Yabusame Horseback Archery

Brief Overview of Japanese Horseback Archery

Japanese Traditional Horseback Archery
Yabusame is the Japanese traditional skill, practice and rite of shooting whistling arrows from a galloping horse. It is believed to have been called 'yabaseuma' because arrows were shot from a galloping horse, and over time was changed to 'yabusame. '

The archery forms came into existence between the Heian and Kamakura periods and were originally used as a method for warriors on horseback to practice shooting the enemy. Only a select number of warriors were permitted to ride on horseback. Archery whilst mounted on horseback was considered as one of the highest forms of martial arts. During medieval times, Japanese warriors used to practice martial arts in a variety of ways. The three methods mentioned above of practicing archery on horseback are considered representative, and are designated by a general term "Kisha" (horseback archery) in Japanese. In separate competitions, the rules and etiquette of each of the forms has been maintained through to present times.

One of the Yabusame Rituals Shooting the Arrow Into the Sky
Video Contents
1. Yabusame Ritual in Kyoto (2:00)
2. Yabusame Ritual in Tokyo (1:55)
3. Yabusame Ritual in Nikko (3:42)

History of Yabusame Horseback Archery

As described in the section of Chuyuki (a diary written by FUJIWARA no Munetada) dated 1096, yabusame has been practiced since the Heian period as a practical fighting skill performed on horseback. A technique known as 'the Hidesato-style of yabusame' was practiced during the Kamakura period, and samurai trained in this pastime enthusiastically, giving demonstrations at events organized by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). However, yabusame began to lose importance during the Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods and became unpopular for a while. In the Edo period of 1724, at the direction of the shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA, Sadamasa OGASAWARA, the Ogasawara school's 20th principal, developed a new style of yabusame after the studying the Ogasawara textbook, and trained samurai serving backoffice work in the new form of yabusame and kasagake (shooting a bamboo hat) together with the older style of yabusame. Yabusame was performed at Takadanobaba (present-day location: 3-chome, Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo) in a dedication to the Anahachiman-gu Shrine North in 1728 as part of a prayer ceremony performed to cure Ieshige TOKUGAWA's heir of smallpox (yabusame was again performed there ten years later in appreciation of the complete cure that Ieshige's heir experienced, and an emaki (picture scroll) called "Yabusame Emaki" (a picture scroll depicting archery on horseback) was drawn to record the event). In addition to the above, yabusame was often performed in ceremonies to ward off evil in a shogun family, and when praying for the birth of children, etc. Despite losing popularity for a second time following the dissolution of the bakufu (the Tokugawa shogunate) that was brought about by the Meiji Restoration and for a third time following the outbreak of World War II and its immediate aftermath, yabusame experienced a revival after the end of the war and remains popular to this day. Currently, yabusame is actively performed in many local areas in Japan as a Shinto ritual, and is a main tourist attraction.

Image of Yabusame Horseback Archery in Edo Period

The Manners of Yabusame Horseback Archery

Riding Grounds of Yabusame Archery
On the straight course, a horse gallops for two cho (approximately 218 meters). On the left side along the run, three targets are placed a specified distance apart. The distance between the rider and the targets is about 5 meters and the targets are hung approximately 2 meter high. (The distances vary according to the schools or the rules. )An archer, dressed in hunting gear, spurs his horse into a gallop while shooting his arrows one after another.

Three Styles of Japanese Archery on Horseback
Other types of archery practiced on horseback are kasagake and inuoimono (shooting a dog), and these two plus yabusame make up the 'three types of archery on horseback. '

In 'Kasagake', one target is placed 18 to 27 meters from the archer, and in the 'Inuoimono', 150 (a hundred and fifty) dogs are unleashed in a riding ground enclosed with a bamboo fence and shot by three groups of 36 (thirty six) archers. In the Inuoimono, an archer shoots arrows that have a large kabura (round head on an arrow) called 'hikime' to protect the dogs from injury.

