Taking A Peek At Old Japan: Yabesume Festival In Tsuwano

Back in April, Jeremy, Marcus, Charrleen and I went to the town of Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture. We had heard about a festival that was going on there that we really wanted to check out. It was a Yabusame festival. Yabusame is a horseback archery tournament and the yabusame course in Tsuwano is the last remaining original one in Japan.

Yabusame dates back to Kamakura period (late 1100’s to early 1300’s) in Japan. It was started when Minamoto no Yoritomo (first shogun of the Kamakura period) noticed that his samurai lacked archery skills. It was also developed as a religious ritual at a Shinto Shrine. If the tournament was pleasing to the gods, then the gods may grant prosperity to the land, the people, and that year’s harvest. This tradition came back during the Edo period (1600-1867) for personal development and not training for war.

Yabusame course is a straight course about 250 meters long. The rider races down this course and fires arrows at three diamond shaped targets. The rider can only control the horse with his or her legs because they are holding the bow and drawing an arrow with their hands. Once a rider starts riding, it is over in a matter of seconds. The festival is the second Sunday in April, which was great since the Cherry Blossoms (Sakura) were still out.

The drive to Tsuwano was an easy two hour drive from base. It was fairly uneventful until we reached the outskirts of Tsuwano. The town of Tsuwano lies down in a valley of several mountains. The main way into the town is a road that constantly curves back on itself with TIGHT turns (is there something sharper than a hairpin turn???). Jeremy was driving so he was having fun going down a lot faster than I felt comfortable with. I think Charleen and Marcus were holding on as tight as I was and cursing as much as I was. What made it more nerve wracking was at every single turn there was a small cemetery. Some how we made it down safely.

By the time we arrived at Washibara Hachiman-gu Shrine right as the first ceremony was starting. We watched the beginning of the parade as we raced around to the other side to find a place to watch the tournament. It was interesting to see the riders dressed up in the Kamakura period clothing and armor.

Once we were seated we watched as the riders and judges got ready for the tournament to start.

Once everyone was ready to start the judges would stick out a post with papers dangling from the end. At the top of the course, a priest would wave a fan to signal that a rider was about to run.

Then the rider would take off down the course.

Most often they would miss the first target but get the second and third target. It was impressive, though, when they hit the target. The shattering of the boards was awesome.

The first part of the tournament was over in about 30 minutes. We walked around the grounds of the shrine while we waited for the second tournament to start up. The area was absolutely beautiful.

After praying at the shrine, we noticed that there was something on past the shrine. As we walked around we noticed it was some sort of play. I’m honestly not sure if the actors were wearing Noh masks or if it was some other type of performance.

As we tried to watch the show, we were interrupted by a teenage American boy. He was walking around bragging about how he could see and speak spirits. I pretend to be interested in the play while he talked Marcus and Jeremy’s ears off about how all the Japanese spirits were yelling at him in English about him being there. I know there are people out there that can see and speak to spirits but I also know how to tell when someone is completely making stuff up for attention. This kid was doing that. We didn’t tell him that we knew he was lying or that we are paranormal investigators mainly because we were hoping he would get bored of talking and moved on. I also kept my mouth shut because I knew if I opened my mouth, I would rip the kid a new one and that wasn’t the proper place for it. I find it very offensive when someone lies as blatantly as this kid did about the spirits. I ended up walking away after 20 minutes of his yipping and lying. I chose to distract myself with the many vendors they had there. Food is always a good distraction.

About an hour later the second part of the tournament started. It was awesome to see the parade this time, since we missed during the first part.

After the parade ended, the youngest rider was lead up and down the course on his horse. When they first started leading him, the horse tried to pull away. The little boy and his handler were able to calm the horse and continue back down the course.

The second half of the tournament was just as exciting as the first. The whole event was a lot of fun. I highly recommend attending a yabusame tournament if you have the chance.


One thought on “Taking A Peek At Old Japan: Yabesume Festival In Tsuwano

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these fabulous photos. I truly louve the designs of each and everyones kimono. Honestly, I had a dozen of them and I believe, there’s only one left in my possession now. I can’t wait to read up more of your adventures.

    Like

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