Daily Life

Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Mrs. Kangaeroo invited me out on a date today, which turned out to be an absolute ripper (how could any event with Mrs. Kangaeroo not be?), but involved horses, of course!

Mrs. Kangaeroo is an avid equestrian and her devotion, best seen when it comes to living and providing loving care, extends to her encyclopedic knowledge of horse-related events going on at any one time in Japan.

And she let me know that we were going to be watching a display of yabusame, horseback-mounted archery, on the beach at Enoshima, a small island and tourist attraction about 50 km south of central Tokyo.

Horses don’t really do it for me. Like many Australians of my generation who grew up in country or semi-rural areas, I can ride a horse fairly well, but am too fat to be able to ride at most places in Japan. so it’s rare to get in the saddle, except for cycling (which derives large sections of its vocabulary from equestrian terms). Most of my enjoyment comes from delight at seeing the joy horses bring to Mrs. Kangaeroo, seeking horse-related gifts at appropriate times, but also getting jealous at not receiving the love and attention directed toward dobbins (which I must note I get in far greater amounts than the horses<and then still always want more>).

Yabusame is a different matter, though. It’s exciting (once the speeches are blessings are over)! The riders hurtle full-speed in a gallop along a narrow track while loading their bow and firing an arrow at a tiny target as they fly past. It’s an amazing display of skill, both on the horse and using the bow. Mounted archers use their knees to control their steeds as they need their hands for the bow and arrow. Stirrups enable the rider to almost stand in the saddle. I was interested to learn that yabusame displays have been put on for numerous U.S. presidents and the King of England, which doesn’t surprise as it’s fast, thrilling and skillful, with the horses and archers resplendent in their traditional garb. We have a great event near our home with the Okunitama jinja yabusame in early May.

We watched yabusame held as part of the Enoshima spring festival, which ends today, March 10. There didn’t seem to be much more activity than a parade of old blokes in samurai armor, introducing the local beauty queens and then listening to interminably long greetings from municipal officials and ceremonies from Shinto priests, which were at least a little more forgivable given the close relationship with yabusame, which is steeped in Shinto ritual.

Ironically, just as I’ve been going on about old blokes raving on endlessly I just noticed that I’m paragraphs into a post that was meant to be a visual story. (Sadly, the 90 minutes of speeches and ceremonies meant the yabusame got cut short as the tide came in and waves rolled onto the track, putting the horses and their riders in danger….surprisingly poor planning in a country where details are calculated to the last second).

All in all, we had a wonderful day, especially as I wasn’t overly keen on going and doing so turned out to be fortuitous. The yabusame was a brilliant display, especially by the horses from Gocoo Horse Village. Mrs. Kangaeroo was delighted that the horses performed so well and informed me after the event that she has ridden all of the four steeds that took part in the event!