Yabusame at Kumamoto Castle

Horseback archery at the autumn castle festival

By Mandy Bartok    - 1 min read


As a result of the April 2016 earthquake, Kumamoto Castle sustained heavy damage. While the inner grounds remain closed for renovation, the fortress can be admired from outside via special 400-m route on Sundays, national holidays, and select Saturdays. The inner keep is expected to reopen in Spring 2021, though the sitewide renovations are expected to take decades.

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Every autumn, Kumamoto Castle holds a week-long seasonal festival. Yabusame, or Japanese archery on horseback, is one of the featured events that takes place just outside the castle walls in a sprawling park near the Kumamoto Art Museum. At this year's event, five archers competed to hit three targets as their horses galloped down a distance of about 250-300 meters. While only blunt-tipped arrows were used, it was still thrilling to watch the skill of the archers as their horses raced by and they attempted to hit each bullseye. Yabusame demonstrations are held all over Japan (notably in Kyoto and Kamakura) but the one in Kumamoto was surprisingly uncrowded, giving us the perfect front row seat.

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Mandy Bartok

Mandy Bartok @mandy.bartok

Japan resident for 9 years, with time spent in Okinawa, Kumamoto and Tokyo.