Toshiya Festival is an ancient and revered 400-year-old archery ceremony with a fascinating history.
Originating in 1606, it is said to have begun when a legendary samurai named Asaoka Heibei showed off his skills by shooting 51 arrows down the length of the temple verandah.
This practice is what is known today as Kyudo, an ancient Japanese art of archery. The word Toshiya translates to ‘passing arrow’ in English, referring to the single arrow being shot.
The Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition, which began in 1832, is the main event of the festival, drawing nearly 2,000 contestants and lasting for a three-day event.
Though originally the distance for the competition was an impressive 120 meters, nowadays the practice has been modernized and the contestants now shoot from 60 meters away.
Furthermore, the original Toshiya Festival included four types of competition – the Hyakui-i, the Jikkai-no-yabusame, the Hōren-no-yabusame, and the Kujikkiri-no-yabusame. Each of these marks a celebration of the ancient art of archery.
What is Toshiya Festival
History of Toshiya Festival
The Toshiya Festival is a 400-year-old samurai archery competition deeply rooted in Japanese culture. The name of the festival translates to ‘passing arrow’, as it is linked to a renowned Japanese Samurai named Asaoka Heibei, who shot 51 arrows down the length of a temple verandah in 1606.
This ancient feat marked the beginning of the Toshiya Festival and the revered practice of Kyudo – an ancient Japanese art of archery.
Celebrating its 400th century, every year the festival is a vibrant event with thousands of contestants paying their respects to the origination of this time-honored tradition.
The Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition of the Toshiya Festival is a popular contemporary archery event where approximately 2,000 archers from all over Japan come together for a passionate show of skill.
Originally held at a distance of 120 meters, the archers now shoot from 60 meters away, directed towards the same veranda, which was used by the legendary Asaoka Heibei.
Traditionally, the Toshiya Festival included four different types of competition: the Hyakui-i, which were 100 arrows, the Hashi-i, which were 4 arrows, the Takito-i, which were a single arrow, and the Toru-i, which was a series of arrows fired in a sequence.
Today the event has been adapted, but it is still steeped in a sense of culture and tradition. As a 400-year-old festival, the Toshiya Festival is held to honor and celebrate the remarkable feat that marked its humble beginnings.
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Celebrations at Toshiya Festival
The Toshiya Festival, celebrated for 400 years now, is characterized by its spectacular Kyudo – the ancient Japanese art of archery.
Translating to ‘passing arrow’, the festival originated in 1606 when a legendary samurai named Asaoka Heibei showed off his skills by shooting an impressive 51 arrows down the length of the temple verandah.
Today, the festival has grown to include the Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition, which is attended by approximately 2,000 contestants every year.
At the Toshiya Festival, contestants gather to celebrate the age-old knowledge and practice of archery. After a lively start to the celebrations, entrants are split into four types of competition – The Hyakui-i, The Hocho-yumi, The Toriai-yumi and the Kozuka-yumi.
Contenders take aim and shoot their bows at targets located in the ancient temple grounds, originally at a distance of 120 meters, but today the targets are placed 60 meters away.
This competition is the highlight of the annual festival, where the most talented marksman is amongst those who will truly be crowned with the title ‘Mochi-manzoku’, or ‘bowmaster’.
The grand finale of the event is marked at dusk with the lighting of several bonfires, in addition to a magnificent fireworks display.
The burning flames symbolize the passion and dedication of the participants towards the art of archery, and reinforce the old traditions of the 400-year-old Toshiya Festival.
So if you ever get the chance to witness this astonishing spectacle, be sure to grab a seat and enjoy this spectacular display of skill and precision.
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Significance of Toshiya Festival
The Toshiya Festival is a 400-year-old tradition that is steeped in history and continues to be celebrated and appreciated by samurai archers today.
The festival has its roots in 1606, when a legendary samurai named Asaoka Heibei conducted an impressive archery demonstration for his admirers. During this demonstration, Heibei shot 51 arrows down the length of a temple verandah and from then, the Toshiya Festival was born.
The name of the festival translates to ‘passing arrow’ and it is an ancient and revered art that is still practiced today by thousands of contestants, who gather to compete in the Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition.
While the distance of the target was originally 120 meters away, today it has been decreased to 60 meters. The original Toshiya Festival included four types of competition, known as the Hyakui-i, the Hachiriki, the Mato, and the Toshiya.
The significance of the Toshiya Festival is that it serves as a celebration of the ancient Japanese art of archery, a skill that is still relevant today.
