Saitama Prefecture has three main Yabusame events. Kawagoe Yabusame is the newest and least prestigious. Moroyama Yabusame is the most famous and celebrated. And Tokigawa Yabusame, while lesser known, is historically and culturally rich. It is a designated cultural property of Saitama. However, the Tokigawa Yabusame, unlike the other two, is always only held once every three years. Nothing to do with the pandemic. The last time it was on was January 15th 2020, before the pandemic had reached Japan. Unfortunately, last minute, I was unable to attend even though I had planned to and was looking forward to it for years, literally years!
Both Kawagoe and Moroyama host their Yabusame in Autumn. Moroyama actually have two a year, the other is in spring. But the Tokigawa Yabusame is always held on January 15th, regardless of the day of the week. It always attracts people from far and wide, but because January 15th falls on a Sunday in 2023, it is bound to be busier than on a weekday. Moreover, in 2023, they have several other events lined up for the day. However, there is always the chance that Tokigawa will decide to cancel last minute due to the pandemic. Please do check with the official website for any last minute changes, before you head out the door!
Tokigawa Yabusame 2023
While you can find social media posts about the Kawagoe and Moroyama yabusame (especially Moroyama), there is surprisingly nothing at all to be found about Tokigawa Yabusame in the English language. I can only speculate it is because of the remoteness of the location coupled with the infrequency of the event. There is plenty in the Japanese language though, that is how I initially heard about it, after the 2017 event.
According to Tokigawa town, the Tokigawa Yabusame can trace its roots back to 1233. The traditions of the festival from the Kamakura period live on today. At 10 am in the morning there is an “asa matou” where the riders run the course on the horses on the west side of Hagihiyoshi shrine. After there is a kagura performance at the Shrine. In 2023, it will be a larger kagura performance than usual. In the afternoon, the evening “matou”, when the riders perform archery on horseback, is carried out. The Artokigawa event, which hasn’t been on in the last three years, will also be held on January 15th in 2023.
Hagihiyoshi Shrine was founded as Hagi Myojin in 537. In November 1868 the name was changed to Hagi Hiyoshi due to the proclamation of the seperation of Shintosim and Buddhism. They never changed it back. The shrine is a known “power spot”. In addition, the 800 year old cedar ‘male’ and ‘female’ trees are believed to confer children. There is a small shrine between the couple trees. The precincts are designated as a prefectural shrine forest. One of the unique facets of this shrine is that the komainu are not lion dogs, but monkeys!
Event: Tokigawa Yabusame colloquially, but the full name of the event is Hagihiyoshi Shrine Yabusame Festival 萩日吉神社流鏑馬祭り
Date: January 15th 2023
Time: 8.40 am to 3 pm
Venue: Hagihiyoshi Shrine, 1198 Nishidaira, Tokigawa, Hiki District, Saitama 355-0364. View on Google Maps.
They run a free shuttle bus especially on the day. It is aimed more at locals than tourists, but it does stop at (the stunning) Myokaku station. Timetable and more information here.
Official website. The featured image at the top of the post is from the official website.
There is a lot to see and do in this area of Tokigawa. It is one of my personal favourite areas of Saitama Prefecture. Please make sure you make the most of your trip to see the Tokigawa Yabusame by checking out what else is in the area. For example, at the time of year, the seasonal outdoor Kasa Skate Rink is open. It is the only naturally formed ice rink in Saitama Prefecture. If you are a horse lover, you may want to stop off at Horse Care Garden. Furthermore, the turn to the shrine is right by this unknown Totoro spot. The turn to the shrine is also near Komonoyasan outdoor cafe, which I can’t guarantee will be open – if you read the blog post you will understand why!
Japan is funny like that. often you will find English language information but then sometimes, there’s nothing!