Yabusame Festival Mid-September

--by Tara Lowe
The Yabusame Festival originated from the archery training of horseback warriors, and during the Kamakura Period (1185-1392) it was institutionalized in festival form. The main festival has been conducted here on September 19th of every year since 1440. In the early years, the villages of Shimoyoshida and Katsuyama held the event together at the 2nd station of Mt. Fuji, but a feud developed between them. Therefore, each village began holding theri own separate festivals. Fujiyoshida's Yabusame Festival is different from those of other parts of Japan in both its symbolism and its practices.

The main event of the Yabusame Matsuri takes place on a gravel road lined with spectators. An archer fires arrows on horseback while galloping along and making several passes down the road. As it is an archery festival, one would expect the goal to be to demonstrate athletic prowess by hitting a target. However, this is not the case with the Fujiyoshida festival. In the Shinto religion, kami (gods or spirits) are believed to come to the Shimoyoshida area in the spring and to leave in the fall of every year. In order to keep away fires and to prevent quarreling during these protectors' absence, arrows are shot to expel evil influences and to pray for worshippers' happiness.

In addition to warding off evil, three men called urabito analyze the hoof prints left behind by the horses, a practice which is said to be unique to this city. Their role is to divine the locations of good and bad omens in Shimoyoshida until spring of the following year. They do this by using a series of instructions which have been passed down in urabito families for generations. They then make their findings know to the city sometime after the festival.

Yabusame in action.
The Archer
The role of the archer is performed not by a priest or ancestor of the samurai, but by an ordinary member of the community. However, in the past, it was considered to be a very great honor to participate in the event and there was often a long waiting list. Thus, the organizers came up with several special religious restrictions in order to shorten the list such as prohibiting archers with a death in the family the previous year or a birth in the previous two months before the festival from participating in the event. The lucky few who do end up being chosen usually have to spend the week before the festival feeding and grooming the horses and undergoing a special ritual purification ceremony.

Times are approximate. Contact the International Affairs Desk 0555-24-1236 for exact times.

Day 1:
Dedication Ceremony
Afternoon: Ceremony at Omuro Sengen Jinja and Parade. This includes: a parade of the horses and riders, taiko drumming, children's art exhibition, special dancing by shrine acolytes, samisen, martial arts, and many other events!

Day 2:
Archery Event
10:00 am: First series of archery and hoofprint reading.
1:00 pm: Second series of archery and hoofprint reading.