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Home > Part 5
Yumi: The Japanese Long-Bow
Part 5 of 9

The interesting similarity of the histories of England and Japan, so often cited in other respects, is once more patent in the history of the long bow. England is the only other country in which it received similar attention and developed into a successful military weapon. The battles of Crecy, Poictiers, Agincourt, etc., were won by the prowess of English long-bow men. On the Continent the short range, clumsy and inaccurate cross-bow, or arbalist, was the prevailing arm. The long-bow required strength and continual practice, and numerous acts of parliament enforcing the use of the long-bow testify to its importance. Every English subject had to exercise with it and teach the use of it to every male child or ward. It was forbidden for any man over twenty years of age to shoot at a mark nearer than 220 yards with a flight arrow, or 140 yards with a sheaf arrow.

In the same way was the bow fostered in Japan. After the establishment of the duarchy by Yoritomo, the training of a multitude of warriors was a necessity, for the rule of the Shogun was based upon the power of arms. Arms had been modified and perfected in every way, through the severe experience of actual conflict; their further improvement was not possible, victory now depended upon the skill and bravery of the warrior, Hence began the necessity of a standing army—in other words the hatamoto, or special vassals of the Shogun, and the samurai, or "two-sword" men. The "two-sword" men, though they might belong to the Shogun, were generally in the train of a daimio.

The hatamoto and samurai, as a matter of policy, and that their sons might be proud to inherit the honorable profession of soldier, were elevated to the third rank in the social system of the country, there being eight divisions of society. Bow practice, among other accomplishments, was rigidly exacted of them, and for special training in the arts of war, schools for fencing with sword and spear were opened in all parts of the kingdom. Frequent tournaments for archers, with valuable prizes for the victor, were supported by the Shogun and the more powerful daimios; these were in reality schools for archery. The favorite places for these tournaments were in the grounds of the principal temples of the Daimioate.

Every visitor to Kioto will remember the archery grounds at the temple of San-jiu-san-gen-Do. This curious temple, founded in the twelfth century, contains one thousand life-size images of the "one-thousand-handed" Kwannon, arranged in ten tiers. The exterior of the building is surrounded by verandas on four sides, the longer sides are 389 feet in length. It was, as the guide will tell you, "before time," a famous resort for expert bowmen. In 1686, one of the retainers of the Prince of Ki-shiu shot 8,133 arrows out of 15,053 from end to end and embedded each in a target. A marvelous feat and well worth recording, for the overhanging eaves of the temple, which form the roof of the veranda, are but eighteen feet above the archer's head, making it a point-blank arrow-shot of 130 yards.

The ya, or arrow of the Japanese, received great attention; the shaft was of cane or bamboo, winged with three feathers and varied much in length, the war arrow averaging about three feet. They were dignified by names from the design of the arrow-head or to indicate their purpose. "Armor piercer," "Knife prong," "Willow leaf," "Bowel raker," "Frog crotch," "Turnip top" etc. The "knife prong," and "frog crotch" were intended to cut the helmet-strings and armor-lacing of the enemy, and incidentally their throats; the "armor piercer" was well designed for that work, being made like a machinist's center punch and of the hardest steel. The murderous "bowel raker," once striking the victim in the region indicated, deprived him of the honourable distinction of performing hari kari (suicide by disemboweling), in case of defeat, for the blow of the arrow was equivalent to that fatal cut.

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