National Culture Day was first celebrated as a national holiday in 1868, originally called Tencho-setsu; to honour the birthday of then reigning Emperor Meiji. Renamed in 1948, the holiday’s particular purpose is promoting culture, the arts, and academic endeavour. I felt this would be the perfect introduction to Japan’s traditions and the import society finds in retaining their rich culture. And where better to experience this, but at Meiji Jingu, located in Shibuya, Tokyo, the Shinto shrine that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife.
Through the impressive torii gate and within the 100,000 tree strong forest various events, displays and processions were taking place around the shrines. There were several events, which peaked my textile research interest - beyond the impressive chrysanthemum arrangements, miniature gardens, hay bale balancing with traditional musical accompaniment.
There were many children dressed in fine traditional dress, along with their mothers in elegant pastel hued kimono. I also enjoyed following a troupe of male singers visiting significant sites within the shrines dressed in deep navy and bright orange. The samurai were dressed simply but the shapes of the garments gave impressive and intimidating silhouettes while wielding spears and swords. The stars in both dress and skill were the horseback archers.
Now a Shinto ritual and tourist attraction, Yabusame was originally a fighting technique traced as far back as the year 530.
The archers (both male and female) were wearing the traditional clothing of the 12th and 13th centuries, with distinctive headwear and chaps. The mukabaki are essentially chaps made of summer deerskin with the distinctive white dapple, used to protect the legs during hunts. They wore igote on their left shoulder which has the archer’s family crest embroidered in golden thread and protects them from the bowstring.
Racing along a 255 metre track, they shoot whistling arrows at a tiny target in pursuit of winning a blessed white cloth.
Finally, as I walked back to the station I came across three kimono-clad women and a group of samurai in full regalia including high cloth banners strapped to their backs. Imposing figures but incredibly friendly.