Miyakonojo archery bows Miyakonojo daikyu
Elegantly curved and taller than a man
Refined over centuries, practical, aesthetic and beautiful
Miyakonojo Daikyu are bamboo bows produced in Miyakonojo City, Miyazaki Prefecture. The Miyakonojo City area is known as a place where good quality bamboo grows. In olden times, in addition to the making of bows, the area produced a variety of weapons such as wooden swords. Miyakonojo City currently produces about 90% of all Japanese bamboo bows, and being the foremost production center, the city hosts an annual national Japanese archery competition.
Miyakonojo Daikyu are characterized by their length, a good two meters of the very finest bamboo and craftsmanship. This longer style of bow increases their accuracy and range, giving them an outstanding nationwide reputation since olden times. The bows also have a certain artistic style with elegant lines and a buckskin grip decorated with beautiful patterns; Miyakonojo Daikyu are craftwork of both practicality and beauty.
Originally bows were made as weapons in such times as the Warring States period (1467-1568); later, in more peaceful times, the practice of archery became a martial art. With its abundance of bamboo, Miyakonojo City was producing other bamboo crafts along with bamboo bows. Unfortunately, there are no existing historical records chronicling the beginning of the region’s bow-making tradition.
However, we can find a description of bow making in the Miyakonojo area in a book “Shonai Chirishi (Geography of Shonai)” compiled in the late Edo period (1603-1868) by the lord of the Shimazu domain governing the area from Miyakonojo to Kagoshima. This valuable text confirms that in the Edo period, bow making was already thriving in Miyakonojo. Another record states Japanese archery was popular in the Shimazu domain, giving rise to a high demand for bows, and the protection of the craft by the domain administration.
In the Meiji period (1868-1912), a bow maker, Kusumi Zenji introduced even higher techniques from Kagoshima and further developed bow-making techniques; Miyakonojo Daikyu went on to earn a nationwide reputation. In 1994, they were designated as a Japanese traditional craft and the high level of skills have been continuously handed down to the present.
General Production Process
- 1. Bamboo Thicket
There are some 200 stages in the production process of Miyakonojo Daikyu, including much detailed work, all of which are carried out by one artisan. The first step is to select bamboo. Three- to four-year-old madake bamboo is chosen for its resilience and perfect thickness.
Other materials are also needed such as wax tree wood for the core and upper and lower parts of the bow. The combination of woods results in a more robust bow than one made from bamboo alone.
- 2. Cutting Madake Bamboo Bamboo is cut in the cold dry season of November and December, the ideal harvesting time; the bamboo is then cut into shorter lengths and split and left for 3 to 4 months to naturally dry.
- 3. Removing Oil & Drying
Dried bamboo still contains a lot of oil which must be thoroughly removed to lighten and give the bow resilience. Bamboo strips are warmed over a charcoal fire and oil rising to the surface is repeatedly wiped off until the color of the bamboo changes to amber.
The bamboo is then sun-dried for one week to remove any aku (substances that cause discoloration) and stains.
- 4. Heating Bamboo Strips Bamboo strips are heated over a charcoal fire until a golden brown. This task is important as it lightens the bamboo and makes it insect-resistant.
- 5. Gluing the Bow Core The bow core is made by layering 3 to 9 strips of bamboo. When wax tree wood is used, it is glued on both ends. A higher number of layers increases the resilience of the bow.
- 6. Shaving Next, the bamboo strips to be attached on the back and front of the core are prepared by starting at the grip section and gradually shaving them thinner towards the ends.
- 7. Shaving Hiitagi and Sekiita The hiitagi and sekiita sections are located at each end of the bow and are for stringing. Wax tree wood and bamboo are cut, shaped, and shaved to the prescribed dimensions.
- 8. Hammering Wedges The core, bamboo strips, and hiitagi and sekiita are assembled to make the bow. To create the curves of the bow, the glued pieces are tightly bound with crisscrossed cord, and further pressure applied by hammering in a long wedge under each crisscross.
- 9. Shaping the Curves In the previous stage, the wedges were inserted to create curves in the reverse direction of the strung bow. Bows have a powerful repulsive force, and by making them reverse curved, their repulsive force is increased. When the wedges are removed, supple and beautiful curves are revealed. The bow is strung and the overall shape adjusted.
- 10. Finishing the Bow After the bow is put in a mold for about 10 days to set the shape, using a file and sandpaper the bow is shaved to create its final best shape.
- 11. Grip The grip is finished by winding with rattan cord and buckskin.
- 12. Completion Fine adjustments are made, for example, changing the length of the grip to ensure the bow is suited to the archer.