At the budo, or martial arts, tournament and exhibition at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine a few weeks ago I saw this wonderful performance of Yabusame or mounted horse archery. I have written previously about the glory of Yabusame (I am completely in love with this sport) so if you are interested in the details of the sport head over to that post from 2011. This year’s Yabusame at Meiji Shrine was slightly unusual due to the high number of very talented female archers. You could tell from the excited reactions of the audience when they were being introduced that female archers make a wildly popular sport even more popular! The biggest drawback with Yabusame is that it is a very audience unfriendly sport. For the effort involved in setting things up and the costs involved, very few people can actually see it and the most devoted audience members had already staked out their spots on the grass 5-6 hours before the event even started! The action is also very rapid – the announcer will announce that an archer has left the staging area on the left, you hear the thunder of the hooves and in a split second the horse thunders past you – a cheer from the crowd if there is a hit, once, twice, maybe three times. It is all over very quickly and if you lose you concentration you might miss the best bit. I was plonked firmly at the front end of the audience section, wedged between two other photographers so I go to see the horses right the moment before had reached full speed, but even with my fast camera I missed many passes. Still, there is no sport on Earth like Yabusame and it’s an incredible rush to be within touching distance of horse and rider thundering past!
At the national horse day event at Setagaya Ward’s Bajikoen I saw these school kids showing doing a bit of horse acrobatics. Very impressive, especially considering the very limited training time they must have here in central Tokyo. I have never seen this outside of a circus and it looks very difficult. Bajikoen is one of the very few places in central Tokyo where you can go to see horses and horseriding. To get there from Shibuya station you can either take the train to Sakurashinmachi station or take a bus (23, 24 or 26 and get off at the Nodaimae bus stop).
At the end of September every year, Bajikouen (馬事公苑), the biggest equine sports center in Tokyo celebrates Aiba no hi, or Horse Day, with special events, shows and “meet the horses”. The events start early, at ten in the morning (it is the last day of a three day long weekend so a lot of people sleep in that morning) with yabusame (horse archery), test riding, show jumping and many other things. I was there and took a few snaps of some of the events, including a ladies sidesaddle show ride and some very interesting non-competitive variation on horse polo, in which the riders pick up a small ball and stage mock attacks on castle wall, trying to throw the ball into a small target.
Bajikouen is a bit of a walk (but not too far) from Sakura Shinmachi Station and if you are a horse lover I recommend going there just before noon on weekends, as there is almost always some sort of competition going on, usually with local high schools and universities competing. As you can expect, there are very few opportunities to ride horses in Japan and even few places to actually compete, so such a centrally located sports center gets a lot of use!
Not having a dog myself I am always amazed by how difficult dogs are to photograph. Cats, humans, monkeys, even foxes, are comparatively easy. They will look at anyone getting their attention whereas dogs will only focus on their owner. I stopped a man out walking his cute little dog at the Sanja Matsuri, the huge festival in Asakusa, as I had to get some photos of the great little festival gear. As much as the owner tried the dog just would not look anywhere else. Well, at least the old saying “man’s best friend” is true. If I ever get lonely I will get a dog, and dress him up like this!