Toshiya Festival

Toshiya – The 400 Year Old Samurai Archery Competition

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 has its origins in 1606 when a legendary samurai named Asaoka Heibei showed off his skills by shooting 51 arrows down the length of the temple verandah.

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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

When the festival first started out, archers would shoot the entire length of the hall. The rules were different than they are today and some would try see how many arrows they could shoot in a 24 hour period. 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 target 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 2 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 a 12 hour period. This event was specifically reserved for Japanese boys under the age of 20 who had not yet celebrated their ‘coming of age’ ceremony.

The The Sen-i: The word means ‘one thousand shots’. It involved 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 a 24 hour period.

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
Price Entry is free
Time 09:00am to 15:30pm

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