The last of my posts of photos from the annual Yabusame event in Tokyo’s Taito Ward’s Asakusa. After the more minor archery event on foot a bit further up the riverside the main event of Yabusame starts. The modern form of the sport was established in the 16th century after it was feared that the tradition and skill of the mounted archer would disappear after the introduction of western firearms and subsequently rifles and artillery. One of the samurai clans, the Ogasawara, were tasked with keeping the tradition alive and under their care it formalized into the ritual/sport we have today.
The tradition of mounted archery is of course rooted in the hunting of prey for food but it was also an effective form of early warfare when scores of mounted archers could harass and even break up units of enemy foot soldiers. We can only guess at the level of skill among the samurai who did this for a living, day in an day out, it must have been astounding! Modern archers are quite impressive still, and it is quite thrilling to watch it live up close! For these photos the widest lens I used was a 17-35mm wide zoom, which gives you an idea of how close you can get in these shows.
More action packed photos of the grand Yabusame (mounted horse archery) event at Asaskusa’s Sumida Koen from a couple of weeks ago. I was too busy covering other parts of the event to be able to stand in line for tickets to the proper seats but I was just in time to get a good standing spot (free of charge and no lining up necessary) just at the beginning of the yabusame run. Close enough to smell the horses and get having to dusting of my camera and clothes after each run even. My first impression of Yabusame was similar to my first impression of sumo wrestling, in that there is a great deal of ceremony, parading and ritual, and in between fast and furious violent action that is often over in the blink of an eye. Yabusame is very much like that. In the photos it might seem almost leisurely but in real time the horses are gone past before you know it. On previous years I have had photos where the arrow is still in the air on its way to the target while the horse and archers has completely passed out of the frame even! Thank you Nikon, for making these high tech fast shooting cameras for us!
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!