Occasionally I look back at the pictures I took in the days before digital cameras. This time the subject was a Japanese Yabusame (horseback archery) event in Cardiff’s Cooper’s Field, part of Bute Park, on Sunday, September 15, 1991. That was a particular boom time for industry links between Wales and Japan and we all loved anything Japanese.
Yabusame is a traditional Japanese form of mounted archery, dating from the Kamakura period (1185–1333) – a time of shoguns and samurai. In the contest an archer on a running horse shoots three special “turnip-headed” arrows at three wooden targets.
The men taking part in the event were both young and old…
Yabusame is considered as a ritual rather than a sport because of its serious style and religious practices, and is often performed for special visits or official events.
I am annoyed I didn’t get a good picture of the bows used, as they are fascinating long asymmetric bows. My first thought is that this is clever because the design means the shorter lower limb doesn’t clash with the horse and you can quickly shoot in different directions – a bit like the much shorter recurved asymmetric bow used by Hun horsemen.
But there is evidence that the long yumi bow predates its use on horseback. It was not designed for strength like the traditional English longbow and it is likely that the asymmetric shape developed from the characteristics of the materials used (bamboo, wood and leather) before laminating techniques were invented. The bow looks elegant for the slow, spiritual activities so common in Japanese culture.
According to Wikipedia: “Yabusame as a martial art helped a samurai learn concentration, discipline, and refinement. Zen taught breathing techniques to stabilize the mind and body, giving clarity and focus. To be able to calmly draw one’s bow, aim, and shoot in the heat of battle, and then repeat, was the mark of a true samurai who had mastered his training and his fear.”
As well as the horseback archery, the day was a showcase of other Japanese culture…
Have you noticed there were no women riders? More recently women have begun to take part in their own Yabusame events (but without the samurai costumes) – I found some pictures in an old post on the New in Nippon blog, here.
You can see more pictures from my non-digital archive here.