Toshiya Festival – The 400-Year-Old Samurai Archery Competition

Toshiya Festival
Young female archers participating at the Toshiya Festival.

Kyudo is the ancient Japanese art of archery, and for the last 400 years, practitioners of this martial art have been demonstrating their skills at the Sanjusangen-do temple in Kyoto. The word toshiya translates to ‘passing arrow,’ and the festival originated in 1606 when a legendary samurai named Asaoka Heibei showed off his skills by shooting 51 arrows down the length of the temple verandah.

Topics Covered

  • Ohmato Taikai Archery Competition
  • History of the Toshiya festival
  • When, where & how to attend

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The modern Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition

The Toshiya Festival came to an end in 1861 with the Oh-Mato Taikai ‘Festival of the Great Target’ taking its place. Each year, approximately 2,000 contestants from across Japan, head to Kyoto’s Sanjusangen-do temple to compete. The original Toshiya festival required participants to shoot from a distance of 120 meters, which was the entire length of the verandah, but the objective today is to hit targets of various sizes from 60 meters away.

Most of the competitors are 19 to 20-year-old women in kimonos who are celebrating the ‘coming of age’ day, which falls on the day following the competition.

The history of the Toshiya festival

Kyudo Archery
Danny Choo, Kyudo at Yashio High School, CC BY-SA 2.0

Centuries ago, archers had to shoot the entire length of the hall. The rules were different than they are today, and some would try to see how many arrows they could shoot in 24 hours. Others tried to see how many times they could hit the target out of every 100 or 1,000 arrows. One samurai archer who competed in 1688 hit the mark 8,133 times out of 13,053 over a 24 hour period, which is a 62.3% hit rate. Still not impressed? Well, that’s one arrow shot every 6,6 seconds for 24 hours.

Currently, the Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition works by each competitor shooting two arrows per target. The original Toshiya Festival worked differently, as there were four different types of competition.

The Hyakui-i: The word means ‘one hundred shots’. Competitors would shoot 100 arrows, and whoever hit the most targets would be the winner.

The Hiyakazu: The word means ‘number of arrows in a day.’ Contestants would shoot as many arrows as possible over 12 hours. This event was specifically reserved for Japanese boys under the age of 20 who had not yet celebrated their ‘coming of age’ ceremony.

The Sen-i: The word means ‘one thousand shots’. It involves shooting 1,000 arrows, and the winner was whoever hit the most targets.

The Oyakazu: The word means ‘great many arrows.’ This is a more extreme version of the Hiyakazu. Contestants would see how many times they could hit the target over 24 hours.

When, where & how to attend

The Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition takes place at the Sanjusangen-do temple in Kyoto on the second Sunday of January.

When?The second Sunday of every January.
Where?〒605-0941 657, Sanjusangendomawaricho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
PriceEntry is free
Time09:00am to 15:30pm

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If you happen to be in Kyoto, then be sure not to miss other great events such as the Aoi Matsuri and the Daimonji Fire Festival.