Busha Shinji

  • Name: Busha Shinji 武者神事
  • Date: May 5
  • Time: 11:00 – 12:00
  • Cost: Free
  • Place: Shimogamo Shrine
  • Area: Sakyō-ku, Kyoto City, Japan
  • Station: Demachiyanagi Station (15? min. walk); various city buses

Busha Shinji is one of the handful of ceremony rituals before Aoi Matsuri on May 15. A group of archers wearing period costumes shoot arrows to ward off evil in a purification ritual.

Also concurrently going on at the same time and day is the Kurabe Uma-e Shinji, a horseback racing ritual, at Kamigamo Shrine.

I got inside the shrine by 10 o’clock. There weren’t that many people surprisingly.

As for the layout, it was actually pretty small. The gate was to the left, a pavilion in the middle, and the inner shrine to the right. Next to the gate were the seats for the archers with the target further down in front of them. The target was just a sheet of paper, I think. I expected something more substantial like a bale of straw or something.
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The spectator area was pretty small. One was to the right of the archers’ seats with the pavilion in the front. It was only about 30? people wide. I got a spot in the second row, to the left squeezed between two front row people. There was second spectator area on the other side of the pavilion.

More people started coming after 10:15. A second wave of people at 10:30.

And wouldn’t you know my luck, I had an old man trying to cut in front of us. So people told him to get back in line. And of course, he got behind me. He kept pushing to try to get a closer and better view. I was pretty annoyed.

The staff closed the gate to the shrine at 10:45 to stop letting people into the shrine. Busha Shinji '17 033.jpg

The archers entered at 10:50 and then went to the inner shrine to pray. The praying ritual finished by 11:15 and the archers came back out.
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The archery ceremony started by 11:20. First, one of the archers did some ritual and then shot a whistling arrow over gate. I imagined some oblivious tourist on the other side of the gate getting knocked in the head by that arrow as they walked up the path. Busha Shinji '17 060.jpg
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That opening ritual finished by 11:25. They then moved the spectator rope forward so we went from standing parallel to the archers’ seats to being perpendicular. Because of the reshuffle, I lost my good spot because other people squeezed in during the move and the new angle blocked my view. So after moving, I think that the best spot is probably the leftmost spot closest to the pavilion on the other side of the pavilion. Because from their, I assume that they have a nice view facing all the archers.

It was my first time seeing kyudo, Japanese archery. I was surprised, but then again I shouldn’t be that surprised, that there’s so much ritual to it. They don’t just shoot an arrow at a target, they went through a lengthy ceremony/ritual to show respect to the bow, to the arrow, to undue their kimono, to grip the arrows, etc.
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Which was another interesting thing, that is, they undo their kimono so that their left side of their body is naked. Busha Shinji '17 237.jpg
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Also, they would look up and then down, I assume to show respect to heaven and earth? Another interesting thing about kyudo is that they draw and shoot while holding the second arrow in their hand.
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Anyway, each row of archers were accompanied by three assistants who helped the archers with things like taking off their kimono, putting their kimono back on, and reclaiming the arrows from the target. Busha Shinji '17 087.jpg
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The archers shot their arrows and rotated around.
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After all the archers rotated through two rounds, the ceremony was finished by 12:10. It was faster than I thought. According to one website/blog, it said 11:00 – 13:00. I was expecting another hour or so. Unless they had another ceremony later in the afternoon.

TL;DR: Archery purification ritual for Aoi Matsuri.

Website: http://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/

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