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Japanese Archery Equipment

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Japan, 19th century
Grayson Archery Collection, MAC1994-0715

The distinctive archery tradition of Japan has its origins in ancient ritual practices, which combined influences from Chinese ceremonial archery with Shinto and Zen Buddhist philosophies, and with the warrior style that was formalized with the rise of the legendary samurai archers of the feudal period (1185–1867). Kyudo, the modern form of traditional Japanese archery, combines elements of the warrior and ceremonial styles with an emphasis on personal development through grace, dignity, and tranquility. Known as the "way of the bow," kyudo is a popular martial art practiced worldwide today.

The bow used in traditional Japanese archery is like no other form. These extremely long bows have asymmetrical limbs and are of laminate construction. Single strips of bamboo form the belly and the back; the lamination between the two bamboo layers consists of small sections of bamboo bonded with fish glue, with strips of wood on the outside edges of the bamboo core. Japanese bows average about 220 in length, and the grips are placed about two-thirds of the way down from the upper tip. The limbs of the bow are warped using a bending block to create permanent reversed curves. The finished bow is usually lacquered and wrapped with rattan at intervals. These long bows, or yumi, function efficiently and were used in both foot and horseback archery.

Japanese arrows have bamboo shafts, fletching of hawk, eagle, crane, or pheasant feathers, steel points in a great variety of forms, and bindings of silk thread or floss covered with lacquer. Quivers occur in a variety of styles, including open frames or boxes with a rack or cords to hold the arrows in place and closed cases with a covered opening on one side or at the top. They are often of fine lacquerwork and frequently ornamented with one or more crests, or mon.

This online exhibit presents traditional Japanese archery equipment from the Museum’s Grayson Archery Collection. Included are Tokugawa period (1603–1867) training and ceremonial equipment, and items used in the modern period as part of kyudo practices. Also included are artworks from the Tokugawa period and later depicting traditional archery gear.

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References and Related Links

Onuma, Hideharu. 1993. Kyudo: the essence and practice of Japanese archery. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Japanese Archery at Asian Traditional Archery Research Network (ATARN)

Text prepared by Mary French, Charles E. Grayson, and Michael J. O’Brien, winter 2006.
Photos by Daniel S. Glover and Charmagne Thompson.



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