Yabusame: Japanese Horseback Archery at the Beach

It’s funny how I stumbled across this event. I randomly came across an advertisement for the Dosun Matsuri and decided to take the family. No prior knowledge. The location was new to us. We’d never been traveled to the Miura area and figured if the event was not as great as advertised, we could at least enjoy the beach as a backup. We hopped in the car and drove south to Miura Beach.

The overall aesthetic was amazing. You have to follow a path and walk down a flight of stairs to reach the beach. It almost reminded me of the intimate parts of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. A beach secluded and protected by large hills. And then there was the main event.

Yabusame is probably my favorite aspect of Japanese culture.

I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the entire production. Archery and sharpshooting by itself is extremely challenging. Doing it while riding a horse only adds to the challenge. I can only imagine the years of training required to get as good as they were. Sure, the targets may appear to be close, but it takes practice and skill to land those shots. It’s even more interesting if you consider that archers were heavily used in ancient warfare.

Of course, my daughter had little interest in the horseback archery action.
Her focus was mainly on the music and water. One of her favorite things to do at the beach is to collect shells.

By far, Miura is the best way to experience a yabusame demonstration. It’s not as crowded as it is in other locations.

It’s obvious when you take the train or drive down to Miura that it’s more residential than commercial. It’s the suburbs of Tokyo and Yokohama. Locals wake up early and grab the express train heading north. That’s why you won’t find many tourists at the Dosun Matsuri. My guess is that most people living closer to the capitol find it inconvenient to travel to Miura for events. Anything longer than a half hour commute is considered unreasonable to my friends in Tokyo and Yokohama.

Since my initial exposure to yabusame, I’ve attended every event in Miura and at Zushi Beach.

While Zushi is not as far south as Miura, it’s still mainly residential. Zushi has more foreigners in the community, so they hang signs along the rope barrier that impedes with photography. The signs are written in English and are clearly intended for only us to read. But like I said, they ruin our shots. I have many photos from the Zushi event with the No Flash Photography sign in the middle of it.

You might’ve noticed, but the footage used in my video consists of shots taken at Miura and Zushi. Unless you’re familiar with the area, most folks won’t be able to tell the difference.

My goal was to present the elegance and fierceness of yabusame.

I’m extremely proud of the overall production. From a technical standpoint, this was an extremely ambitious project to put together. Consider the slow motion. Some of the shots start off normally, then shifts to slow motion and back again. In order to make that happen, I filmed the action at 60 frames per second.

I also took the opportunity to challenge myself as a creative.

Instead of doing my normal voice-over narration at home, I aimed to challenge myself for this project. This time, I decided to shoot my voice-over on location, and stitch the footage into the video. Easier said than done. I didn’t take into account how windy it would be, and the sound of the beach waves. Despite those challenges, the audio came out better than I expected. Also, the overall image with Mt.Fuji in the background looked amazing.

Another challenge was capturing the action in motion. Most of what I shoot is conducted handheld. I have my camera in hand and track my subject, but horseback archery was more difficult than I had initially anticipated. Zooming in and out while trying to maintain focus in a single shot was tough.

This is why long extended shots in cinema are often so impressive.

If you want to learn about yabusame, you could checkout the official website, here.
Everything I’ve learned about yabusame comes from the website for the Japan Equestrian Archery Association.

In the future, I hope to finally see yabusame at Kamakura. I’ve never seen it there because it’s often over-crowded with limited seating and visibility.
It’s funny being a foreigner and indulging in many aspects of Japanese culture that most locals don’t get to do. I honestly consider a great honor. This year they’re going to perform yabusame during the Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, as a way to pray for the safety of the athletes.

Lastly, Miura is also known for it’s beautiful spring cherry blossoms. Taking the train recently, I’ve noticed advertisements encouraging folks to visit the area. I plan on checking it out this spring and reporting on it. I can’t wait.

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