Japanese  Archery

What is the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the word, garcherh?  Is it a hunting man in a cave painting in Spain?  Is it Robin Hood in Lincoln green with a bow and arrow in Sherwood Forest? Or perhaps is it a man on horseback galloping over the Mongolian prairie?  Anyway, each of them holds his bow almost in the middle and never draws it further back than his cheekbone.

The most distinctive differences between them and Japanese archers is that Japanese archers use exceptionally tall bows, usually over two meters long; they hold their bows about one third of the way from the bottom, and they draw the bow so that the drawing hand ends up past their heads.  Because of this, the stance of the archer at the moment when the bow is fully drawn looks wide and open, and is said to be the most beautiful archery style.

The sound of a bowstring was thought to drive evil spirits away and so there were many ritual events involving bows and arrows at Court.  From the twelfth century riding a horse and practicing kyudo, the way of the bow, was an indispensable martial art for samurai warriors, even after the introduction of guns. The bows and arrows were made of bamboo and so every samuraifs house, however small, had bamboo bushes in the garden.

There is a famous story about a skilled archer in Japan. It is a part of gThe Tale of the Heikeh, which deals with the struggle for power at the end of the twelfth century between two strong families, the Heike and the Genji. The Heike worshipped the gods of Miyajima and donated much treasure to the shrine. The following episode occurred just before the disastrous defeat, the fall of the Heike, on the Seto Inland Sea around the city of Takamatsu.

The forces of the two clans were facing each other. The Heike on the sea and the Genji on the seashore. At dusk, in the twilight, a small decorated boat approached from the sea. On the boat a beautiful woman in colorful, formal kimono stood with a rising sun folding fan at the top of a pole. This was a challenge from the Heike to the Genji.  The Commander-in-chief of the Genji ordered Nasu Yoichi to shoot the fan off the pole.

Yoichi was twenty years old and was known as an excellent archer, but the target now was quite far away and moving up and down on the waves caused by the strong north wind. The samurai warriors of both sides were watching him wondering if he could do what he had been ordered to do. Yoichi finally decided to go into the water on his horse with his bow and a turnip-headed arrow in his hands. He prayed with his eyes closed to his tutelary deity for success. When he opened his eyes, the wind had dropped. He at once released the arrow, which made a whirring sound because of its shape, and successfully hit the fan a few centimeters from its pivot. The fan with its rising sun pattern flew up into the sky and then fell into the sea. On seeing this, the people both on the sea and on the shore were moved to praise Yoichi.

After the battles, the Heike went to ruin. Yoichi was said to have been given five manors around the country as a reward for his meritorious deed.

When you visit a Japanese archery dojo, you can see many people in kimono and hakama practicing. In winter you can see a number of young women in their best kimono release arrows at Sanju-sangen-do in Kyoto. Yabusame (a type of Japanese archery) archers shoot a special turnip-headed arrow at a wooden target whilst riding a horse, just like Yoichi. They can be seen at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine in Kamakura. At the end of sumo tournaments, a sumo wrestler is chosen to perform a ritual using a bow in the sumo ring.