The Yumi: Japanese Long Bow

The Yumi Japanese Long Bow

The Yumi: Bow Used In Japanese Archery

In Japanese culture, archery is not just a sport, it is an art form. It is deeply rooted in the country’s history and has been practiced for centuries. One of the most important pieces of equipment in Japanese archery is the Yumi, a traditional longbow that has been used for centuries by archers in Japan. In this article, we will explore the history and features of the Yumi, and why it remains a key component of Japanese archery to this day.

Yumi History: A Look Into the Origin of the Japanese Longbow

The Yumi is believed to have originated in China and was introduced to Japan in the 3rd century AD. At the time, the bow was used for hunting and warfare. However, by the 10th century, archery had become a popular form of martial arts and the Yumi had become a symbol of Japanese culture. Over time, the design of the Yumi evolved, with improvements made to the shape and materials used.

In this section, we will delve deeper into the history of the Yumi, exploring its origins, evolution, and significance in Japanese culture.

Origins of the Yumi

The origins of the Yumi can be traced back to ancient China, where longbows made from bamboo were used for hunting and warfare. It is believed that the Yumi was introduced to Japan during the Yayoi period, which lasted from 300 BC to 300 AD. However, it was not until the Nara period, which began in 710 AD, that archery became a popular martial art in Japan.

Evolution of the Yumi

The early Yumi was a simple longbow made from a single piece of bamboo. However, over time, the design of the Yumi evolved, with improvements made to the shape and materials used. One of the most significant changes was the introduction of asymmetry in the bow’s limbs. The upper limb was made longer than the lower limb, allowing for greater accuracy and distance. The grip was also moved off-center, which helped archers to maintain a stable hold on the bow.

During the Heian period, which lasted from 794 to 1185 AD, the Yumi underwent further changes. The bamboo was split into thin strips and then laminated together to form the bow’s limbs. This technique allowed for greater strength and flexibility in the bow. The bowstring was made from multiple strands of hemp or silk, which were braided together to form a strong and durable cord.

Significance in Japanese Culture

The Yumi has played an important role in Japanese culture for centuries. It is not just a tool for archery, but a symbol of the country’s history and traditions. In the medieval period, the Yumi was a weapon of choice for samurai warriors. It was also used in hunting and in military campaigns.

Today, the Yumi remains an important part of Japanese culture. It is still used in Kyudo, a martial art that emphasizes spiritual and mental development. Kyudo is seen as a form of meditation and self-improvement, and the Yumi is an essential tool in this practice.

Yumi Design

The Yumi, an exceptionally tall bow standing over 2 m (6 ft 7 in) high, often exceeds the height of the archer. It’s traditionally crafted by laminating bamboo, wood, and leather using centuries-old techniques, although synthetic Yumis are sometimes used, especially by beginners.

The design of the Yumi is asymmetrical; as per the All Nippon Kyudo Federation, the grip, Nigiri, should be positioned about two-thirds of the distance from the upper tip.

The upper and lower curves of the Yumi also differ, and several theories have been proposed to explain this unique shape. Some suggest it was designed for horseback use, allowing the yumi to be easily moved from one side of the horse to the other. However, evidence suggests that the asymmetrical shape existed before its use on horseback.

Other theories propose that the asymmetry was necessary for shooting from a kneeling position or relate to the characteristics of the wood used before lamination techniques were developed. If the bow is made from a single piece of wood, the modulus of elasticity differs between the part taken from the treetop side and the other side, and a lower grip helps balance it.

Furthermore, the hand holding the Yumi may experience less vibration as the grip is located on a vibration node of the bow. The positions of these nodes can significantly change depending on the shape and consistency of the bow material. A perfectly uniform pole, if held taut at the ends, has nodes at 1/4 and 3/4 of the way from the ends, or at the midpoint.

Yumi String

The string of a Yumi, also known as a Tsuru, is traditionally crafted from hemp. However, modern archers often opt for synthetic materials like Kevlar for their longevity.

Strings are typically only replaced when they snap, causing the Yumi to flex in the opposite direction to which it’s drawn. This is believed to be beneficial for the Yumi.

The nocking-point on the string is reinforced with hemp and glue to protect the string and provide thickness to secure the nock, Hazu, of the arrow, or Ya, while drawing the Yumi. Alternatively, it can be constructed from strands of waxed bamboo.

A bamboo Yumi necessitates careful maintenance. If neglected, it can warp and potentially become unusable. The shape of a Yumi naturally changes with use, but can be manually reshaped through pressure application, shaping blocks, or by leaving it strung or unstrung when not in use.

Whether a Yumi is left strung or unstrung when not in use significantly impacts the shape of its curves. The decision to leave a Yumi strung or unstrung is based on its current shape. A relatively flat Yumi when unstrung is typically left unstrung when not in use (sometimes referred to as a ‘tired’ Yumi). Conversely, a Yumi with excessive curvature when unstrung is usually left strung to ‘tame’ the Yumi.

A well-maintained Yumi can serve many generations, while a neglected one may have a significantly shortened lifespan.

Types of Yumi

There are two main types of Yumi: the Hankyu and the Daikyu. The hankyu is the shorter of the two, measuring around 1.5 meters in length. It is commonly used in Kyudo, as it is easier to handle and is more forgiving of mistakes. The daikyu, on the other hand, is longer and more powerful, measuring up to 2.2 meters in length. It was historically used by samurai warriors and is still used in traditional Japanese archery today.

Materials Used

The Yumi is typically made from bamboo, which is known for its strength and flexibility. The bamboo is split into thin strips and then laminated together to form the bow’s limbs. The bowstring is made from hemp or silk, which is braided together to form a strong and durable cord. Other materials, such as deer antler and lacquer, are also used to decorate the bow and give it a distinctive appearance. The Yumi is a traditional Japanese longbow that has been a part of the country’s culture and history for centuries. It has undergone significant changes in its design and construction, and has played an important role in Japanese warfare, hunting, and martial arts.

Final Thoughts

The Yumi is a traditional longbow that has been used in Japanese archery for centuries. It is known for its unique shape, asymmetry, and the materials used to make it. It has played an important role in Japanese culture, both as a tool for archery and as a symbol of the country’s history and traditions. Today, the Yumi remains a key component of Japanese archery, and its legacy continues to be celebrated in art, literature, and martial arts.

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Updated: June 25, 2024 — 12:12 pm