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 last weeks budo tournament in Tokyo’s Meijijingu grand shrine I saw this procession of archers making their way from the shrine ceremony to the archery, kyudo, range or dojo. There had been a big tournament and hundreds of archers had been ranked and tested. Unfortunately as much as I wanted I wasn’t able to gain access to the archery range itself. Maybe next year! They are wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying shrine ornaments and holy bows. Of course I couldn’t help myself from taking snapping a photo of a little boy eager to test his running skills next to the procession. Don’t worry, his mother was right behind him!
Last week, in front of Meiji Shrine in Tokyo’s Harajuku district the national farming association held a small demonstration against the TPP proposal. You can read about it here on Wikipedia, but to put it in easy to understand terms, the day Japan joins the TPP is the day when Japanese agriculture and therefore the entire countryside outside the most major cities starts dying. I am absolutely against the TPP and all the problems with anti-democratic, pro-corporation and anti-environment laws that will be the result. Instead of just holding banners the farmers held a parade and then distributed free vegetables and flowers to any member of the public. To raise awareness about the danger of TPP they also distributed some very informative pamphlets and flyers detailing the problems. I wish them luck, and although I try to keep politics and negative things away from this blog, I just can’t let this one slide. I hope the grassroots anti-TPP movements around the world can join hand in this protest.
On November 3rd in 1852 the boy who would become Japan’s greatest emperor, Mutsuhito, was born. These days he is more well known as Emperor Meiji – the 122nd emperor of Japan, who took the throne in 1867 and guided the country from being an isolated feudal island state to become the first Asian state to defeat a major European power in war. To his honor, the Meiji Shrine is holding their grand Autumn Festival (明治神宮秋の大祭) which culminates on the 3rd with Kobudo, Kyudo, Aikido, Momote-shiki and yabusame (mounted archery). I am not going myself, but if you were, I would recommend starting with the Kyudo (zen archery) at 09:00, the moving on with Kobudo (old warrior skills like shooting, naginata, etc.) at 10:00 and catching the Momote-shiki (ritualized zen archery) at 11:00 and finishing with the Yabusame at 13:00. Be well aware that the best places to see the action will fill up very early, so if you are serious about getting a good spot to see the Yabusame (the best spot is about 15m after a target, there are usually three targets, and I prefer the first one) you might have to skip seeing any of the other events, or at least anything after 10 or 11 as avid yabusame fans will show up early. I love yabusame, but having seen quite a few already I would probably focus on catching the Kobudo (guns, with real black powder from ancient ninja recipes!). Here’s one photo of today’s event, Hogaku and Hobu, classical 17th century music and dance.