The Manner of Tokugawa Clan's Horseback Archery
The straight course is two cho (approximately 218 meters) long. A basou (running track) can be made in one of two ways: by laying a strip of turf measuring about 1 jo (about 3 meters) in width inside a track measuring about 2. 5 jo (about 7. 5 meters) in width; or by running a length of rope along either side of the track and covering the area inside with sand. The land may be dug a little deeper to make the basou. There are rachi (fences) on the both sides of the basou. A rachi on the left side is called o-rachi (a fence on the man's side) and are two shaku three sun high, while a rachi on the right side is called me-rachi (a fence on the woman's side) and is 2 shaku high, and the rachi was made of wood and also tied with bush clover.

Targets are placed at three locations. The first target is placed at 48 jo, the second target is placed 38 jo from the first target and the third target is placed 37 jo apart from the second target. The targets are placed 3 jo apart from the basou (track) and may be placed five jo or seven jo apart from the basou in the foreground. The targets are square with sides of 1 shaku eight sun long and are approximately 1 bu (3. 3 milli meters) thick and made from hinoki (a Japanese cypress. )A matogushi (a pole on which a target is hung) is three shaku five sun long, and two matogushi are placed to hold a target with its two corners, one facing up and one down (in a diamond shape. )

The archer wears a suikan or yoroi-hitatare with its bottom and sleeves tied, a mukabaki around his/her waist, a monoigutu on his feet, a ikote and glove on his left hand, a whip in his right hand and a ayaigasa on his head. The archer carries a large sword and an ebira with five whistling arrows on his back, a sword in his waist belt and a bow and an arrow in his left hand.

Then, after the archers and officials finish praying to God and go to the riding course to look around it, they gather at the end of the riding course and line up the horses, while the officials take their places. After the secretary appears and the first archer kneels down in front of the secretary, the secretary declares 'you may start the yabusame demonstration. 'During these procedures, other archers alight from their horses. The first archer returns to report the declaration to other archers, and upon hearing this, all archers mount their horses at once and go to the riding grounds and arrange the horses in a fan-shaped formation. After the first archer advances his horse, he says a Shinto ritual prayer and then takes out a chukei (a sort of fan) to perform 'ogihaki (motions with the chukei)', the archer starts his gallop and throws the chukei high and forward and hits the first target, then trying to catch the chukei. This is called Ageogi. The archer continues to hit all the targets including the second and third ones and the other archers repeat the same process. The most skillful veteran archer of the five, seven, or even more archers participating that day goes last, finishing the event by performing the following technique: first, he shoots the first target and fixes an arrow to his bow; immediately after this, he takes his whip in his right hand, raises it high, lowers it gently, and then shoots the second target; and finally, he fixes another arrow to his bow, raises his whip high, lowers it gently, and then shoots the third target. This is called Agemuchi and is an extremely difficult technique to perform. The archers meet at the start of the riding course after each shot, and upon completion of all shots all archers leave and the other officials return to their positions and go back to their offices.

Methods of archery include dozukuri (posturing) and yatsugai (fixing an arrow to a bow. )Just after kicking the horse to start, the archer stands up in the stirrups, spreading his knees, this is called kuramawari, in order to keep three sun spaces between his body and the saddle. This is called Kura-o-sukasu (making a space between the archer's body and the saddle. )The archer leans forward with chest back. Archers appear fixing the first arrow in the right position, and take out the second and third arrows from the Ebira (quiver) to fix them in the right position.

Archers shout in yabusame. In ceremonies, archers shout 'In-Yo-I' in a short and deep voice just before the first target, 'In-Yo-I-In-Yo-I' just before the second target in a high-pitched voice for a longer duration and 'In-Yo-I-In-Yo-I-In-Yo-I' in a very high-pitched voice for a very long duration. A-Ya-O', 'A-Ra-Ra-In-Yo-I', 'Ya-A-A-O' and 'A-Ra-A-Ra-A-Ra-A-Ra…' may be shouted for s short duration.

