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  • Shona McCarthy

Yabusame: Samurai Culture Comes Alive

Every year in Japan, in various cities, there is an event held called "Yabusame". And to look at, it is usually spectacular!

Lavish historical Japanese outfits are usually worn by participants as they compete on horseback to complete various archery goals. These outfits are rarely worn and seen. And since the horses and attendants are often dressed historically, too, there is that odd sense of witnessing history come alive, much like what you may feel if you see the Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto. It's common to see men participate in this contest. So you may wonder if there are women competitors, too:

It seems that they do! And it costumes that are even more beautiful than their male counterparts!


The most famous of these events is held as part of the Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto, usually in May. Aoi Matsuri would be an ideal time to visit Kyoto if you have an interest in Japanese history and traditional dress, since there is also Roto no Gi, a long and beautiful procession of people dressed in historical Japanese dress. In 2020 Aoi Matsuri had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. So, you may wish to check and see whether or not Aoi Matsuri will run and when in future years. While all of this may look like fun, there is some solemnity that will then to go with these events. Yabusame is performed not as a simple contest, but often as a way of appeasing Shinto Gods at shrines. So, you may wish to consider carefully whether you feel comfortable attending dependent on your own belief system. My feeling is that entering a religious building and worshipping the resident deity are two different things. But you may have your own feelings, and that is fine. Where Can I Go?

I decided to look around to identify various locations around Japan where Yabusame is known to be held and when. Washibara Hachiman Shrine located in Tsuwano in the Shimane Prefecture on the second Sunday in April every year, 7:30am to 7pm. (I highly recommend this location, since Washibara features the oldest archery range in Japan. Also, since this event runs in mid-April, you will be able to see Cherry Blossoms on the same trip and at the event itself, making for spectacular visuals.

I managed to find this page that already features a detailed explanation of how Yabusame works and also a comprehensive list of all the locations and days where Yabusame is held each year. Again, Corona may have impacted these events and changed their times, so I recommend checking the individual events you would like to attend.

If you do decide to tour Japan and see this beautiful festival, you may wish to wear a Japanese garment as you go. I have an online store where you can shop. I have tried to make my products a mix of practical and fun. Requests are welcome.

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