Tokyobling's Blog

Ritual Archery – Kyudo at Yasukuni Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on April 12, 2014

More photos of the fabulous archers I saw at the Kyudo ceremony at Yasukuni shrine in the first few days of this year. January was bitterly cold but these steady hands never failed to hit the targets in this form of traditional archery called kyudo or often zen archery in the west. You can read more about the ceremony in my earlier post on the subject here. Enjoy!

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Archery at Yasukuni Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on January 5, 2014

On the third of January every year there is a very formal archery ceremony at the Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo. Only the very best practitioners of the Japanese archery called Kyudo are invited to take part in this ceremony.

Kyudo is also known as zen archery, and both the philosophy behind the act, the bow itself and the way to draw and aim is as different to western archery as flower arrangement is to speed skating (well, at least it feels like it). Hitting the target, which is much closer than a target in western archery, is of secondary importance. Hitting is just a function of stabilizing your body and mind, which in turn is just a function of breathing and drawing the string, which ultimately is nothing but a function of your mind, consisting of equal parts acceptance and determination. It doesn’t matter how well you aim if you didn’t pull the string in the correct fashion, and this form of archery is the only one where even blind people would be able to compete on equal terms.

In these formal archery ceremonies, it is customary for archers to bare one breast, in order to be able to control their bow without clothes getting in their way. These days this rule only applies to male archers though, and in non-ceremonial competitions it is done away with completely. Becoming good at Kyudo is an extremely long term project. Most archers are not comfortably good until they have practiced for decades, and you can see it at the ceremonies. I have practiced Kyudo myself, in my university days, so I can vouch for the fact that this is a sport that manages to be almost like meditation. More photos to come!

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A Procession of Archers – Meijijingu

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 9, 2013

At last weeks budo tournament in Tokyo’s Meijijingu grand shrine I saw this procession of archers making their way from the shrine ceremony to the archery, kyudo, range or dojo. There had been a big tournament and hundreds of archers had been ranked and tested. Unfortunately as much as I wanted I wasn’t able to gain access to the archery range itself. Maybe next year! They are wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying shrine ornaments and holy bows. Of course I couldn’t help myself from taking snapping a photo of a little boy eager to test his running skills next to the procession. Don’t worry, his mother was right behind him!

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Kyudo – Japanese Zen Archery

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 29, 2009

When I was a kid naturally my dream was to become a ninja. Don’t all kids have that dream? My mother dutifully informed me that there were no ninja anymore and so I had to chose a different career path. My second choice was to become a knight, but again my mother informed me that these days there might still be plenty of damsels in distress, but dragons and tournaments are still rare enough to make that career path less likely to bring me success. In bitter resentment I decided to wreck my revenge on the world by going into marketing. (cue evil laugh). But seriously, I did it all, horse riding, archery, fencing. It was easy enough. Keep from falling off, aim at the target, hit the other guy before he stabbed you in the face (even with the mask it hurts, really).

When I finally made it to Japan I decided to immerse myself as much as I possibly could. After classes I headed over to the all Japanese part of the campus and looked for a good club to join. I found the Kyudo club, or as we say in the West, Japanese zen archery. But kyudo has about as much in common with archery as “paint by numbers” have with Picasso. In archery, you draw the bow, look down the arrow, adjust for distance and wind, and let go. It doesn’t matter much how you do it, if your aim is true you will hit even a small target at up to 100m. And here I was, proud that I could put a long bow arrow through a car door at 150m. Little did I know about the “zen” part of kyudo.

In kyudo, it doesn’t matter if you are half blind: if you stand correctly, breath correctly, use just the right amount of muscle tension and let go at the exact moment, you will hit. A child can do it. An old woman of 90 can do it. If they know how, that is. I trained daily for 6 months, and I barely learned how to draw the Japanese bow. It is insanely difficult and easily the hardest thing I have ever attempted. It is the truest test of your inner spirit that I have ever come across. Zen in it’s truest sense. Why? Because you have to un-learn everything you know. You have to leave yourself and merge with the bow, the string and the arrow. Breath out a tenth of a second early and you are lucky if your arrow even leaves the string, you might even end up smacking your face with the string or getting a nasty burn to your wrist.

Which is why, when I came across these two ace archers practicing early one morning I could barely breathe with respect. To get this good at kyudo you have to devote your life to it. Attitute and posture is everything. Hitting the target is just proof of your skill. Real archers don’t even see it. They don’t have to.

Two very experience Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo


Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo


A very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo

Two very experienced Kyudoka in a Nagano dojo


A moment after releasing the bow, note the position of the string!

A moment after releasing the bow, note the position of the string!


Kyudo sensei

Kyudo sensei

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