Names of the archers and shooting results for the day are recorded in a diary. In order to record a diary, a Hosho (a note given from a high-class person to a lower-class person) is folded vertically once and closed at the right end with Mizubiki (ceremonial two-tone paper strings. )

Japanese Horseback Archery in Hikawa Shrine

Yabusame Rituals Around Japan

The Tohoku district
Tonogohachiman-gu Shrine in Tono City, Iwate Prefecture performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai (annual festival) on September 15.

Moriokahachiman-gu Shrine in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai.

Sagaehachiman-gu Shrine in Sagae City, Yamagata Prefecture performs yabusame for the Zenjitsu Sai (eve festival) and Rei Dai Sai in September.

The Kanto district
Nikkotosho-gu Shrine in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture performs yabusame in May and October.

Kasamainari-jinja Shrine in Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture performs yabusame on November 3.

Hiei-jinja Shrine in Nihari Village, Nihari District, Ibaraki Prefecture performs yabusame for Hiei-jinja Shrine Yabusame Festival in April.

Kippohachiman Shrine in Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture performs yabusame in September.

Izumoiwai-jinja Shrine in Moroyama Town, Iruma District, Saitama Prefecture performs yabusame on November 3.

Rokugo-jinja Shrine in Ota Ward, Tokyo performs the Children's Yabusame in January. Yubusame has been designated as Tokyo Metropolitan intangible folk cultural properties.

Yabusame is performed on the third Saturday of April at a specially constructed riding course which is near the Sumida-gawa River under the auspices of Taito Ward, Tokyo.

Meiji-jingu Shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai in November.

Anahachiman-gu Shrine in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo performs yabusame on Health Sports Day in October in a specially constructed riding course in Toyama Park.

Tsurugaokahachiman-gu Shrine in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture performs yabusame for the Kamakura-matsuri Festival in April and the Rei Dai Sai in September. The Kamakura-matsuri Festival in April by the Takeda school and the annual festival in September by the Ogasawara school.

On Zushi Beach in Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, yabusame is performed in November.

Samukawa-jinja Shrine in Samukawa Town, Koza District, Kanagawa Prefecture performs yabusame on the eve of the annual festival in autumn.

The Chubu district
Shimomurakamo-jinja Shrine in Imizu City, Toyama Prefecture performs yabusame called 'Yansanma' in dialect which is familiar to local people on May 4.

Fujisanhongusengen-taisha Shrine in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture performs yabusame on May 5.

Fujiomurosengen-jinja Shrine in Fujikawaguchiko Town, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi Prefecture (former Katuyama Village) performs yabusame in September (on April 29, 2007. )

Omuroasama-jinja Shrine (Shimoyoshida, Fujiyoshida City) in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture performs yabusame for horseshoe fortune-telling on September 19 instead of samurai-class yabusame. It is designated as Fujiyoshida City intangible folk cultural properties.

At Suwa-taisha Shrine in Shimosuwa Town, Suwa District, Nagano Prefecture, yabusame is performed for dedicating (offering) shinji.

Nyakuichioji-jinja Shrine in Omachi City, Nagano Prefecture performs yabusame for the annual festival in July.

Hachiman-jinja Shrine in Toki City, Gifu Prefecture performs yabusame for the annual festival in October.

The Kinki District
Tado-taisha Shrine in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture holds a 'Yabusame Festival' on Labor Thanksgiving Day in November.

Okahachiman-gu Shrine in Iga City, Mie Prefecture performs yabusame on the Sunday closest to April 15.

Shimogamo-jinja Shrine in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture holds Yabusame Shinji to pray for the safety of the Aoi Festival's procession on May 3, and it is an archery ritual for bowmen to shoot arrows from horseback.

Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine in Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture performs yabusame on Health Sports Day.

Osakatenman-gu Shrine in Kita Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture performs yabusame for the Aki Dai Sai (autumn festival) in October.

Isonokami-jingu Shrine in Tenri City, Nara Prefecture performs yabusame for the 'Togyo-sai Festival. '

Suga-jinja Shrine in Minabe Town, Hidaka District, Wakayama Prefecture performs yabusame called 'Kurabe Uma (horse race) in the autumn festival in October.

