Although samurai are now closely associated with swords and swordsmanship, as a distinct class the bushi (武士) were originally defined by their equestrian and archery skills. This origin leaves its legacy today in the arts of kyudo (弓道) and yabusame (流鏑馬道). Yabusame combines horseback riding and archery into an art that is now Shinto ritual considered entertainment for the gods. In a yabusame demonstration, the mounted archer attempts to hit three targets at gallop pace. The horse is controlled by the knees as both arms are used for shooting. The attire worn is very colorful, in contrast to the more understated clothing found in other Japanese martial arts. This kind of clothing has its origins in the hunting outfits worn by the noble class during Japan’s feudal era.
A typical yabusame track is about 255m long. The one shown in the photos is in Takeo, Saga Prefecture (佐賀県武雄) on the southernmost main island of Kyushu (九州). Takeo is perhaps best known for its onsen (温泉 / hotsprings). The Takeo yabusame track can be found in front of the Takeo History Center and Library. It is directly aligned to Takeo Shrine. A torri (鳥居) gate marks the end of the track farthest from the shrine. Two plaques imbedded at this end of the track points out that they are viewing spots. Urbanistically, it was interesting to find a public area set aside for a specific religious ritual that is only performed a few times each year.
I did not get a chance to see yabusame being performed here so I have to speculate in which direction the rider travels. It’s likely they start at the torii end and ride towards the shrine. In all photos and videos of yabusame demonstrations I’ve seen, the targets are on the left side of the rider and horse.