Japanese Archery and Archers
Part 10 of 12
The CHAIRMAN said that Mr. Gilbertson had made a valuable contribution to one of the most interesting subjects in Archaeology. There is no doubt that in the bow and arrow we have one of the most primitive of weapons of sport and warfare, and there is perhaps no country in which it was held a greater importance in both characters than in Japan, and in none was greater skill attained in its use. The special peculiarities of Japanese archery were firstly in the form of the bow, a long, highly elastic rod made of bamboo with a curvature which was reversed when the weapon was strung for use. It was held vertically, and the arrow was discharged, not from the central point between the two ends as in the European bow, but from about the junction of the lower third with the upper two-thirds. The arrows have been so fully described by Mr. Gilbertson that nothing more need be said on this subject except to comment on the absence of any evidence that the Japanese ever in primitive times used poisoned points. The shaft was always discharged on the right side of the bow, instead of on the left, as with us, and this brings me to the question of release which has been dealt with so admirably by Professor Morse in the Essex Institute Bulletin of 11 years ago. It is perhaps little known that racial peculiarities are traceable even in the matter of arrow release. The primitive form is probably that to which children instinctively resort, and which is used by the Ainos at the present day, pinching the nock of the arrow between the thumb and forefinger, while the bow is being bent, and releasing it by relaxing the grip. This is the weakest method, for, as is obvious, the strength of the muscles of the thumb would be insufficient to overcome the resistance of a very powerful bow, even when the nock is enlarged to afford a better grip. If however the middle and perhaps the ring finger reinforced by the index, are also used to pull back the string while the arrow is held in the manner described, a much greater amount of power is available; such a practice is followed by certain Indian tribes. The European method in which the string is grasped by the index, middle and ring fingers and the nock of the arrow supported between the index and middle fingers gives far more power and allows all possible precision. Lastly, the Asiatic form differs from both of these, the string being held by the bent thumb, the end of which is fixed by the index finger, and the arrow resting in the fork between the thumb and forefinger and pressed against the right side of the bow. The opening of the thumb permits a swift release, but it would do so at the expense of some painful friction by the string were not some protection afforded The Chinese, Manchus, Turks, and Persians used for this purpose a thumb-ring of horn or metal, and the Japanese a leather glove. This method is called by Professor Morse " the Mongolian release" and is doubtless of great antiquity. It is perhaps difficult to compare it with the European method, but there is good reason to believe that the results attained by Japanese bowmen fall little if at all behind those of the European archers of the days of Robin Hood. It would indeed be difficult to imagine any more severe test of swiftness and aim than that witnessed by myself in Japan some 18 years ago, when a few of the surviving bowmen of the old régime displayed their skill at a public féte before the Emperor.
Many bowman stories might be added to those related by Mr. Gilbertson, but he would only give one of Chinese origin which relates how a famous archer, seeing an object in the far distance which he took for a crouching lion, discharged a bolt at it The arrow found its mark, and as the archer drew near he saw that he had pierced a rock, the arrow being buried nearly to its nock in the solid stone.