Rokujohachiman-jinja Shrine in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture performs yabusame in October.

Sasaba-jinja Shrine in Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture performs yabusame in October.

Oarahiko-jinja Shrine in Shinasahi Town, Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture performs yabusame for the Shichikawa-maturi Festival on May 4.

The Chugoku district
Kibituhiko-jinja Shrine in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture performs yabusame for the Shuki Rei Dai Sai (autumn annual festival. )

Yoshikawahachiman-gu Shrine in Kibichuo Town, Kaga District, Okayama Prefecture performs yabusame for the Toban-sai Festival in October.

Horihachiman-jinja Shrine in Akiota Town, Yamagata District, Hiroshima Prefecture (former Kake Town) performs yabusame for the annual festival in autumn.

Jigozen-jinja Shrine (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine's Geku (sessha (a related shrine))) in Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture performs yabusame on May 5 for the Goryoe-sai Festival within the Boy's Festival based on the old calendar.

Fukuehachiman-gu Shrine in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture performs yabusame in October.

Washiharahachiman-gu Shrine in Tsuwano Town, Kanoashi District, Shimane Prefecture performs yabusame in April.

Kakinomoto-jinja Shrine in Masuda City, Shimane Prefecture performs yabusame for the Hassaku-sai Festival based on the old calendar August 1.

The Shikoku district
Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kotohira Town, Nakatado District, Kagawa Prefecture performs yabusame for the Rei Dai Sai in October.

Kamo-jinja Shrine in Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture performs yabusame for the 'Otomo Uma' in the autumn festival in October.

Nonehachiman-gu Shrine Toyo Town, Aki District, Kochi Prefecture performs yabusame for the autumn festival in October.

The Kyushu district
Iimori-jinja Shrine in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture performs yabusame based on the old calendar September 9.

Kinji-jinja Shrine in Kashima City, Saga Prefecture performs yabusame for the 'Uma-kake (horse run) Shinji' in November.

Yodohime-jinja Shrine in Matsuura City, Nagasaki Prefecture holds the 'Shisa-kunchi Yabusame Festival' in October.

Miyazaki-jingu Shrine in Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture performs yabusame in April.

Imibetsugu-sha Shrine (Oita Prefecture) in Kunimi Town, Higashikunisaki District, Oita Prefecture holds 'Betsugu-sha Yabusame' in October.

Aso-jinja Shrine in Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture performs yabusame for the Shuki Dai Sai (Tanomi-sai Festival. )

Shijukusho-jinja Shrine in Kimotsuki Town, Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima Prefecture performs yabusame on the third Sunday of October.

Archers of the Traditional Japanese Horseback Archery

Inuoumono Horseback Archery

Inuoumono, the Traditional Japanese Horseback Archery for Dog-Hunting
Inuoumono is one of the manners of the art of Japanese archery that started from the Kamakura period. It is one of the Kisha-Mitsumono (three archeries with riding a horse), along with Yabusame (horseback archery) and Kasagake (horseback archery competition).

Manners of Inuoumono
A flat space of about 132㎡ is prepared and is used as 'umaba' (a horse-riding ground). 36 horsemen (one unit consists of 12 horsemen), 2 judges (called 'kenmi' an inspector), and 2 people for calling, and 150 dogs also enter the umaba, and horsemen compete each other how many dogs they shoot at within a given time period. However, they did not actually harm dogs but used specially designed arrows called 'inuuchihikime' arrow (an arrow for dog-shooting). It was not merely about shooting at dogs but there were many techniques according to how to shoot or what part of the dog an arrow hit, such as winning moves in sumo. To judge these techniques, inspectors and persons for calling were needed.

