Mounted Archery on Hakodate’s Midori no Shima

Travel

Archers mounted on horseback race at breakneck speed, letting arrows fly amid the thundering of hooves. Welcome to the Dosanko Festival in Hakodate, a tournament for masters of yabusame, the Japanese art of mounted archery. The sight of horse and rider moving as one as competitors try to hit three targets spaced at 50-meter intervals along a 180-meter track is impressive. Participants, many of them women, gather for the event from far and wide and are easily recognized by their vibrantly colored traditional outfits. Among the diverse breeds of horses on display are the native Dosanko, also known as the Hokkaidō horse.

A dazzling female rider takes aim. (2015)
A dazzling female rider takes aim. (2015)

Yabusame is a traditional martial art, and so the event usually takes place at a Shintō shrine. But when I attended in 2015 it was held on Midori no Shima, an artificial island in Hakodate Bay. The riders almost seemed to be aiming their arrows at the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels moored in the background, like ancient samurai brought through time to fight in the present day.

Male and female archers compete. (2015)
Male and female archers compete. (2015)

Members of the Hakodate Fisheries High School’s rowing club practicing near Midori no Shima. (2010)
Members of the Hakodate Fisheries High School’s rowing club practicing near Midori no Shima. (2010)

Midori no Shima

Access: Three minutes’ walk from the Ōmachi stop on the Hakodate City Tram.

(Click to see map)

(Originally published in Japanese.)

tourism Hokkaidō Hakodate photography yabusame Northern Japan in Black and White