Mato means bull’s eye, mark or target.
Target shooting, archery used as a method of divination(bokusen). Now conducted at shrines, the practice was formerly carried out by archers from the community. The word ‘oni’ may be inscribed on the target. Mato-i is used throughout Japan but in Chiba and Ibaraki prefecture the term used for the same practice is o-bisha. Other archery customs are yabusame and o-mato-shinji.
— P.88 The Popular Dictionary of Shinto
The divination by archery is usually an agricultural ritual performed to predict the outcome of the year’s harvest.
— Historical Dictionary of Shinto
Nikko Toshogu Shrine
On the first day of the Spring Grand Festival Yabusame (horse archery) is performed.
Yabusame is the ceremonial art of shooting whistling arrows from a galloping horse at a series of stationary targets. The sport probably started during the Heian period, and is closely related to the ancient horse archery games of mainland Asia.
The current practice of yabusame is almost exclusively considered a religious rite: as well as being an offering to the gods, the results of the shooting at the three targets are used in some centres as a divination ritual for the year’s harvest.
The baba or ‘horse track’ on which yabusame is performed, is straight and 240 metres in length. Three square cedar wood targets or mato are inserted diagonally on bamboo poles at about head height, 2 metres from the track at its left side. The first is set 35 metres from the start, and the following two targets are set 75 metres apart, leaving 45 metres at the end of the track to slow the horses down. At the right of the track is a judges’ stand, and a target keeper and his assistants sit by each target. The first three ite or riders wear medieval-style costume based on medieval hunting gear, and are called yabusame-ite. The remaining riders, of which there can be 12 to 17, wear Edo period-style costume, and are called hiragisha. Officials at the start and end of the track signal with large fans that the track is clear. The first rider reads a solemn vow from a scroll at the start of the track, and then performs a ceremony called Age-ogi in which he tosses a ceremonial fan into the air as he starts his horse. When a hit is scored the target keeper raises a stick with a white paper tassel into the air to signify it. If a rider scores a full set of three hits (kaichu), he is presented with a long white silk sash by the master of ceremonies from the judges stand. The broken fragments of the cedar targets are considered lucky, and are signed and dated and distributed after the event as souvenirs.
See also yabusame