Yabusame: Not A Competition, But A Sacred Ritual


yabusame: not a competition, but a sacred ritual

Aaron Pylinski | Community Writer

Yabusame is a ceremony established over 800 years ago where an archer is mounted on a fast-moving horse and shoots at a series of three separate targets traveling down a narrow lane.


The expression “No one above the horse, no horse under the saddle” describes Yabusame as a symbiotic relationship between archer and horse as one in the universe. The ritual is performed as a dedication to religious deities and is a prayer for universal peace, a rich harvest, and good health.

The ceremony is founded in strict decorum and etiquette and showcases archers known as Ite. Though the bows and arrows and other equipment are usually modern made, the saddle known as a Wagura and the stirrups known as Wa-abumi are meticulously maintained antiques handed down through the generations.

The design of the Wagura and Wa-abumi coupled with a specific riding style known as Tachisukashi allow the rider to move as one with the horse and create a stable platform to shoot from. This riding form is perfected over years of training at the Takeda School of Horseback Archery and the Ogasawara School where Zen meditation is included in the training to discipline the mind.

Once the riders are trained and ready to perform the ceremony, they suit up in their cultural decorative clothing, mount their steed and ride down a narrow course roughly 270 meters long, shooting at three targets in succession.

The ceremony doesn’t start with the archery, it begins with a series of rituals designed to give praise to prevailing peace in heaven and on earth and to promote health and happiness.

There are rules to observe when attending Yabusame, consider not using flash photography when taking pictures of the ritual, this may spook the horses. In the event of inclement weather, never use an umbrella. Instead wear rain gear, this will eliminate impeding other’s view of the ritual. In that same vein, it is strongly recommended not to use tripods when filming and if you do need to use one, consider others who are viewing and set up as to not block their view.


Information, Tours & Travel offers a trip to the Washibara Hachiman Shrine located in Tsuwano in the Shimane Prefecture on the second Sunday in April every year. This year, the trip will be April 8th and sign-up is available now. The cost is $34 for adults and $26 for children 11 years and under. The trip is an all-day affair that starts at 7:30 AM and lasts until 7 PM. There are reserved seats available for ¥2000 per seat. If you are planning on taking the IT&T trip, they will assist you with reserving seats. There is plenty to see in Tsuwano including their old castle town, sake brewery tours and the Yabusame Ritual.


Shigeto Bow - Traditional bow made from plant fibers or plastic measuring 2.2m long, the grip is lower than center where the top is longer than the bottom to accommodate horseback archery.

Jindoya - Arrow with a bulbous head made of magnolia wood. Bloodshed is taboo in Shinto rituals, metal arrowheads are not allowed in Yabusame rituals.

Yorori Hitatare - Jacket and trousers derived from traditional samurai clothingKimen Ayahigasa - Headgear made of cyprus and topped with a small devils mask.

Igote - Padding on left arm with family crest embroidered in gold on the shoulder and a dragonfly is stitched on the wrist symbolizing good luck.

Tachi (long sword) and Maezashi (short sword) - Worn on the waist and protected with Shirizaya made of deer or bear hide.

Tsurumaki - Spare bow string carried on the left hip.

Igutsu - Leather shoes.

Mukabaki - Chaps made from the hide of a summer deer used as mud protection and padding from potential falls.


Shutsujin - Taking to the field with the sound of the Gathering Drum participants assemble and start to march.

Kabaruaya Hoken (dedication of the turnip-headed arrow) and

Ganmon Sojo (prayer recitation) - The participants enter a worship hall where the magistrate presents the Kabaruaya or turnip-headed arrow.

Meigen No Gi - The ritual sounding of the bowstring three times designed to ward off evil spirits.

Tencho Chikyu No Shiki - A prayer for prevailing peace in heaven and on earth. A rider is nominated by the magistrate to ride in a circle three times to the left and twice to the right. The rider then draws their bow like to symbolize the full moon aiming toward the sky and then the ground.

Kogun - The procession of participants as they move to the riding ground to the beat of the marching drum.

Subase - A test run where the archers ride their horses at full gallop down the course without shooting their arrows.

Housha - The votive shooting where archers are broken down into groups of two and race down the course nocking an arrow for each 5-ringed, color target called the Shiki No Mato and shooting successively as they pass through the course. Each group gets two rounds apiece. The best-judged archers move on to the next round.

Kyosha - The competitive shooting round that follows Housha. The targets are switched to small ceramic targets called Dokimato, which are filled with confetti. A direct hit will shatter the target throwing the confetti in the air like snowflakes. The archer with the most hits in this round is declared top archer for the ceremony.

Gaijin No Shiki - The victory ceremony begins with the sound of the Ending Drum. The archer with the most hits moves to the center of the course with their target from Housha. The Bugyo observes the target through the slits of an open fan. The Taikokata beats the Battle Drum three times as the archers shout for victory.

Naorai - The participants sip sacred sake and withdraw from the course marking the end of the ceremony.

Shoyaku (ceremony participants):

Bugyo - Magistrate who oversees the ceremony

Taikokata - Beats the ceremonial drums that mark different parts of the ritual

Hatamochi - Flag Bearers who lead the processions

Ogikata - One at each end of the course who wave their fans signalling the start of a run

Matometsuke - Judge targets after they are hit

Heifuri - Signal that hits have been made

Yatori - Pick up discharged arrows after each run