In feudal times, there were different types of arches in the Japanese archipelago. Thus, for example, the treatise on martial arts Buki Niyaku distinguishes five types (maru-ki, shige-no-yumi, bankyu, hankyu and hokoyumi).
The most famous Japanese arch is the one with an asymmetrical structure. The handle of the latter is in the lower first third of the arc. This arrangement allows the rider to be able to pass the neck of the horse with his bow and thus to be able to shoot on his right as well as on his left.
It is about 2 meters tall and its power is around 25 to 45 kg. By way of comparison, that of Mongolian arches could reach 70 kg.
The bushi bow was most often made with glued bamboo strips. The strength of the weapon's structure was reinforced by rattan knots. Some arches were also lacquered which, in addition to the decorative effect obtained, protected the wood from humidity.
Leather could also cover the hilt to increase the grip of the weapon. The bowstring, tsuru, was made with hemp and sometimes silk.
The arrows, ya, were bamboo steam-straightened and polished. The best time to cut bamboo was during the months of November and December. The arrows could also be lacquered. They measured from 90cm to 1 meter. The heel of the arrow (hazumi) is made of horn, the tail (hane) made of feathers. The point (yagiri) does not have a typical shape: there are a very large number of different points. Arrows were carried in an open (utsuki) or closed (utsubo) quiver to protect them from the elements.
During the Nara and Heian eras, the bow was the weapon of the warriors of the aristocracy. During the Nara period, practical equestrian archery competitions were regularly held which required great skill.
At the end of the Heian period with the emergence of a new class of warriors the art of archery, kyujutsu, developed within different schools, ryu.
Many legends speak of warriors who achieve great feats with their bow. One of them, tells that Minamoto Tametomo, uncle of Minamoto Yoritomo and giant of a great force, would have, during the war of Hogen (1156-1158) against the Taira, killed two enemies with a single arrow. But captured by his enemies, he would have had the tendons of his arm cut to prevent him from bending a bow again.
After establishing Kamakura bakufu, Yoritomo used archery games and competition to train and maintain the martial skills of his bushi. One of these competitions called Kusajishi is inspired by deer hunting. She saw two teams of five men competing in archery over a deer effigy.
Mounted archery also developed around the same time through a practice called yabusame. The aim of this practice is for the rider, who is standing on his stirrups, to hit three small wooden targets with his arrows. With each pull the rider utters a shout, kiai, which literally means “pull”.
During the Sengoku Jidai period, in the 15th and 16th centuries, many ashigaru were equipped with bows. They then formed large masses of foot archers used in battles. During this period, Japanese archery continued to improve itself, particularly through the teaching of Heki Danjo, born in 1443, who carried out a whole series of experiments on the different possibilities of handling the bow and ended up finding a particularly devastating new method of use for this weapon.
The introduction to Japan of firearms from 1543 gradually rendered the use of the bow obsolete on the battlefield. However, the peculiar techniques of Japanese archery survived through the Sanjusangendo competition in Kyoto set up at the start of the Edo period. The aim of this competition was to hit a target positioned at 120 meters as many times as possible in twenty-four hours. The record is held by Wasa Daihachiro who sent 13,053 arrows at the target he hit 8,113 times!