A mesmerizing display of skill and precision—with a top of cultural heritage—yabusame, the Japanese horseback archery, has been captivating archers from around the world. Rightly so, as it captures the harmony between the horse and the rider as well as the archer’s prowess. Let’s delve into yabusame and learn all about it—and for folks looking to experience it firsthand, we will list the best places to experience it in Japan.

Yabusame: What Is It?

Yabusame is a type of traditional mounted archery in Japanese culture. An archer—mounted on a running horse—shoots three special arrows (successively) at three targets, typically made from wood. The arrows are turnip-headed.

Key elements of Japanese horse archery are:

  • Equestrian skill. Riders must have a high proficiency in horseback riding, as they have to balance themselves on galloping horses while handling a yabusame bow and arrow.
  • Archery expertise. Riders have to hit designated targets while riding at fast speeds—so they need exceptional archery skills.
  • As a result of the above two skills, the rider displays a deep connection with the horse as well as archery.

Japanese mounted archery is usually featured in festivals and Shinto rituals all across Japan. This is because yabusame has spiritual as well as cultural significance; see more below.

The History of Japanese Horse Archery

Yabusame dates back to the Kamakura period, somewhere between 1192 and 1333. This is when samurai warriors used it for the preparation of warfare. In addition to martial training, it was used as a spiritual ritual. This practice also became popular in the Heian period, between 794 and 1185—as a means of praying for peace and properity.

Even today, Japanese horseback archery is practiced in its true spirit. In fact, there are a few events that take place today as they did in the twelfth century—and yabusame is one of them. It is believed that this Japanese horse archery was earlier called “yabaseuma” (“ya” meaning “arrow” – “base” coming from “haseru” translating to “to gallop” – and “uma” meaning “horse”) and later was contracted into “yabusame”.

Yabusame Clothing

Japanese mounted archery requires cultural clothing; this usually reflects what samurai warriors wore during their era. This is not only symbolic but also has functional purposes, and includes:

  • Hakama for the lower body: Pleated traditional Japanese garment worn over the lower body—resembling a divided skirt or perhaps, wide trousers.
  • Happi over the hakama: Short, traditional Japanese coat with wide sleeves. Alternatively, you can use a jinbaori, which is a sleeveless surcoat. Both garments usually feature the family crest—or mon—of the wearer.
  • Samue to wear under the hakama: a traditional workwear outfit consisting of a jacket and trousers. (This is used for additional comfort and protection)
  • Traditional footwear: Among others, these can be jika-tabi (split-toe boots with rubber soles) or waraji (straw sandals worn by samurai soldiers).
  • Protection material: Gloves to protect hands and arm guards to protect from potential contact with the bowstring. Traditional headgear, such as hachimaki (headband) or eboshi (formal headwear) may also be used depending on the event.

Where to Book a a Yabusame Experience in Japan

For all its difficulties, Japanese horseback archery is an art still practiced and taught today! Below, we’ve listed the best places to book a yabusame experience in Japan—simply book before your next trip to Japan.

*Please note that the prices quoted are as mentioned at the time of publishing. They may vary depending on when you book the experience. The tours may also include plenty of other stops; we will mention the features concerning yabusame

LocationPriceUnique FeaturesBooking Link
Takeo Shrine Yabusame Sando, Saga Prefecture, KyushuFrom 70.59 USD– Participants get dressed in yabusame costumes
– Staff walks horse, so no prior skill needed
– Experience fee included
– Yabusame experience lasts for a 40-minute duration

Book on Klook
Ibaraki (2h from Tokyo)From 348 USDProfessional instructors teach basics
Flexible start times
Interpreters required for non-Japanese speaking people
Book on Rakuten Travel Experiences
Ibaraki (2h from Tokyo)Call at +81 280 33 3026 to askGuides native to Ibaraki provide insights
BBQ lunch included
– Also offer a travel itinerary
Book on Japan Budo Experience

Final Words

Attending a yabusame event is the closest you’ll get to meeting a real-life samurai—an opportunity you definitely don’t want to miss. The next time you head to Japan, make sure to add the horseback archery of yabusame to your bucket list; it will be an experience you’ll remember for years to come 🤍 Also—booking experiences with English-speaking guides is something to consider as most of us don’t speak or understand Japanese.


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