancient Japanese art of horseback archery, has a long history, dating back to the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Kinmei. It's said to have started as a ritual in which three targets were shot from horseback at Usa Jingu Shrine in Oita Prefecture in honor of Empress Jingu and Emperor Ojin. Yabusame (流鏑馬) means "to ride a horse while shooting arrows."

Yabusame at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is a traditional event with more than 800 years of history. It's said that it started when Minamoto no Yoritomo performed yabusame in 1187 at a life release at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine to pray for peace and prosperity in Japan.

Encouraged by Yoritomo, Yabusame was an essential Shinto ritual for warriors to improve their skills and to show the quality and hardiness of warriors in the Kamakura period.

There are two schools of yabusame. Minamoto no Tsunemoto, the founder of the Seiwa Genji branch of the Minamoto clan, handed down the tradition to Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, and from there it was passed on to the Takeda and Ogasawara clans. As a result, there are two schools of yabusame: the Takeda School and the Ogasawara School. Yabusame archery performed at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is of the Ogasawara style.

Yabusame is performed at Shinto rituals and festivals all over Japan, and you can enjoy seeing the differences between the two schools by going to events in other areas.

The Top 3 Yabusame Events in Japan

Image of yabusame at Shimogamo Shrine
Photo:Yabusame at Shimogamo Shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Oita Prefecture, Nyakuichioji Shrine in Nagano Prefecture, and Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto Prefecture are collectively considered to host the three best Yabusame events in Japan. Here, we'll explain a bit about yabusame at Nyakuichioji Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine.

●Yabusame at Nyakuichioji Shrine, Nagano Prefecture
The Yabusame ritual at Nyakuichioji Shrine is held during the annual festival. What makes this ritual unique is that the archers are children. They put on makeup and wear traditional archer attire, parade through the town, and perform yabusame at the shrine to celebrate a good harvest.

●Yabusame at Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto Prefecture
The yabusame ritual at Shimogamo Shrine is held as a precursor to Kyoto's famous Aoi Matsuri. Shimogamo Shrine has the longest history of yabusame rituals among the three shrines, dating back to circa 457 according to the Nihon Shoki. What makes this event unique is that while the other two are performed in warrior costumes, the yabusame ceremony at Shimogamo Shrine is performed in traditional court noble attire.

Highlights of the Yabusame Ritual at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Image of yabusame at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Photo:Yabusame at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

The highlight of yabusame at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the garbs worn by the archers. They wear traditional hunting costumes worn by samurai during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and wear unique hats called "ayaigasa," which are made of rush woven into twill and covered with cloth. They wear jackets called "hitatare" and carry a sword at their waist, which gives them a dignified appearance.

One of the highlights of the yabusame is the distinctive yell of the archer as he runs his horse. When the archer shoots an arrow while running his horse, he shouts "in, yo, i." This represents the Japanese words for "yin, yang, and arrow," and is attributed to Onmyodo, or "The Way of Yin and Yang," which was incorporated into the teachings of the samurai during the Kamakura period. Nagakiyo Ogasawara, the founder of the Ogasawara School of yabusame, was also a samurai in the Kamakura period.

Even more than the shouts though, is the sound the arrow makes when it strikes its target. Be sure to check out the video to see the skill that samurai warriors would have used on the battlefield when fighting for their lives.

Schedule and Location Information for the 2023 Yabusame Event at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Image of the main shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
Photo:The main shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura

The yabusame ritual at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is usually held on the same day as the annual festival on September 16 and during a festival in October. That being said, the 2022 event was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Currently, no information regarding the schedule for the 2023 yabusame event has been announced on the shrine's website. However, since there are no longer any restrictions on activities, there is a strong possibility that the event will be held this year, so we're optimistic that the event will be held this year.

After leaving the entrance of the shrine office of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, a ritual will be held at the lower worship hall, followed by a small parade welcoming the archers and their horses. After that, the archers, dressed in magnificent traditional hunting attire, will perform the yabusame ritual.

Summary of Yabusame at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Image of the main shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
Photo:The main shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura

Yabusame, performed as a ritual event during Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine's annual festival, is a rare opportunity to see magnificent costumes, traditional Japanese martial arts, and splendid horsemanship and archery.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine offers blessings for luck in victory, work, and success in life, as well as for easy childbirth and marriage, so consider having a quick prayer if you visit the shrine for the yabusame ritual.

Also, be sure to see the portable shrine procession at the Shinkosai Festival held after the regular festival, and the dance performed by miko (shrine maidens) wearing traditional garbs.

Yabusame events are a great opportunity to see the skills of warriors that have been handed down since the Kamakura period. We hope you will be able to witness this spectacular ritual that has been handed down for hundreds of years.

【Official Website】Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

【TripAdvisor】Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Written By
Last Updated : Sep. 4, 2023
平敷 篤(Atsushi Heishiki)
My name is Atsushi Heishiki, a writer who loves Japanese culture and lives in Okinawa.
Yabusame – Traditional Japanese Horeseback Archery
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