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Yabusame, a Shinto ritual of shooting arrows on horseback, is famous worldwide

August 16, 2014 Destination North Asia No Comments Email Email

This is the Reitaisai of the 800-year old Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine. It consists of numerous events such as a tea-offering ceremony to the gods and classical Japanese dance.

Yet the greatest attraction of all is no doubt, the gallant Yabusame (held on the 16th) which passes down the ancient traditions of the Kamakura Period.

Yabusame is a contest combining equestrian skills and Japanese-style archery which was popular among the samurai warriors from the end of the unnamed (6)Heian Period (794-1192) to the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Along a straight riding ground which extends over approximately 250 meters, targets 1, 2 and 3 are set up, and archers on horseback shoot at these one after the other. If an archer scores a direct hit, he receives a round of applause from the tens of thousands of spectators. The archers are dressed in samurai hunting wear called age shozoku just like in the Kamakura Period, and use turnip-head arrows which make a whistling sound as they fly through the air.

The festival is conducted over three days from September 14th to 16th. The 14th is the Yoimiyasai, or the eve of the festival. On the 15th, there is the Big Annual Festival when numerous worshippers are welcomed by the shrine head and staff, unmarried women serving gods and young girls serving gods as well as performing dances to the accompaniment of music. The Shinkosai parade of parishioner carrying portable shrines is also held followed by the festival conducted over three days from September 14th to 16th. The 14th is the Yoimiyasai, or the eve of the festival. On the 15th, there is the Big Annual Festival when numerous worshippers are welcomed by the shrine head and staff, unmarried women serving gods and young girls serving gods as well as performing dances to the accompaniment of music. The Shinkosai parade of parishioner carrying portable shrines is also held followed by a unnamed (7)procession of several hundred meters marching through the streets.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine is the symbolic shrine of the old capital city, Kamakura. A number of people come to visit this historic shrine every day. The origin of the shrine goes back to the year 1180, when the Shogun Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, who established the Kamakura Shogunate to rule Japan, constructed the shrine pavilions at the current location. From Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, which played a major role in the construction of the city of Kamakura, you can take the stairs up to the main hall where you can view Kamakura with the ocean in the background. There are many sights to see in the precinct, such as Maiden, Wakamiya, Genpei Pond, and Hon-gu, which attract a number of visitors every day. Various events are organized there throughout the year.

The approach to the shrine between the Nino Torii Gate and the San’no Torii Gate is called Dankazura. It is a raised path lined with cherry trees and looks particularly splendid in the spring when the trees are in blossom.
Komachi-dori Street is one street away to the west from Wakamiya-oji Street that stretches straight from Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine. Komachi-dori Street is a shopping street full of fashionable coffee shops, long-established restaurants, and shops where you can buy ‘natto’ (fermented soybeans), ham, traditional Kamakura carvings, and other local products. Don’t forget to go around to the back of the street – you will be greeted by more shops and places for food and drink. There is more than 200 shops altogether, and a merry and lively atmosphere will always welcome you.

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