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Yabusame at Kumamoto Castle

Horseback archery at the autumn castle festival

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Kumamoto Castle sustained heavy damage during the 2016 earthquake. During the summer of 2021, the inner keep reopened after a 5-year reconstruction period. However, sitewide renovations are expected to continue until around 2038.

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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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