Every year in September at Kyoto’s Kamigamo shrine you can see the Kasagake festival. It’s a rare chance to see some this form of traditional Japanese mounted archery practised by the samurai which dates back some 800 years.
The festival starts at 1pm but it’s best to arrive a little early if you want a good spot on the front benches as they usually fill up with a good crowd of locals and visitors. The festival is free if you watch from a little way back but as it’s only 500 yen to go into the enclosed area much closer to the action it’s worth it for a better view.
The festivities start with a formal opening ceremony and then the main event begins. The competitors wear traditional outfits just like the samurai of old.
There are 2 sets of 5 riders, who take turns to compete. As they gallop along the course the first time they try to hit 3 small high targets (about where a man on horseback would be), then on the way back they aim for 2 lower targets, as though shooting down at someone standing. The targets are pretty small though so only the best archers can hit them all!
Once both groups have taken their turns the best 5 are chosen to go again with even smaller targets in order to find a winner who is then honoured in a short ceremony. If you’re interested in seeing a rare and traditional martial art from samurai times it should be an incredible day! The commentary is provided in both Japanese and English so you’ll have no trouble following what’s happening. If you’re in Kyoto in September it’d be a real shame to miss it!
If you’re in Kyoto at a different time of year the Kamigamo shrine itself is still worth a visit, as it’s a World heritage site and lovely to walk around even without a festival going on!