“Yabusame” Mounted Archery Rite at the Shimogamo Shrine
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Traditional Japanese Mounted Archer Ritual “Yabusame” Archery at the Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 170 mm — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000 — map & image datanearby photos
Traditional Japanese Mounted Archer
Ritual “Yabusame” Archery at the Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto Japan

We went to a traditional “yabusame” archery rite today at the Shimogamo Shrine, part of the month-long “Aoi Matsuri” Festival, whose most well-known part is the Aoi Matsuri procession in the middle of May.

Archery At Full Gallop -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1250 — map & image datanearby photos
Archery At Full Gallop

You can read about “Yabusame” on Wikipedia, but in short, this yabusame mounted archery involves an archer on a horse at full gallop running a 280-yard straight track with three small targets at equal intervals. The archer has but a few seconds between each one to grab an arrow, prepare it, aim, and shoot, and then must do it again two more times, all the while riding a horse at full gallop on a very thin track, without using his hands (because he's using them for the bow and arrows). As a specific discipline, it dates back about 800 years.

The targets are small (today's were about one square foot) but are fairly close to the track, so hitting them from that distance is not much of a challenge. The tricky part involves the whole “horse at full gallop” thing, as well as the “hands-free riding” and “just a few seconds between targets” bits. It's apparently a heady combination, because even though this particular shrine's yabusame rite is the most famous in Japan, with 15 presumably-elite riders from around the country (mostly from Tokyo and Kyoto) getting one run each, I think only four were able to hit all three targets.

Breakneck Speed With the Long Bow -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50 mm — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos
Breakneck Speed With the Long Bow

What surprised me the most was the speed... I've seen countless full-gallop horses in movies, and I've been to a horse-racing track, but nothing prepared me for the explosive speed of these horses flying by at 35mph. It took several riders before I could even start to follow them with the camera.

For a better sense of the action, here's a link to the middle of a video on YouTube from the event at this same location a couple of years ago: Yabusame video.

First Rider Heads To the Start -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/500 sec, f/9, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
First Rider Heads To the Start

I hadn't been particularly interested in going, but we wanted Anthony to see it, and while he enjoyed it very much as we expected, we were surprised at how much we enjoyed it as well. It was quite exciting.

I almost didn't even bother bringing the camera, but am glad I did. The event wasn't really set up for photography (at least not good photography), and my primary concern was Anthony, and indeed, none of the shots I've seen so far could be called “quality”, but I'm happy for the memories. (I haven't even seen most of the photos yet... I don't have time for a proper writeup this evening, so I'm just sharing a few of the snapshots from early in the bunch.)

Young Archer going much, much faster than his composed expression belies -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 380 mm — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1600 — map & image datanearby photos
Young Archer
going much, much faster than his composed expression belies
Better Look at His Horse ( in the 3.6 seconds since the previous picture, he's shot one target and is already loading the next arrow ) -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 116 mm — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Better Look at His Horse
( in the 3.6 seconds since the previous picture, he's shot one target and is already loading the next arrow )
Heading Back -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 380 mm — 1/400 sec, f/9, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Heading Back
Helpers -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 240 mm — 1/400 sec, f/9, ISO 2200 — map & image datanearby photos
Helpers
Direct Hit one down, two to go -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 116 mm, cropped — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000 — map & image datanearby photos
Direct Hit
one down, two to go

The shot above illustrates what I got most of: people's heads. The original is even worse, but I cropped out most of the crowd in this one. But, at least it shows the target (what used to be a square of wood held by an upright of bamboo) and the bunt-end arrow.

A miss is silent, but a hit makes a loud and satisfying whap! sound.

Looking Down Track workers in yellow replace a target; scrum of cameramen await next rider -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
Looking Down Track
workers in yellow replace a target; scrum of cameramen await next rider
Me with child shoulder weight added to steady the camera ( photo by Fumie with her cell-phone camera ) -- Shimogamo Shrine -- Copyright 2010 Fumie Friedl
Me
with child shoulder weight added to steady the camera
( photo by Fumie with her cell-phone camera )

Continued here...


All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

Awesome shots! Curious if you could whip up a slightly larger one of the first shot! Would be an amazing iPad wallpaper (1024*1024)

— comment by Philz on May 4th, 2010 at 2:08am JST (7 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

“Young Archer” is great. I hope he stumbles across this site – he’d probably love that shot.

I also liked Fumie’s shot – your counterweight probably had a pretty good view!

Also on that last shot:
“CHANGING Sence at Natural You must have Something POLICIES to love”
Huh? Just trying to figure out that shirt.

— comment by Marcina, USA on May 4th, 2010 at 3:21am JST (7 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

It looks like you didn’t have to shoot over too many people’s heads. I guess the lens combined with your height made for some great shots. When I’ve visited similar events, you had to arrive hours ahead of time to get decent camera position.

— comment by Zak on May 4th, 2010 at 10:21am JST (7 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink
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