The festival provides an opportunity for the practice of the martial art of Kyudo, which includes honing the skills of archery and cultivating the spirit.
This spirit of competition and discipline is important for both practitioners of Kyudo and for observers alike, allowing for the demonstration of battlefield-relevant skills with grace and precision.
More than just a competition, the Toshiya Festival also serves as a way to connect with Japan’s history and samurai heritage.
It’s a tribute to the memories of a formidable warrior, Asaoka Heibei, who began the tradition over 400 years ago. To this day, it’s a time to reflect on the bravery and courage of a past era, while celebrating its enduring legacy.
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Attire and Accessories Worn at Toshiya Festival
The Toshiya Festival is steeped in a 400-year-old history that literally emanates from the silhouettes of ancient samurai warriors among the rows of blue-clad pine forests of Aomori Prefecture in Northern Japan.
Those who come to not only enjoy the spectacle of the archers in action, but also take part in the lengthy tradition, must be dressed appropriately.
Traditional attire worn at the Toshiya Festival includes the traditional samurai archer uniform of kyudo kimono, hakama (pleated trousers) and of course, obi (kimono sash), along with the Kote and Gi – two arm protectors made of leather and two bambō arrows completed with the arrow quiver.
The fashionable samurai attire of the men usually contains a black, long-sleeved haori with a tassel.
However, the ancient samurai and their archery practices were not the only cultural festivities on show at the Toshiya Festival. Women and children who came to watch the action, especially during the Oh-Mato Taikai, wore lavish, colorful kimonos that made their festivities come alive.
Colorful kimono, or yukata, for men, women and children are usually seen around the festival grounds with both modern and traditional prints and designs adorning their soft fabrics, adding an extra touch of vibrancy to the festival.
Some of the more distinct accessories worn by the archers and festival goers are wooden clogs and wooden ‘geta’ sandals. The famous tabliths, hung around the neck of the archers, were once used to identify which school of archery they belonged to.
While, the hats and conical shaped ‘kozukural’ – a round bamboo hat filled with sand to keep cool in the sun – are no longer in fashion, these accessories, along with the fukasa – a wooden rain umbrella –, have become symbols of the Toshiya Festival.
How to Enjoy Toshiya Festival
For those who are interested in experiencing the ancient samurai art of archery, the Toshiya Festival is an experience unlike any other.
This festival has remained unchanged since it first originated in 1606, giving visitors an authentic look into the traditions of Japan’s long-standing inhabitants.
The highlight of the festival is the Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition, where approximately 2,000 competitors battle it out over a range of challenges.
The original Toshiya Festival was made up of four different types of archery competition – the Hyakui-i, the Hasuji-no-tachi, the Igai-no-Tachi, and the Chogoroe. Nowadays, the distance from target has been shortened from 120 to 60 meters.
If you want to experience the full intensity of this 400-year-old samurai archery competition, here is how you can get the most out of it:
- Try to attend the festival as early as possible to get the best view of the competition. Depending on the number of people already in attendance, it may be difficult to get a good view of the action further down the line.
- Find a spot close to the competitor’s mark to appreciate the stillness and concentration of archers. It is interesting to watch how movements even the slightest off-target affects the flight of the arrow.
- Admire the discipline and grace of the samurai competitors – even with the intensity of the competition, they still maintain their composure and etiquette in their interactions.
- Don’t forget the entertainment. Aside from the competition, the festival will also be hosting a variety of activities related to the art of Kyudo – ancient Japanese archery. This could include demonstrations and classes on proper archery technique and etiquette.
- Lastly, take the time to enjoy the atmosphere. The Toshiya Festival remains an important event as it is an opportunity to honor a legendary samurai who spread the unique skills of Kyudo. It is also a chance for competitors to understand the history and meaning behind their craft in a setting of both performance and celebration.
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The 400-Year-Old Toshiya Festival is a longstanding tradition steeped in centuries of ancient samurai culture.
It is a celebration of a legendary archer named Asaoka Heibei, who demonstrated his impressive skill by shooting 51 arrows in a row down the length of a temple verandah.
This magnificent feat then gave rise to the Oh-Mato Taikai Archery Competition, a competition of approximately 2,000 contestants, originally held at a distance of 120 metres, but now shortened to 60 metres.
What makes this festival special is its 4 type of competition, where contestants must demonstrate their power, accuracy and grace with a bow and arrow with the ancient Japanese art form, Kyudo.
Beyond honouring the spirit of Asaoka Heibei, the Toshiya Festival is a tribute to the Japanese passion for inspiring excellence and skill in archery.