Diving Deeper

Yabusame in Tsuwano, Traditional Japanese Horseback Archery


Yabusame is traditional Japanese horseback archery, dating back to the 12th century Kamakura period, performed as a sacred Shinto ritual in dedication to the deities, praying for Universal Peace, Abundant Harvest and Good Health.

Every year, the spirits of the past visit the holy grounds of Washibara Hachimangu Shrine in the small castle-town of Tsuwano (Shimane Prefecture).

Tsuwano Hyakkeizu, Painting No. 36

Under the blossoming Sakura trees (Japanese Cherry), riders with bows and arrows in their hands, wearing traditional samurai clothes from the Kamakura period, gather every year on the first Sunday of April, to perform the Sacred Yabusame Ritual in front of the Hachiman deity, the God of Archery and War.

Yabusame is practiced in many parts of Japan, but Tsuwano is unique in that the riding ground of Washibara Hachimangu Shrine was specially built for Yabusame some 450 years ago and it is the only one of its kind in Japan that has kept the original ancient form of the Yabusame ground of the 12th century Kamakura period, still remaining intact to this day.

It is also recorded in several paintings from the “Tsuwano Hyakkeizu” (One Hundred Landscapes of Tsuwano from the Edo Period).

For this reason, the Yabusame Ground of Washibara Hachimangu Shrine was designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan by the Shimane Prefecture in 1966.

This year the timing of the cherry blossoms was perfect, but it was drizzling slightly. Even with the unfortunate weather, many people, Japanese and foreigners, gathered in the grounds of the Washibara Hachimangu Shrine.

We highly recommend you to arrive early or to reserve a seat in advance to get a good spot in the front.
Please contact the Tsuwano Tourism Association for more information.
(On the website, please scroll down to select the preferred language in the option bar)

First, there is a ceremony at the Washibara Hachimangu Shrine, which is followed by the procession into the riding ground, where the riders on horses are presented to the public. The horses were a bit stressed, which is understandable as the sea of waving umbrellas were probably a bit unsettling for them.

After a long wait, the first rider sets off, but as he has to perform a few extra moves during his ride (which is part of the ceremony) it was a bit more difficult than usual for him.
This year, added the difficulty of the rain and the stressed horses, the first rider didn’t hit the targets.
The second rider had better luck. The arrows have a weight attached to the tip, so when the arrow hits the target it gives out a loud blunt noise, and upon hearing it, the crowd burst out in cheers and clapped instantly.

The weight of the cold weather, the unforgiving rain and everything else that made the day a bit difficult, was lifted by the cheerful sound of the successful ride, with all three targets hit.

Horseback archery is still a rare experience to have, especially with the Sakura Cherry blossoming as a background.
Together with a stroll through the old castle town of Tsuwano, it makes for a perfect trip.
And to top it all off, you can take a steam locomotive from Yamaguchi City to Tsuwano!

I highly recommend you to visit Tsuwano in April, if you are in or going through the western part of Honshu (Chugoku region, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi or even Fukuoka prefectures).

There is a free shuttle bus service from Tsuwano train station to the horse-riding ground in Washibara (also stopping at other parking places), with English guides waiting at both ends of the bus ride.
We were given a short introduction in English of the history of Tsuwano Yabusame, as well as a small map of the area.
For more details on Yabusame and English guide service, please contact the Tsuwano Tourism Association at tsuwanok@tsuwano.net

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