Learn more about the ancient Japanese sport of Yabusame

Yabusame is a traditional Japanese mounted archery sport that has been practiced since ancient times. It dates back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and has been practiced for more than 800 years. Yabusame is distinguished by its unique and compelling combination of horseback riding, archery, and ceremonial features.

The term “yabusame” is derived from the Japanese words “yabu” (arrow) and “same” (horse). Skilled horseback riders shoot arrows at predetermined targets while galloping at full speed. Yabusame is frequently performed at festivals or other events, exhibiting the archers’ precision and martial skills.

Yabusame’s main goal is to hit three targets in a row while riding past them. The targets, known as “mato,” are little wooden boards with concentric circles painted on them that are set at regular intervals along a track. The archer wields a classic asymmetrical longbow known as a “yumi” and dresses in traditional clothing such as a ceremonial hat, kimono, and hakama (wide-legged pants).

During a yabusame event, the archer rides at fast speed towards the first target. As they approach, they draw the bow and release the arrow in a quick and fluid action. The archer’s goal is to hit the center of the target, known as the “meigasumi.” Hitting the outer rings also awards points, but it is less desirable. After shooting the first target, the archer continues riding and shoots the following targets in the same fashion.

Yabusame is a sport with great cultural and historical importance. It was traditionally used by samurai warriors to improve their archery and horseback riding skills, which were important in warfare. Yabusame gatherings were frequently organized to pray for victory, wealth, and safety. 

History of Yabusame

Yabusame can be traced back to Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first ruler of the Kamakura Shogunate in Japan (1185–1333). Yoritomo worried that his samurai troops weren’t good at archery, so he started yabusame as a way to train and practice.

During the Kamakura era, yabusame became popular as a martial art and a way to improve archery skills while on horseback. It was an important part of warrior training because it showed how important speed, accuracy, and precision were when using a bow in battle.

Yabusame grew in popularity and became a sign of samurai culture and strength. It went from being just a training exercise to a ceremony and cultural event that was done at different festivals and celebrations. A lot of nobles, high-ranking politicians, and members of the aristocracy went to Yabusame performances.

One of the most important things to happen to yabusame happened during the Genpei War (1180–1185), a fight between the Minamoto and Taira clans. The famous yabusame moment from the Battle of Yashima happened when a skilled samurai shooter named Nasu no Yoichi shot a fan hanging from a mast while riding his horse into the water.

With the fall of the samurai class and the changes in how wars were fought in Japan, yabusame gradually lost its popularity. But during the Meiji time (1868–1912), when there was a renewed interest in Japanese cultural heritage, efforts were made to keep this old custom alive.

Today, yabusame is mostly done at festivals, special events, and exhibitions to honor the samurai heritage and show off the skill and discipline needed for mounted archery. Popular places to see yabusame include Tsurugaoka Hachiman-g in Kamakura and Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto, as well as other places all over Japan.


Before the Yabusame event starts, there is a ceremony to clean the area and ask the gods to bless it. A Shinto priest usually prays, makes offerings, and does rituals as part of this event.

The horses used in Yabusame are considered holy, and they are blessed before the event. This ritual includes making gifts and praying for the horses’ well-being and divine protection so that the show goes well.

Archers do a ceremony called “yairei” to honor their arrows before they shoot them. This ritual shows respect and thanks, and it is thought to bring good luck and favor from God. During this commitment, the archers may say prayers or make certain movements.

Placement of the targets, called “mato,” along the track is done with care. The position and arrangement of the targets have symbolic meanings. Often, they stand for things like success, protection, and wealth. This ritualized placement gives the event a sense of ceremony and ritual.

At the end of the Yabusame event, there might be a closing celebration. This ceremony is a way to show appreciation, thank the people who came, and end the event in a polite way. It might include speeches, traditional music, or an official closing procession.

The rituals in Yabusame go beyond the sport itself and connect it to Japan’s culture and spiritual traditions. They add to the general feeling of ceremony, show respect and reverence, and make the sport’s history more important. Yabusame rituals not only keep old traditions alive, but they also help people learn more about Japan’s rich culture history.

Costume of Ite 

Ite who partake in the yabusame rite wear kimen ayahigasa headgear and either hitatare or suou garments. They wear igote on their left shoulder, with the archer’s family crest embroidered in gold thread. Their hips are clothed in mukabaki made of summer deerskin. The archers carry a tachi, a long sword, and a small sword called maezashi or yoroi doshi around their waist, as well as gloves, tabi, and igutsu footwear. They carry arrows called jindoya implanted at their waist and a bow called shigeto in their hands. Metal arrowheads are not used since bloodshed is considered taboo in Shinto rites.

Waabumi are the stirrups and wagura are the saddles used in yabusame. They are typically Japanese. Because the production procedure for both of them is no longer available, antique pieces are mended and utilized with caution.

The wagura are made of wood and have parts like the shizuwa (cantle), which is the arched true plate, maewa (pommel), which is the arched front plate, the , the igi, which are the contoured sidebands, and the shiode, which are the tie-downs connected to the saddle’s base. The waabumi are constructed of iron and are large enough to cover the foot. They are also known as zetsuabumi or tongue stirrups because they mimic the form of a tongue. These stirrups are large and hefty, allowing ite to ride in the tachisukashi style.

How Yabusame Is Played

The archers, known as ite, and their horses are getting ready for the yabusame competition. Horses are frequently carefully trained for this purpose.

A yabusame course is built, usually with a 255-meter (280-yard) track. Three wooden targets are put at regular intervals along the course. The targets are designed to approximate the best target for a fatal strike on a typical samurai opponent.

The ite mount their horses and form a line at the course’s start. They make certain that all of their equipment, including the bow and arrows, is properly secured.

 When the signal is given, the ite sprints down the track. The ite raises their bow and draws the arrow past their ear as they approach each target. They release the arrow towards the target with a deep yell of “In-Yo-In-Yo” (darkness and brightness). Yabusame arrows are blunt and round-shaped to produce a louder bang upon hit.

The ite’s goal is to hit all three objectives along the way. Accurately hitting the targets necessitates perfect time, coordination, and talent, as the ite only has a few seconds to nock the arrow, aim, and release it before moving on to the next target.

The accuracy with which the ites hit the targets is used to measure their performance. Attaining all three goals is seen as a great achievement. The ite who performs the best may be given a white cloth, which represents divine favor and honor.


Yabusame, an old Japanese sport, combines horseback riding, archery, and ceremonial customs in a harmonious way. It developed as a way for samurai warriors to perfect their talents and exhibit dedication through precision and speed, and is rooted in Japan’s historical history. Yabusame is a mesmerizing link to Japan’s rich heritage, representing the sense of discipline, devotion, and the tenacious spirit of the samurai.