Samukawa Yabusame

Samukawa Yabusame 01.jpg

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Yabusame
Samukawa Shrine, Kanagawa

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Yabusame is a type of mounted archery in which the rider shoots arrows at full gallop on three targets. Originally yabusame was designed as a way to please and entertain the gods. In the Asuka period, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan by Korea, Emperor Kinmei (509-571) shot arrows at three targets representing the three Korean kingdoms after praying for peace and a good harvest. In the Nara period Emperor Shomu (701-756) hold yabusame displays on the palace grounds. On that day the court wore iris leaves fashioned into wigs as an amulet.  

In the Heian period yabusame was popular among the warriors (bushi) as one of the military arts. It helped them learn concentration and discipline. Zen taught breathing techniques to stabilise the mind and body. To be able to calmly draw one's bow and fire in the heat of battle was the mark of the true samurai. From the late Heian to early Kamakura period, yabusame became a ritual in shrines and temples as a petition to the gods for fortune in battle but by the Muromachi period yabusame had died out.  

During the Kyoho period (1716-1736) the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune ordered all the military families and feudal lords to present their records of yabusame traditions and teachings. Urakami Yagozaemon collected this material and published the book Yabusame Ruiju. Nowadays the Takeda family has been introducing Japanese traditional horsemanship by dedicating the Yabusame Divine Performance at shrines all over the country. The Takeda School co-operated with the great movie director Akira Kurosawa and the famous actor Toshiro Mifune was one of its best disciples.  

In old days the Samukawa Shrine was called Sagami Ichinomiya (the First Shrine in Sagami). It meant that whenever a new governor was assigned, he had to visit the shrine first of all others. Still there are many towns with the name of Ichinomiya, Ninomiya (the second shrine) or Sannomiya (the third one), all of which denote that once there existed a prestigious shrine authorised by the imperial court.

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