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The origin of bows dates a long way back in history. Allegedly, bows were already used by ethnic groups in the Middle East and Asia in the late Old Stone Age.
In Japan, articles likely to be Stone Age bows have been discovered. It is deduced that they were used between AD1c to 3c during the Yayoi Era and were “maruki” type long bows made from a single piece of wood, painted in black and bound by birch. Also, in a picture of a hunting scene drawn on a bell-shaped bronze vessel presumed to be from the late Stone Age, a long bow with a grip can be identified.
It is mentioned in The Wei Chih that bows used by the ancient Japanese were long bows. This description, along with what is written in the “Kojiki” (Ancient Chronicles of Japan), prove that bows held significant meaning, both ideologically and culturally in the Ancient Japanese world and were looked upon as a symbol of dignity. Thus, they played an important role in Shinto and samurai rituals in later years.
In China, there are many books referring to bows such as “The Rites of Zhou” and “The Book of the Later Han”. Above all, the meaning of the ceremony of archery introduced in the “Liji” greatly influenced the Japanese ways of the bow.
Diplomatic relations between China and Japan started around the 4th and 5th century after Emperor Ohjin’s reign. The Chinese influence on Japan expanded into many areas. The original Japanese thought of “itoku” (dignity and virtue), met with the Chinese thought of “lai”(courtesy) lead to form the ceremony of Jarai in the imperial court and in the later years, it became the thought of courtesy in the samurai ways of the bow. In China, bows were seen as the most dignified weapon – a weapon for kings and lords. This thought eventually integrated with the Japanese samurai thought.
The Fusetakeyumi (Lowered Bamboo Bow) made in mid-Heian Era (10th century) and Sanmaiuchiyumi (Three Boards Hit Bow) made in the late-Heian Era (12th century) are composite bows made from bamboo and wood. The technique was brought to Japan from China.
The Samurai Era
When Yoritomo Minamoto founded the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192, he established the samurai ethic, stating that a samurai must devote himself to reaching a spiritual height by mastering the art of horseback archery. It is obvious from “Azuma Kagami”, a history book written in the Kamakura Era, that various forms of horseback archery such as “Inuoumono” (dog hunting) and “Kasagake” were well-practiced to train the body and mind of the samurai during this age.
At Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, “Yabusame” is performed as a part of the Hojoe ritual up to this day. Makigari hunting became extremely popular during the Kamakura era, and bows that held more of a ritual meaning in the Heian Era regained their role in warfare. On the other hand, “Inuoumono” and “Kusajishi” (Grass Deer Target Archery) with their strict rules developed as sporting events.
Development in Technology
Archery took innovative strides during the decades of conflict that started from the Period of North and South Dynasties up to the Muromachi Era.
During Emperor Godaigo’s reign, Sadamune and Tsuneoki Ogasawara compiled the way of the bow that were handed down and practiced within the Samurai community and established the foundation of the school of Japanese horseback archery. Later, the Ogasawara family was engaged as the grand master of horseback archery up until the Edo era. How archery was practiced in those days are described thoroughly in “Ryoshun Ozoushi” written by Ryoshun Imagawa as well. Danjoh Masatsugu Heki, the founder of the Heki School is also from this age. The Heki school spread as archery most fit for actual combat. Masatsugu’s style was passed on to his disciple, Shigekata Yoshida, and then split to two schools, Sekka and Izumo. From the Sekka School, Dosetsu, and from the Izumo School, Insai and Okura fractionalized. By these gifted predecessors, the art of archery advanced rapidly.
Later on, a lateral branch, the Chikurin School originated by Josei Chikurinbo established and practiced well in Owari and Kishu districts. Many schools derived like this during the 150 years between the 15th and 17th century (the end of Muromachi Era and the beginning of Edo Era).
Thereafter, major schools such as the Yamato School by Kozan Moriyama in the Genroku Period and the Honda School by Toshiazane Honda in the Meiji Era were founded.
The innovation in the art of Japanese archery is described in “Takatada Kikigaki” written by warlord, Takatada Taga. In the book, there is a mention on the pros and cons of “Yumigaeri”, a technique enabled by the curved bow, composited from bamboo and wood.
Archery as a Form of Spiritual Training
After guns were introduced to Japan, the age of warfare by bows and arrows ended and archery became a form of training of the body and mind, which lead the art to be refined through the process.
One example is “Toshiya” (Long-range archery). Toshiya has it origin in the 12th century but it became popular in the 16th century. According to the record from 1606, the number of arrows that hit the target was 51. In 1661, this record was broken by an archer, Kanzaemon Hoshino with 8000 arrows. Further in 1686, another archer, Daihachi Waza hit a new record.
Toshiya requires fast-shooting, thus the “Uchikiri” technique, so special gloves were designed to enable the archer to move their thumbs freely. This glove is the origin of “Kataboshi”, used in Kyudo today.
Daihachi Waza shot 13,033 arrows within his 24-hours time limit and hit the target 8,133 times.
During the warless Edo era, archery was pursued as an art and way to form Kyudo, literally “the Way of the Bow”, but at Kobusho, an official military arts school established by the Edo Shogunate, it was excluded from the curriculum after a year, on the ground that it does not adapt to actual combat in the age of guns and Western military training. But outside the school, guns were for low-ranked foot soldiers and horseback archery was widely practiced in the samurai community. In the Meiji Era, when Dainippon Butokukan was established in Kyoto, naturally, Kyudo was included and encouraged.
During the Taisho and the beginning of Showa era, Kyudo was adopted in high schools as an extra-curricular activity, if not a regular subject, but when World War 2 broke out, the Ministry of Education changed their policy and once again, Kyudo was excluded as it does not link directly to actual combat. After the war, all martial arts were banned from school.
In 1951, Kyudo was permitted to be practiced at school. In 1967, Kyudo was adopted as a regular high school subject. The educational and athletic aspect of Kyudo was recognized and revaluated. Modern Kyudo launched hereon as a part of school physical education.
The mission of modern Kyudo is to pursue how Kyudo can contribute educationally under the new spiritual concept by taking any possible scientific approach available now and to spread the art.