Beautiful costumes (Photo: Kylie Plester)

Yabusame Horse Archery in Sumida Park

Enjoy traditional horseback archery by the Sumida River

Beautiful costumes (Photo: Kylie Plester)
Kylie Plester   - 3 min read

Yabusame is a traditional ceremony of horseback archery that dates back to the Edo period when it was performed as part of New Year's celebrations. In modern times it is an event that happens in only a few places in Japan and gives you another interesting insight into the detailed customs of the Japanese people.

The main focus of the event is the different archers speeding down a 250m long course on horseback whilst trying to shoot 3 targets. The targets are wooden boards propped up on a pole that if hit in the right way colourful paper explodes into the air. All of the archers are dressed in traditional costumes that are a bit of a cross between an American Cowboy and a Japanese Kimono with a hard cowboy hat and beautifully printed riding clothes. It also looks like it is not just a Japanese tradition anymore with a few foreign riders mixed in with the young and the veteran Japanese riders.

The event goes for about 2 hours and starts with a ceremonial procession up and down the course of all the horses and their riders as well as all the other helpers who are all dressed in traditional costumes--except for the poor man who had the job of picking up the horse poo from along the track! Then it's on to the main event everyone has been waiting for, which goes so quickly that if you blink you'll miss the horse riding past your little section of track and just see the sand kicked up in their wake. It is an amazing opportunity to see these skilled archers and their horses as it really would take a lot of work to be able to even hit one of those targets whilst staying on the horse, let alone having to reload and do it all again only a few seconds later.

The event at Sumida Park draws a very big crowd at it's annual event usually held on the third Saturday in April from 1pm. It is held along a narrow strip of the park, just to the north of the railway bridge. It is fenced off on one side which means that spectating spots are limited to next to the river and have a limited capacity. I would recommend trying to find a spot in front of one of the three targets as that's where all the action happens and try to arrive early. We arrived over an hour before the event and managed to get one of the better spots in front of the first target with no one in front of us. Otherwise you can buy tickets for the reserved seating areas right at the front which are 3000 yen and go on sale in mid March from the Taito City Ward office. Some of the tickets are for foreigners only and can also be purchased by mail.

If you arrive from 11am on the same day you will get the chance to see another archery event in Sanyabori Square in Sumida Park where archers shoot a target shaped like a deer. This is also free to watch and has a lot of ceremonial movement to it, so much so that one of the poor archers dropped his arrow cause he was shaking so much.

Yabusame is a great event to go and see and it is really fun to join in with the crowd as everyone claps and cheers as the archers hit their mark.

Kylie Plester

Kylie Plester @kylie.plester

Currently in Japan on a Working Holiday Visa and absolutely loving it. Keen to help other people with travelling Japan.