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Yumi: The Japanese Long-Bow
Part 3 of 9

A curious proof of the antiquity of the bow as the principal national weapon, is, that the term or enforced labor of men for the government, instituted 50 B.C., by the Mikado Sujin, means literally "Bow-point." This obligatory labor of so many days each year, though not always of a soldierly nature, was originally no doubt a forced enlistment of some specified duration under the banner of the Mikado, like the military service required of men in Europe.

Yumi-ya, bow and arrow, is used as synonymous with arms. And though a Semurai might swear by his sword, yet the most binding oath (and the one used officially) was always sealed by solemnly breaking in twain an arrow as he pronounced the words of the oath.

A target with an arrow piercing the bull's-eye, which one so often sees in Japan, is the common symbol for a great success; in other words a great "hit." The merchant who is driving a big trade, the theatre that is drawing crowded houses, and the most popular tea house, all affect this symbol.

One superstition regarding the bow, universally and good-naturedly believed in, as we believe in the virtues of a horseshoe, is that the twanging of a bowstring will frighten ghosts and evil spirits from the house.

The bow often appears in the hands of the gods. The guardian deities at the gates of Shinto temples, called Udaijin and Sadaijin, are armed with bows, At the temple of the Sun Goddess at Ise, the Mecca of the Shintoists, the native religion of Japan, one of the ranking deities next to Ama-tersau-no-mi- Kami, the presiding goddess, is Tajikara, or the strong-handed man, whose emblem is the bow.

And if we are to believe their wonderful tales, it took a strong-handed man to use an ancient bow, That of Hidesato, a tenth-century hero, required the strength of five men to pull it.

He, however, sank an arrow five feet in length up to the feather into the iron forehead of an enormous centipede, a fabulous creature that carried in each claw a flaming torch. When the arrow pierced its brain, the lights went out and the monster fell to the earth with the noise of thunder. Another renowned warrior shot one night at what he thought was a tiger; on visiting the spot the next morning he found his arrow embedded several inches in the solid rock.