One weekend a year is heaven for all fans of Yabusame, the traditional mounted horse archery of Japan, and easily one the rarest forms of martial arts in the country. It is the weekend when you can see the archery in Asakusa on Saturday and the traditional show in Kamakura on Sunday. This year I only had time to visit one of them and so I picked the one in Asakusa. It has been years since I visited and it seems to be much more well organized these days with orderly lines of people, mostly tourists, waiting from early in the morning to get tickets to the best seats. In my opinion, the best seats are just before or about 10 meters of one of the three traditional targets.
Although the form of the sport has remained the same for at least a millennia, the horses have not. The traditional Japanese samurai horse has largely disappeared and been replaced by much bigger and much faster horses, making the sport many times as dangerous and difficult as it used to be. The larger modern horses can cover the distance between two targets more than twice as fast as the smaller horses of the older times, giving the archers very little time to draw their arrows and aim for the targets. The faster the horse, the less likely the archer is to hit his target. It is a very action filled sport, as the audience is just a couple of yards away from the thundering horses, often close enough to get showered in dust!
I will post more photos during the week so stay tuned, but for now please enjoy the horses, the archers and the colorful costumes they are wearing!
As summer is coming to Tokyo I thought I should share more photos of one of my favorite places for a long nature stroll in the capital – Sawanoi in Ome City in the far west of Tokyo. Quite a bit of a train journey away from Shinjuku but well worth is this hidden gem of a river valley complete with foot bridges, easy to walk paths and trails and more greenery than you can shake a stick at! Just take the Chuo line to the west towards Ome and get off at Sawanoi station.
Walking around the back streets of Jimbocho in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward I came across the strangely futuristic Jimbocho Theatre building, which is an art space housing a theatre, a cinema and rehearsal space. Apparently it has six floors inside this 28 meter tall building. I wonder how they managed to cram so much stuff into the 252 square meters foot print of the site! Despite the hardline exterior of the buildings the surrounding space still looks conventionally urban though.
Easily one of the most seen but least visited shrines in Japan is the tiny Omatsu Inari Shrine very close to the large Omotesando street crossing. Technically the address of the shrine is in Minamiaoyama, but most people would recognize it as a place in Omotesando more than anything else. It has quite a few illustrious brand name shops for close neighbors so there are tens of thousands of people passing it most days, despite this I have never seen anyone enter it.
The name, Omatsu, which means large pine, comes from the fact that until 1839 there was a huge pine tree right on this spot, it grew so large that people would come to venerate it. As it broke during a storm a tiny shrine was erected over the tee stump and it remains there today, even long after anyone who has ever seen the pine has passed away.
Since then the shrine has found a second shot of fame after having been featured in the award winning drama writer Mukoda Kuniko (向田邦子) who moved into the the fifth floor of the apartment building just next to it in 1970. I think she lived there until she died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1981.
The shrine itself, being an inari-shrine, enshrines the diety Ukanomitama, who is often shown as a fox in Japanese mythology. I took these photos at night. For some reason I think this shrine is best visited at night, when the obvious modern surrounds are a little less obvious, giving us a chance to imagine this shrine as it must have looked in 1839.