The Origin of Bow and Arrow

The history of the bow worldwide is an old one. Towards the final years of the Paleolithic Period (10,000BC), there is evidence that tribes in Middle East and Asia had already developed the use of bows. In Japan, artifacts have been discovered that could be considered the Stone Age predecessor of the yumi*. A black lacquered maruki-yumi*, a chokyu* bow, with birch bark wrapping was once discovered to be from the Yayoi Period (300BC - AD300). Furthermore, in hunting scenes depicted on cast bronze bells from the end of the Stone Age, chokyu were illustrated with a nigiri* shown on the lower part of the yumi. In the Chinese chronicles Gishi-Wajin Den (Record of the Wei-Biography of the Wajin), it is written that the yumi used by the Japanese were considered to be chokyu. It is conceivable that these points of ideological and cultural significance, also inferred by the Kojiki (Ancient Chronicles of Japan), point out that bows elsewhere in the world are unparallel in length to the yumi of used in present day Kyudo and most likely nothing similar to the exquisite beauty of the yumi with its shigeto-kyu* ornamentation can be found anywhere else in the world.

Kyudo Glossary(About Kyudo)
Yumi A Japanese bow
長弓 Choky A long bow
重籐弓 Shigetou-kyu A black lacquered Yumi wrapped with a white cane
失尺 Yajaku The length of an arrow as determined by the length of an individual’s draw
丸木弓 Maruki-yumi Yumi made from an untreated tree that had been shaped to a round form
弓失 Yumiya Yumi and ya(Bow and Arrows)
武家 Buke A Warrior class family = a Samurai family
握リ Nigiri The grip; part if the Yumi which is held with the left hand
発射 Hassha Releasing of the arrow


- Bow and Arrows

◦ Yumi (Bow)

The bows used in traditional Japanese archery, known as yumi, were extremely long, had asymmetrical limbs, and were of laminate construction (Figure 2.2). Single strips of bamboo formed the belly and the back. The lamination between the two bamboo layers consisted of small sections of bamboo bonded with fish glue and held together with strips of mulberry wood on the outer edges of the bamboo core. Japanese bows averaged about 220 centimeters in length, and the grips were placed about two-thirds of the way down from the upper tip. The limbs of the bow were warped using a bending block to create permanent reversed curves. The finished bow was usually lacquered and wrapped with rattan. These long bows were efficient and were used in both foot and horseback archery. Japanese arrows had bamboo shafts; fletchings of hawk, eagle, crane, or copper pheasant tail feathers; steel heads in a great variety of forms; and bindings of silk thread or floss covered with lacquer. Quivers occurred in a variety of styles, including open frames with a rack or cords to hold the arrows in place and closed cases with a covered opening on one side or end. They often were of fine lacquerwork and frequently were ornamented with one or more mon, or crests.

Modern bows are mostly made using synthetic resins as a bonding agent. In the past only a natural glue called nibe was used. Nibe bows, which are still made today, have some merits that are highly rated, but these bows are weak to humidity and high temperatures. They are also apt to warp in the summer months or in the rainy season in Japan. Consequently, one must protect the bow against moisture by wiping it with a dry cloth before and after use. As it is unsightly to have kusune (resin) stains or dirt on the bow; one must take care to wipe it well with a dry cloth. The strengths and weaknesses in the shape of the bow have a serious influence on its durability and capability that it demonstrates. To keep the proper strengths and weaknesses, it is important that in caring for the bow one must always consider the correctness of the shape.

◦ Ya (Arrow)

Japan Ya (Arrow)

Arrows also have little resistance to moisture. Therefore bamboo shafts that become warped will have to be straightened by tameru (heat). Arrows should always be kept in a dry place and wiped with a dry cloth after use to avoid accumulation of moisture and to remove any dirt. It is necessary to do this from time to time to keep the arrows in their proper shape.

◦ Tsuru (String)

Before and after shooting, it is important that the string is cared for by rubbing with a magusune (woven pad) so that through friction, the kusune (resin) applied on the string will melt and permeate into the string to make it stronger. The weight of a string is determined by the draw strength of the bow and the weight of arrows used. For example, a normal bow of 1.8 cm. in thickness with a draw weight of 22-23kg, and an arrow weight of 26-28g will require a suitable string weight of 7-7.5g.


All kyudo archers hold the bow in their left hand and draw the string with their right, so that all archers face the higher position (kamiza) while shooting.

Kyudo archers draw the bow so that the drawing hand is held behind the ear. If done improperly, upon release the string may strike the archer's ear or side of the face. Resulting from the technique to release the shot, the bow will (for a practiced archer) spin in the hand so that the string stops in front of the archer's outer forearm. This action of “yugaeri” is a combination of technique and the natural working of the bow. It is unique to kyudo. Kyudo technique is meticulously prescribed. The All Nippon Kyudo Federation (ANKF), the main governing body of kyudo in Japan, has codified the hassetsu (or “eight stages of shooting”) in the Kyudo Kyohon (Kyudo Manual). Different styles have their own variations from the steps, most notable difference being between the vertical bow rising shomen and aslant bow rising shamen. The hassetsu of shomen-style consists of the following steps:

While other schools' shooting also conforms to the hassetsu outlined above, the naming of some steps and some details of the execution of the shot may differ.

The Archery Contest

- Kasagake

Details may varies from school. Below are some sample rules.

◦ Yard Settings

Kasagake uses a 109 meters long horse yard. Fences known as “rachi” (埒, らち) are placed on each side of the horse running path: “saguri” (疏, さぐり). The target is set at the 71m point from the starting point “babamoto” (馬場元, ばばもと), the left side of the path. The archer shoots the target while running the path.

◦ Dressing

Like yabusame, the archers wear hitatare (直垂, ひたたれ, a formal dressing of samurai) and 行縢. Cuffs are not tied and traditionally igotes (射籠手, arm bands) are not put on. The archer does not wear the hat, for the hat was historically taken for the target.

◦ The Variety of Kasagake Targets and Styles


- International Kyudo Federation

The International Kyudo Federation (IKYF) was founded in 2006 by Kyudo devotees from around the world to pursue the ultimate goal of Shin, Zen, Bi (Truth, Goodness, Beauty) while cultivating its members through the practice of one of the most traditional of Japanese arts. With Her Imperial Highness the Princess Takamado as Honorary President, the IKYF aims to achieve peace in society throughout the world by strengthen the trust and friendship among its members through the spirit of Kyudo.

To achieve these goals, the International Kyudo Federation engages in the following activities:

In order to promote Kyudo worldwide while maintaining high moral and disciplined standards, the IKYF is assisted by the ANKF by providing instructors and administering special Shinsa examinations for international Kyudo practitioners. As a result, many are drawn to Kyudo as a way to seek their spiritual paths.

- Main Activities of the Head Office

Carrying out other necessary projects related to the activates listed above


- Minamoto-no-Tametomo

Japan Minamoto no Tametomo