Inu-o-mono - Samurai Mounted Archery

Samurai mounted archery passed down in the Shimadzu family


The way of the samurai is the way of the horse and bow.

While the sword is often referred to as the soul of the samurai, proficiency in riding and shooting was the earliest indicator of the skill of the warrior class in Japan. To polish these skills, the samurai set about creating a number of rituals, games, and martial practices, one of the oldest being Inu-o-mono (pronounced eenu-oh-mono).

Inu-o-mono was a horseback archery sport that involved chasing and shooting dogs, somewhat comparable to western fox hunting. While the practice may seem barbaric now, we have to remember that it was originally practiced by a professional warrior class who at any time could be ordered to kill themselves by slicing open their own stomach, whose values and culture drastically differed from those of the modern people of Japan.

Thought to have originated in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the Shimadzu family records indicate that Inu-o-mono was created around the time of the first Kamakura Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo.

The first historical document mentioning the sport is the Meigetsuki, written in 1204. Along with Yabusame and Kasagake, Inu-o-mono formed one of the “three arts of mounted archery” practiced during this period. Inu-o-mono was practiced until the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when it fell into decline due to the outbreak of civil war across Japan.

inu-o-mono inuiba

Inu-o-mono was practiced in a specially designed arena with an area of approximately 70m2 called an inui baba. Concentric rope circles with diameters of 2.3m, 9.2m, and 16.1m respectively were laid out on the ground. 36 archers would form three teams of 12 men and referees and judges would be named to manage the proceedings.

The sport itself consisted of releasing dogs from the smallest circle, chasing them down and shooting them as they escaped the larger circle. The arrows used for Inu-o-mono were called kensha-hikime and featured a rounded arrowhead made of paulownia wood.


The riders wore specialized clothing consisting of tiger or deerskin chaps, a padded and often decorated sleeve called inui-gote, and a small lacquered hat favored by the samurai since the Kamakura period called an eboshi. Much of the clothing worn was no longer commonplace in daily life for Edo period samurai, and participation in Inu-o-mono showed the long historical lineage of prestigious samurai families.

Inu-o-mono and the Shimadzu Family

The earliest remaining record of Inu-o-mono in the Shimadzu family records is from the late 14th century and tells of retainer Kawakami Jurozaemon Hisakatsu acting as a referee for a performance in front of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshihisa. The Kawakami family went on to be the core progenitors of Inu-o-mono in the Satsuma domain.

A description of the preparation needed for Inu-o-mono can be found in the diary of Uwai Satokane, a senior retainer of the Shimadzu clan. The entry concerns an Inu-o-mono gathering held in March 1575.

Preparation of the event began the year before with preparation of clothing in October, choosing riders by November, and preparation of the area in December. The month before the event intensive practice took place from morning to night. This gathering was intended to last for three days, but the final day was postponed due to poor weather.

The riders included 16th head of the Shimadzu family Yoshihisa, 17th generation head Yoshihiro, younger brother Toshihisa, and cousins Mochihisa and Tadanaga. In addition to the Shimadzu family senior retainers such as Ijuin Tadamune and other samurai also took part in the proceedings.

The Shimadzu family held an Inu-o-mono gathering again the following month to welcome an envoy of the King of Ryukyu, showing that Inu-o-mono was considered an important part of the physical culture of the Satsuma domain and suitable to perform when welcoming distinguished guests. Inu-o-mono was also performed to celebrate the instatement of a new head of the Shimadzu family.


In 1606, the first Inu-o-mono under the rule of the 18th head of the Shimadzu family, Iehisa was held. From the Muromachi period to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate the Shimadzu family were the only warrior clan in Japan to practice Inu-o-mono. Upholding the esteemed traditions of the Kamakura period was seen as noble and respectable, and the Shimadzu family held great pride in their traditional culture.

Inu-o-mono was occasionally held outside of the Satsuma domain, and third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu watched a performance of the art in 1647. Gradually over time however Inu-o-mono began to fall into decline and was eventually stopped in 1681.

25th generation head of the Shimadzu family, Shigehide ordered the construction of a domain martial arts academy called the Enbukan in 1773 and began the revival of Inu-o-mono after a gap over almost 100 years. The first Inu-o-mono of this era was held in 1775 and prominently featured the Kawakami family who had been known as experts of the art in generations past. The Hioki Shimadzu family, descendants of legendary rider Shimadzu Toshihisa also took part in the event.

From this time onwards Inu-o-mono was held from time to time, and 26th head Narinobu and 28th head Nariakira both watched performances during their reigns.

samurai archer shimadzu

Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the tradition of Inu-o-mono was carried on by the 29th head of the Shimadzu family, Tadayoshi. Performances were held in 1879 at the Fukiage Forbidden Garden and in 1881 at the Azabu Shimadzu Residence, with each performance being watched by the Meiji Emperor. In 1891 Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia (later Tsar Nicholas II) was welcomed at Sengan-en in Kagoshima with a performance of Inu-o-mono.

Despite falling into decline for a period of close to 100 years, Inu-o-mono was a highly valued household tradition for the Shimadzu family. After the death of Shimadzu Tadayoshi and the succession of the 30th head of the Shimadzu family, Tadashige the tradition stopped. This may have been in part to Tadashige’s young age and other changes in Japanese society.

The historical documents describing the practice of Inu-o-mono remain in the collection of the Shimadzu family, and were recognized as Important National Cultural Properties in 2017.

Alex Bradshaw

Alex is the Head of Overseas Business for Shimadzu Limited, and has lived in Kagoshima for over 15 years.

He has spent many years studying traditional swordsmanship, and has demonstrated martial arts for the Crown Prince of Japan as well as at many venerable shrines across Japan. He also practices calligraphy, zazen, and many other elements of Japanese culture and has translated several works on the subject.

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