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Home > Articles > Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society > Japanese Archery and Archers > Part 2
Japanese Archery and Archers
by E. Gilbertson
Part 2 of 12

Plate I.
a. Togari-ya of Ihara Koshiro.
b. Kurimata of Yuasa Matashiro.
c. End of the Bow of Ihara Koshiro.

But if scientific archery came to the Japanese through China, they dealt with it as they did with the other arts derived from thence, giving it a character of their own. We usually see Chinese commanders and military celebrities with a spear or halberd, while those of Japan are more frequently armed with the bow. Jimmu Tenno is portrayed as holding his bow, upon which is perched the gigantic crow, and the Empress Jingo Kogo, on her expedition to Corea in the second century, appears on horseback with her bow. She is also represented as writing with it upon the face of a rock, "Koku-o," "Sovereign of the country," as taking possession of her conquest. At the battle of Ujigawa, in 1184, Yoshitsune is pictured as riding into the river, holding his bow in his mouth.

I have met with no trustworthy representation of ancient Chinese bows still in existence, but they all seem to be like the modern Tartar bow, recurved at the ends, or like the line of the upper lip. But many examples of the early Japanese bow are preserved in the temples, and it has, as a rule, a single curve, not generally a true segment of a circle, but having a somewhat flatter curve at one end than at the other. The greatest distance between the bow and the string is consequently not in the middle of the latter, and we find the grip of the bow placed much lower down than the centre. The "Buki ni-hiaku" gives us the names and figures of five kinds of bows: the Maru-ki, or round wood bow; the Shige-to yumi, or bow wound round with rattan; the Bankui and Hankui, similar bows, but of smaller size; and the Hoko-yumi, the Tartar-shaped bow. These bows were not made of one piece of wood, but were built up, having three or more pieces glued together, usually varieties of bamboo, and the Hoko-yumi have, in some instances, metal ends and grips. In bows of this shape, having a shoulder (kata), the string touches the face of the bow for some little distance from the end. This portion was faced with metal, and called the Otokane; the bowstring striking against it when shooting produced a sound, often used in signalling. When the Mikado required water for washing in the morning, three of his attendants made a signal to that effect by twanging their bows.

But among the bows preserved in the temple at Itsukushima are two, of which the thickest part is at the ends (juhatsu), from which rise the pegs to which the bowstring is looped. One of these, belonging to Yuasa Matashichiro, is 8 feet 9 inches long; the other, belonging to Ihara Koshiro, 8 feet 5 inches, and the diameter of the extreme ends of both 2¼ inches [Plate I., c] These are unusually long, but at the temple of Sumiyoshi there is a bow 7 feet 9 inches long, lacquered black, and having a metal grip at about two-thirds of its length. The bow of Minamoto Yoritomo, in the temple of Hachimangu at Tsuru-gaoka, is only 6 feet 5 inches long, that being about the customary length; but at the temple of Mishima there are bows measuring 8 feet 6 inches, 7 feet 9 inches, 7 feet 7 inches, and 7 feet 8 inches, the latter dedicated to the temple in 1363. The bow of Tsukefuda Noto no Kami is 7 feet 10 inches in length, and two others 7 feet 6 inches and 7 feet 3 inches respectively, showing that 7 feet was not an exceptional length for a bow. The bowstring was made of long fibres of hemp twisted together, the ends formed into loops, and a spare bowstring was attached to the quiver, sometimes wound round a sort of bobbin of plaited rattan, sometimes carried in a small bag.

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