Their books abound in stories of marvelous feats with the bow and of miraculous escapes. The arrow turned aside, or breaking in the air, or cut in twain with the sharp sword while in flight, or caught in the hand and returned with deadly aim by an expert bowman. The famous Gon-go-ro, of Kamakura, in the siege of Tori-nouni, is said to have received an arrow in his left eve: without stopping to take it out, he shot a shaft in reply that killed the enemy who had wounded him.
A favorite theme for the brush of the Japanese artists is a scene from the life of the Empress Jingu Kogu (literally the empress of supernatural achievements), 201-269 A.D. This fair Empress of Japan is accredited with the conquering of Korea. Before starting out on this expedition against Korea she angled at the seashore of Kashii, using her bow as the fishing-rod and the string as a hookless line, baited with a single grain of rice, saying, "If I am to be successful, a fish will be caught," Behold, a fragrant trout was dangling at the end of her bowstring. She became the mother of Hachinan, the God of war.
At the time of the rise of the Minamoto family, in the twelfth century, the bow seems to have reached a high state of perfection, both as to manufacture and skillful use.
The peculiar shape of the bow is not from caprice, but from a scientific consideration of every element necessary to make a perfect weapon. When in use the greater portion of the bow is above the bow-arm. In one, seven feet in length, the arrow is "notched" on the string two feet six inches from the lower horn, or one foot below the centre.
This device, for the same length of pull, produces a greater tension on the string, but does not otherwise affect the flight of the arrow; for the return of the bow ends through unequal arcs to their normal position, is nicely arranged for by the difference in size of the compensating or backward curves of the bow at the extremities. The Japanese being short in stature, the above described peculiarity of construction became an additional advantage for manipulation on horseback and in the kneeling position behind the low parapets of a daimio's castle.
The bow is made of carefully selected, thoroughly seasoned mulberry, incased on either side by strips of bamboo well toughened by fire. These three pieces are bound firmly together by fine thread like withes of rattan; the tips where the string is secured are covered with smooth lacquered shark-skin. The whole is covered with man coats of perfectly polished lacquer, which seems never to crack and renders it absolutely secure from any atmospheric influences, and it lasts for ages. This impervious, imperishable lacquer is one of the secrets of their perfection. As to durability, strength, lightness, elasticity and accuracy, they have never been surpassed.