History of Inuoumono
It is said that Inuoumono was started by samurai in the Kamakura period to train and improve their military arts skills. At that time, the hunting that horsemen did Kisha (to shoot an arrow with riding a horse) at animals was called 'oumonoi,' and there were also other games such as 'Ushioumono' (cows-hunting event, a skill of an archery) but only 'Inuoumono' had been preserved. Legend has it that Inuoumono was the reason of the down fall of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) because the last head of the Tokuso Family of the Hojo clan (Soke, [head of family, originator]), Takatoki HOJO, devoted himself in dogfights and Inuoumono then neglected the politics. In the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) (Japan), dominant Shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable) and Shugodai (the acting Military Governor) who were preserving Inuoumono manners perished one after another, and those who could maintain the manner even to the Edo period were only the Shimazu clan and the Ogasawara clan. After that, in the Satsuma clan, Inuoumono was held at auspicious events such as heirs' genpuku (celebrate one's coming of age), except during the interruption by the law prohibiting cruelty to animals. Mitsuhisa SHIMAZU once held the event for Ietsuna TOKUGAWA.

After the Meiji Restoration and the demise of the feudal system characteristic of the shogunate, Inuoumono lost its patrons such as the bakufu and the Satsuma clan and become difficult to maintain its techniques. Because, in addition to the tendency of ignoring Japanese traditional culture at that time, Inuoumono which required a huge space and many participants needed also tremendous amounts of money to hold its event and its training and practice. In 1881, Tadayoshi SHIMAZU held an Inuoumono event with the Emperor Meiji in attendance and this was the last Inuoumono event in Inuoumono history. Today, the manner has been handed down in the historical materials related to the Shimazu family (a national treasure 'the archives of the House of Shimazu') and the Ogasawara school, but the demonstration will not be restored in the future due to animal welfare.

Image of the Inuoimono in Edo Period

Kasagake Horseback Archery

Kasagake' (笠懸) is a traditional Japanese form of horseback archery technique/practice/event/form where the archer mounted on a galloping steed shoots 'Kaburaya' arrows (arrows that whistle) at targets. Compared to 'Yabusame,' the Kasagake form of archery is considered more like actual combat. Because Kasagake targets are more diverse, Kasagake is more difficult; however, it is less formalized than Yabusame and more entertaining. Japanese traditional horseback archery consists of three forms: Kasagake, along with Yabusame, and 'Inu oumono' (dog hunting). Currently, Kasagake is also written as '笠掛. 'It is said that the town called Kasagake in Nittagun, Gunma Prefecture takes its name as a result of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo once playing Kasagake.

History of Kasagake
The origins of Kasagake style horseback archery are unclear; however, first appear in Sadaie TAIRA's work of 1057 entitled "Asomi (rank) Sadaie's Diary. "Around the same time, FUJIWARA no Akihira also wrote about the topic in his work "Account of the New Sarugaku. "In later periods, a misleading view circulated that the practice first started with MINAMOTO no Yoritomo. Initially, entertaining and playful Kasagake targets were made from conical shaped reed caps ('Ayaigasa') which were plastered with an adobe like render ('Azuchi'). However, the back of the target was a 55 cm diameter piece of timber or alternatively, a wooden board with cowhide stretched across it which was padded inside with cotton, wool, or straw, etc. (much like a cushion) which was suspended from a timber frame. Kaburaya' arrows (that make a whistling sound) were used. This form of practice had a degree of realism akin to archery on the battlefield or hunting and, it was possible to check if the arrow had hit its mark on the target etc. Also, as a form of entertainment, wagers were made on the skills of the horseback archery competitors which led to the 'Kasakake' form developing separately and independently from the more formalized and somewhat awkward 'Yabusame' form of horseback archery.

The 'Kasagake' form of horseback archery began to be popular from the Heian period and reached its peak of popularity in the Kamakura period. Along with 'Yabusame' and 'Inu oumono' forms of horseback archery around that time, they occurred under the collective title of 'three horseback archery forms' at various locations. With the advent of the Muromachi period, the shogunate fell into decline and along with it, horseback archery subsequently declined. In the mid Edo period, a revival of horseback archery was seen under Yoshimune TOKUGAWA; however, following the Meiji restoration, it once again fell into decline.

In the present day various schools of horseback archery including the Takeda and Ogasawara schools hand down and preserve the rules, etiquette and traditions.

