Izumo Iwai Shrine, the Yabusame shrine, in Moroyama town in the Iruma-gun of Saitama Prefecture.
Following on from yesterday’s post about the horse blessing temple, today a shrine known for its horse back archery! Moroyama Town is known as the yabusame town thanks to the yabusame that is performed at Izumo Iwai Shrine twice annually. Despite being a small rural town, yabusame is not all the town is famous for. It is also known for its Yuzu, roses and strawberries. Izumo Iwai Shrine is where the two annual yabusame shinto rituals are on each year. And have been for close to 1000 years. Moreover, the shrine is the oldest example of the historic shrine architecture remaining in Saitama today.
Yabusame is the military art of discharging an arrow at a target while riding on a running horse. Reportedly, Yabusame was first practised by Samurai Warriors in the late Heian period until the end of the Kamakura period. Each year in both Autumn and Spring Moroyama town celebrates this ancient military art form. However, in both 2020 and 2021 they cancelled the Autumn Yabusame on account of the Coronavirus. However, at this moment in time (December 30th 2021) they are actually planning to go ahead with the event in November 2022. But right now they are leaning toward not having the spring yabusame event.
Moroyama is the only place in Japan where children perform the yabusame, as a cultural rite of passage. For the spring yabusame it is one boy of five years old, as in the featured photo at the top of the post. For the autumn event, which is the main event, three teenage boys ride the horses. The event culminates with the teenage boys shooting a target with a bow and arrow. They shoot for victory, as they did more than 950 years ago. However, back then it was for victory in battle. Because for years, before warriors went to war they would pray at the shrine for victory. Upon success in their battle, they would return to the shrine to give thanks. Since then, this event has been running bi-annually. Consequently, it was designated as a Prefectural Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2005.
Yabusame in Moroyama in Autumn
The Autumn event is always on Culture Day, November 3rd. The main display of archery on running horses takes place about 3 pm. In addition, there are other events as well, in the lead up to this, including some very unique traditional customs. From November 1st the three teenage boys undergo purification and a number of other rituals. On the day, after a ritual where they don the boys with flowered kabuto, the boys parade through the town. Its normally from about 2 pm. In both spring and autumn, the sacred young boys shoot at targets with arrows imparted with divining power. Nowadays, the people hope these arrows will convey their wishes to the divinity.
Izumo Iwai Shrine
The yabusame events are on at Izumo Iwai Shrine, which is a beautiful shrine worth visiting anytime of the year. You can get yabusame ema (prayer plaques) at this shrine, as pictured above. The shrine itself is about 1300 year old, making it one of the oldest in that area of Saitama Prefecture. Furthermore, the shrine itself, that is the building, is the oldest in shrine building in Saitama. They rebuilt the shrine in 1528 and is thus the oldest example of shinto shrine architecture in Saitama Prefecture. It is an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
Supposedly, Yamato Takeru stopped off at Izumo Iwai shrine after a conquest in the east. Okuninushi no Mikoto is enshrined at Izumo Iwai which is probably why Yamato stopped off there: Okuninushi is the God of nation building! Plus, as aforementioned, the shrine had the reputation of granting success in battle. Okuninushi’s other benevolences include fortune in agriculture, medicine and protective magic. Okuninushi is strongly associated with the province of Izumo, modern day Shimane. Thus, he is enshrined in many ‘Izumo’ shrines around Japan.
Izumo Iwai Shrine is renowned for its yabusame. But in the past, Izumo Iwai shrine was also known for sericulture. In recent years its actually colloquially called a cat shrine due to the number of stray cats on the grounds. The shrine is very picturesque. Moreover it is surrounded by a mature wood. Lanterns line the main approach to the shrine, as in the photo below. There are also festival lanterns on the east side, where the entrance to the car park is. They are up all year round.
There are toilets on the grounds of the shrine.
|Address:||Izumoiwai shrine, 5-17-1,iwainishi moroyama-machi irumagun saitama-ken|
|Hours:||The precincts are open 24 hours, but the offices close around 4 pm (depends on the day).|
|Cost:||Free, but as always, please put a donation in the prayer box!|
|Online:||Official web page on the Moroyama Town website|
The main car park at Izumo Iwai Shrine is quite small. Furthermore, it has no clear markings of where to park. So sometimes you can fit 10 cars if everyone parks straight, but more often that not it only fits 4 or 5 cars! There is an overflow car park on the east side of the shrine. Its not that much bigger to be honest. But during the yabusame events you can normally park in neighboring Moroyama Elementary School grounds.
The closest station is Moro Station on the Hachiko line. Izumo Iwai Shrine is only a few minutes walk from Moro Station. You can also access the shrine from Higashimoro station on the Tobu Ogose line. It is about a ten minute walk to the shrine from that station.
Nearby | Attractions near Izumo Iwai Shrine
- Strawberry Garden Moroyama
- Lake Kamakita, a fallen from grace autumn leaves spot in Saitama
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers on Taikanzan
- Perfect for the rainy season; baths and play area in You Park | OGOSE
- Garden Cafe Greenrose 2021 | MOROYAMA