The technique was invented by nomads on the Asian steppes about 3,000 years ago. The skill came late to Japan, in the seventh and eight centuries AD, but acquired ritual significance. Yesterday, Japanese experts who practise horseback archery as a martial art demonstrated their skills in the castle moat at the Tower of London.
Koji Shinozaki, spokesman for the Japanese horsemen, said: 'Martial arts were banned in Japan after the Second World War, but horseback archery was preserved as part of Shinto.'
Three of the five archers yesterday were Shinto priests, who have preserved the skills at the Toshugu shrine at Nikko, 60 miles from Tokyo, where the Japanese warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried. The shrine, which has many ancient weapons, is twinned with the Royal Armoury, which arranged the display at the Tower.
The horsemen rode two chestnut mares from stables in Canterbury, Rosie and Bella, who are experienced show jumpers, hunt regularly and are also used for stunt work.
'It is a very difficult to keep your balance and shoot accurately at the same time,' Mr Shinozaki said. 'It requires the skills of both Lester Piggott and Robin Hood.'