Kasagake can still be seen at the Kasagake horseback archery event held at Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, the Miura City Dosun-matsuri Festival and Midori City Kasagake events.

Riding Grounds/Costumes of Kasagake
The riding grounds for Kasagake archery form a 109 m long straight line (or 51 lengths of an unstrung bow). The riding track itself is called a 'Saguri' with the boundary of the edges marked. The target is set up 33 bow lengths (approx. 71 M) away from the starting point of the riding ground on the left hand side of the direction traveled. Riding custume consisted of a 'Hitatare' (court robe) and 'Mukabaki' (chaps/leggings), but sleeves were not tied up and an arm guard (bracer) was not used (but is used in the present day). A conical hat made of reeds ('Kasa') is not worn whereas a hard, black lacquered hat ('Eboshi') is worn. This is because in the past individuals' conical ('Kasa') reed hats were used as a targets.

Varieties and Styles of Kasagake
There are various styles of Kasagake archery which differ depending upon the type of target and, aim of the event.

Tokasagake (Long-Range Kasagake) Archery
Short range Kasagake archery is usually used to express 'standard' Kasagake. The target is a circular disk 55 cm in diameter made of tanned leather. The target secured at three points and hung from a timber frame is set between 11. 35m - 22. 7m away from the track. One target is used (whereas three are used in Yabusame style archery). The arrows used are called 'Ohikime' which have a large turnip-shaped arrow head which whistles when shot, and are fired after the archer brings his steed to a gallop. It is called 'Tokasagake' (Long-Range Kasagake) archery because the archer shoots at the target from a distance.

Kokasagake (Short-Range Kasagake) Archery
After shooting at the long-range target, the archer rides along the track in the other direction and fires at the short-range target. The target is an approximately 4 to 8 sun (1 sun – 3. 03 cm) (approximately 12 -24 cm) square wooden board, which is attached to bamboo poles and is set up at the place approximately 2. 3 cm away from the 'rachi' (a fence).

and 4 sun in each direction or, 5 sun in each direction but the basic small target is 8 sun across so, size is by no means uniform. and 4 sun in each direction or, 5 sun in each direction but the basic small target is 8 sun across so, size is by no means uniform. Because the target was set close to ground level, short-range Kasagake archery differs from long-range Kasagake archery in that in short-range Kasagake archery, the archer sees the target below leg level. The arrows used are smaller sized versions of the 'Hikime' arrow which have a large turnip-shaped arrow head which whistles when in flight. Kokasagake' archery gets its name from the small size of the target used. In the years following the Genkyu era (1204-1205), 'Kokasagake' archery slowly disappeared. Proficient archers became scarce but it is said, Tokimune HOJO was a renowned archer. (Documented in "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East) April 25, 1261. )

Kuji (ballot) Kasagake
Gambling and competitions were overseen by referees and monitors. Five ballots were put into a bamboo pipe which, were then drawn in succession by ten archers. After the ten archers had completed the Kasagake archery event, the winners were determined by the number of targets hit by the archers drawn together in the ballot.

Shinji (Shinto ritual) Kasagake
Shinji Kasagake became a fixture in shrine religious festivals and events and, fulfilled a role in the dedication of temples. Offerings of deer, quail and fish were used as targets.

Hyakuban (lit. one hundred times) Kasagake
Hyakuban Kasagake events were held when people prayed for something or when prayers were fulfilled. The archer shot 100 times hence the term 'Hyakuban' (lit. one hundred times) Kasagake was used.

Tanabata Festival Kasagake
This event occurs during the Tanabata festival. A target is either hit seven times or, a target placed in seven different locations is hit (usually, a Kasagake target is shot at 10 times).

Hasamimono events are events where a fan or other object held in place between two pieces of bamboo is used as a target. More often used as a form of entertainment. Hasamimono events were not solely limited to Kasagake archery events. Hasamimono style archery took place at archery events with archers standing and, at that time at festivals/as general entertainment and standard archery events.

Kasagake Horseback Archery in the Beach of Shizuoka Prefecture

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