This website is about guitar progression, but I think it is kind of cool that more than one activity connected to my life in Japan now involves stringed instruments. As I was redesigning the theme for this Japanese flavored guitar site, I realized it might be fun to occasionally make reference to the Japanese longbow, my ‘other’ stringed instrument.

Longest Archery Bow in the World
The Japanese bow (yumi) is unusual in that the top portion is much longer than the lower portion. The Japanese yumi is said to be the longest bow made. The Japanese longbow has a surprisingly pleasant balance in the hand. Its size is not unwieldy. However, archery techniques are much different with the Japanese bow than what I learned as a boy with a western bow.

Japanese Kyudo Archery
By chance during my first 3 month visit to Japan, I lived for part of that time with two individuals who were both studying Kyudo. I was able to observe their training up close and had the 8 steps of shooting explained to me by a serious and longtime practitioner. On one occasion, I even took a series of photographs for my housemates to help them study their form. That was several years ago and since then I have had many more opportunities to view Japanese archery in progress, both at training activities and testing events. I have always known I would give it a try at some point.

I have just recently begun Kyudo archery training in Japan at the Kyoto Budo Center where there is a beautiful traditional Kyudo archery facility right next to Butokuden, the oldest martial arts dojo in all of Japan. Butokuden, by the way, is a quite amazing and very large, all wood building that is worth visiting even if you have no interest in martial arts. Giant doors to the outside are often open in the evenings and on weekends. It is possible to enter or peek inside during some martial art training activities.

It is not so easy to saunter in and sit down in the adjacent Kyudo archery facility, but it is sometimes possible to observe from inside, and you can easily observe archers from the side of the facility outdoors. Shooting is done from the main archery building which has a wall completely open to the outside. The arrows (ya) fly across a grass field to the targets which are under a separate smaller covered portion of the facility.

Despite my enthusiasm for beginning to train at the Kyoto city owned Budo Center, my interest in Japanese bow arts is a little deeper and more complicated than my simple desire to practice the meditative shooting art of Kyudo.

Yabusame (yah boo sah may) – Japanese Horseback Archery
During one of my earlier visits to Japan, I also had the opportunity to witness a Yabusame horseback archery exhibition. Yabusame involves galloping along a course at high speed and standing up in the stirrups (iron ‘abumi’ which are dramatically different than modern European horse stirrups) while not letting your legs or body come in contact with the horse as you shoot. This shooting position allowed early samurai to ride their horses at high speed in battle while still maintaining a high degree of accuracy.

I was drawn to Yabusame when I first saw it, but I thought the barriers for entry with such an activity might make it something to pursue far in the future, if at all. At that time, I worried about the unknown expense, language obstacles with my poor Japanese, possible cultural pride resistance to an outsider, racist or xenophobic behaviors which I regret to report are sometimes encountered by foreigners in Japan, not to mention the need for a horse.

Recently however, after some correspondence with a representative of one of only two Yabusame organizations in Japan, I was invited to observe a Yabusame group in training and help in their preparations for an upcoming annual Yabusame event at a Shinto shrine in Mie prefecture. I returned to Mie on the day of the event and I was able to witness Yabusame and some behind the scenes activities with a newfound greater understanding and appreciation of what I was seeing.

I have now become even more enamored with Yabusame. There are still some significant hurdles to me becoming a Yabusame practitioner, but I am now more certain than ever that I will eventually be taking my Japanese bow art practice into the horseback realm as well.

I won’t spend too much time with archery on the site, so please don’t worry if Japanese bow arts are not intriguing to you. For now, you can expect a few Kyudo archery images from time to time and the occasional Kyudo reference as I begin to integrate Japanese archery training into my life alongside my guitar playing pursuits.

Mizuno Toshikata – Artist
The samurai archer in the lower right corner of the header is from a public domain Ukiyo-e wood block work (pictured below) by Mizuno Toshikata. I am not sure if any of the varying completion dates I’ve seen for this work are accurate or all simply estimates, but Toshikata passed away in 1908. This work definitely predates the US 1923 copyright cutoff and it also predates Japan’s ‘Life + 50 years’ copyright term and Japan’s ’70 years from publication’ copyright term which can apply to some works. I am very hesitant to use another person’s work in a design, even if it is in the public domain such as this one. Actually, this is the first time I have ever done so, not counting collaborative projects.

I want to make sure that anyone who wants to know who the artist is can easily find that out. If you do a search with his name, you can find many interesting works by Mizuno Toshikata.

Incidentally, I searched quite a long time trying to find a suitable old Japanese Ukiyo-e wood block print representation of a traditional Japanese archer. In my search I learned that there is apparently an active market for Ukiyo-e prints. Original versions of this wood block print are available for sale. I might try to buy one of these Mizuno Toshikata prints at some point in the future, as long as they don’t cost more than a guitar or a bow.

Mizuno Toshikata - Samurai Archer with Japanese Longbow

Mizuno Toshikata Ukiyo-e Wood Block Print – Samurai Archer with a Japanese Longbow

For more general info about the Kyoto Guitarist site, the following link to the first entry introduces things pretty well.
Kyoto Guitarist – A Reinvention

Thank you for visiting!
-Kin’en

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