Toshiya 2019 – Japanese Archery Competition to feel the Kyoto`s Winter Tra



Toshiya (Japanese Archery Festival) is held on a Sunday that is close to January 15th every year at Sanjusangendo (三十三間堂) temple. About two thousand ladies and gentlemen who are turning 20 years old in the year of the competition are celebrating the Coming of Age day while competing in the archery during this festival. Also, any other archer master can participate. All the participants wear a special outfit for this day. The festival has been going on since the Edo period as Ohyakazu (大矢数), and the participation of Coming of Age adults started in 1951 (Showa 26). Originally, Ohyakazu was a competition for the number of arrows hitting the targets during the whole day and night. The venue for Toshiya is set up on the 120-meter-long main field of the temple.

Traditionally, the opening ceremony starts at 7:45 am followed by Yawatashi (矢渡) which is a ritual of praying for success and no accidents at the competition. Then, the gentlemen’ tournament starts at 8:30 am, ladies’ at 10:50 am. Finally, the championship starts at 15:00. The admission for the festival is free of charge. However, it is a very popular event, so it gets crowded at the temple. Getting to the temple early and securing your viewing spot is highly recommended.

Image courtesy of Christian Kaden

History of Toshiya

There are several stories about the origin of the competition, but the official documents show that at the beginning of the Edo period, in 1606 (Keicho 11), on January 19th to be specific, Asaoka Hirahyoe (朝岡平兵衛) shot 100 arrows and 51 of them hit the target at the temple. Ohyakazu was the major competition of this temple at that time. When someone hits a new record, they get to call themselves “Tenka ichi” – “the best on Earth” and they get rewards from the government. Many bowman masters showed up at the competition and kept hitting the new records. The best record till this day is hitting 8133 out of 13053 targets by Wasa Daihachiro. 62% of success rate in hitting the targets, and he was shooting 9 arrows a minute.

The competition used the entire field of the temple in the old days (120 meters), but current competition only uses 60 meters long ground. Also, the competitors used to be shooting from south to north, however, it is opposite direction now.

Image courtesy of Christian Kaden

Rules of the Competition

About 1,500 to 2,000 people participate in Toshiya competition every year. Not everyone who is turning 20 years old can participate in the competition. They at least need to be on level 1 to be able to apply. In the tournament, every participant gets 2 arrows to shoot. In order to move forward in the championship, they need to hit both targets. Each participant gets about 2 minutes to shoot. 12 people line up in the match. The size of the target is 100 cm for a tournament and 79 cm for the championship for coming of age adults. And the archer masters’ target size is 79 cm for the tournament and 50 cm for the championship. For the championship, the rules change. Every person gets 1 arrow and if they don’t hit the target, they will be eliminated. The person who stays longer in the competition is the champion.

Image courtesy of Christian Kaden

Meaning Behind the Name Sanjusangendo (三十三間堂)

The reason behind the name Sanjusangendo (sanjusan means 33) is that the main hall becoming “thirteen three-sided quadruple” by interfacing notation. In other words, there are thirty-three pillars between the pillars of the main hall, and there are 35 pillars seen from the outside of the building. Ken/gen (間) is not a unit of length, but a building term that represents the number of pillars between shrines and temples.

Image courtesy of Christian Kaden

Details and Access

Date/Schedule: On Sunday close to January 15th every year. In 2019 it will be held on January 13th.
Place: Sanjusangendo temple
Address: 657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Official Website (Japanese only):
Access: 7-minute walk from Keihan Shichijo station

Image courtesy of Christian Kaden

Closing Remarks

Kyoto is known as the city with the richest cultural and historical background compared to other places in Japan. There are many traditions that they are preserving in this Japanese archery ceremony. Not only you get to see Japanese archery which is different from Western archery, but also you get to see the beautiful kimono that the participants are wearing! If you want to be a part of this traditional event, I highly recommend you attending Toshiya festival!

If you would like to attend this sophisticated festival with a local guide who will tell you more about this wonderful custom and show you around, please check the banner below!

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Hi! I am Maggie. I love traveling and telling people about cool things happening in Japan. Hope the article helps with your trip to Japan!

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