Supposedly begun in the Heian court as a way of dispelling bad luck, Kamigamo Shrine’s Musha Jinji, a military archery ritual, is held in the middle of January.
A host of men and women in old style court attire (kariginu) assemble in the open grounds on the shrine precincts in order to fire arrows at 1.8 meter targets that have the word oni written on the back. Oni means “demon” or “ogre”, and in this situation they symbolize misfortune, whereas the arrows act as purifying agents.
This ceremony kicks off from 11 in the morning with the participants filing in to the grounds. Two priests officially begin the ceremony by firing special whistling arrows at the targets before the other archers line up to fire off volley after volley.
The way in which the archers prepare to shoot and the attention to detail paid to the act of firing the arrow is a sight to see. Even the respect displayed when collecting the fallen arrows is a testament to the grace and methodical nature of Heian-era Kyoto as well as the respectful aspects inherent in Japanese martial arts.
For those interested in kyūdō, the Japanese martial art of archery, or even just history or costumes, Kamigamo Shrine’s Musha Jinji can offer an interesting glimpse into period rituals.
Things to See/Do