Yabusame: the Traditional Japanese Mounted Archery

  • Do you know that mounted warriors have existed in Japan for more than 1,500 years? Yes, it has been a long time indeed, dating back to the Kamakura period. The need for it arose when Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder of Kamakura Shogunate, became concerned with the skill levels of his samurais. He was alarmed with their poor archery skills. He then enthusiastically studied and promoted this art. It became a main way of training and practicing for his samurais.


    Yabusame is considered to be ritual rather than sports now because of its long history. It is said to be a way of pleasing the Gods in Japan for looking over the country. They believe that doing these things can earn them more blessings. The 255-meter-long track is needed for this. A Yabusame archer will have to gallop this track at a fast speed. He has to control his horse with his knees. There are 3 simple wooden targets which are placed along equal distances apart. Upon approaching the targets, he prepares to draw the arrow and shouts In-Yo-In-Yo, which means “darkness and light.”

    Typically, arrows are blunt and rounded in shape so as to make a loud sound once they hit the target. This will make the onlookers aware. If an archer hits the three targets, it is said to be a very big accomplishment.

    Famous Yabusame Schools and Places

    Two of the famous yabusame schools are Ogasawara School and Minamoto’s School. Ogasawara Nagakiyo is the founder of the first school. The second school was founded by Marimoto Yoshiari during the 19th century. The most important skills learned in these schools were the acquisition of concentration, discipline, and refinement. Zen was an important element in doing this. It taught the archers the breathing techniques to calm their mind and body. Once they could hit their targets perfectly in a calm manner, they were entitled to become true samurais.

    The Tsurugaoka Hichiman Shrine in Kamakura is a popular place for yabusame.

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