Miyakonojo archery bows Miyakonojo daikyu
Elegantly curved and taller than a man
Beautiful works refined for centuries
What is Miyakonojo archery bows ?
Miyakonojo Bows (called Miyakonojo Daikyu in Japanese) are bamboo archery bows produced in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki prefecture. The Miyakonojo area is known for growing high quality bamboo and has produced a variety of weapons like wooden swords as well as bows from a long time ago. Currently, the area produces about ninety percent of all bamboo bows in Japan, and being the foremost production center, hosts an annual national kyudo (Japanese martial art of archery) competition. At two meters of length, this craft's longer style of bow increases accuracy and range, contributing to its quality reputation throughout the nation. Having a buckskin grip decorated with beautiful patterns, Miyakonojo bows are not only excellent as weapons, but they also have a great presence as an artistic Japanese bow. They are both beautiful and practical.
Bows were originally made as weapons during times of continuous conflict such as the Sengoku period (1467-1603) and later, in more peaceful times, the practice of archery became a martial art. With its abundance of bamboo, Miyakonojo is considered to have been producing bamboo crafts other than bows, but unfortunately, there are no existing historical records chronicling the beginning of bow-making in the region. However, a description of bow production in the Miyakonojo area can be found in a document called Shonai chiri-shi (Geography of Shonai), compiled in the late Edo period (1603-1868) by the lord of the Satsuma domain (includes the Miyakonojo area and present day Kagoshima prefecture). This document confirms that bow-making was already thriving in Miyakonojo in the Edo period. It is also recorded that kyudo (Japanese archery) was popular in the domain, which led to high demand for the bows and protection by the Satsuma domain of Miyakonojo bow production. As the Meiji period (1868-1912) began, a bow maker named Zenji KUSUMI introduced even better production techniques from Kagoshima, improving bow-making techniques and earning this craft a national reputation. In 1994, Miyakonojo bows were designated as a traditional craft and the skills have been continuously handed down into modern times.
General Production Process
- 1. Selecting bamboo
There are some two hundred stages in the production process of the Miyakonojo Daikyu, including highly detailed work, all of which is done by one artisan. The first step is selecting bamboo. Three to four year-old madake (Japanese timber bamboo) is chosen for its resilience and thickness. Other materials like wood from wax trees are needed for the core, upper, and lower parts of the bow. The combination of wood results in a stronger bow than one made from bamboo alone.
- 2. Cutting bamboo
Bamboo is cut in the cold dry season of November and December which is the ideal time to harvest bamboo suitable for processing. The bamboo is cut into shorter lengths, split, and left for three to four months to dry.
- 3. Removing oil and drying
After drying, the bamboo still contains a lot of oil which must be thoroughly removed to lighten the bow and give resilience. To remove the oil, strips of bamboo are warmed over a charcoal fire and oil that rises to the surface is repeatedly wiped off until the color changes to amber. The bamboo is sun-dried for a week to remove any stains or substances.
- 4. Heating bamboo strips
The bamboo strips are heated over a charcoal fire again until golden brown. Doing this is important as it makes the bamboo lighter in weight and insect-resistant.
- 5. Gluing the bow core
The core of the bow is made by layering three to nine strips of bamboo. When using wax tree wood, the wood is glued on both ends. More layers of bamboo increases the resilience of the bow.
- 6. Shaving
Next, the bamboo strips to be attached on the front and back of the core are prepared. The bamboo strips are shaved, starting at the grip section and gradually shaving them thinner towards the ends.
- 7. Shaving the end plates
The hitaigi (upper end plate) and sekiita (lower end plate) are located at each end of the bow and are used for stringing. Wax tree wood and bamboo are cut, shaped, and shaved to the prescribed dimensions of these sections.
- 8. Driving in wedges
The core, bamboo strips, hitaigi, and sekiita are assembled to make a bow. To make the curves of the bow, after the pieces are glued and tightly bound with a rope, wedges are drove in at every knot of the rope on the outer side of the curve.
- 9. Shaping the curves
Wedges are inserted on the outer side of the curve. As bows have a strong repulsive force, by making them curved reversely, this force is increased. Removing the wedges reveals supple and beautiful curves. The bow is strung and the overall shape is adjusted.
- 10. Finishing the bow
After the bow is placed on a platform and strung, it is left for about ten days to set the shape. A file and sandpaper is used to shave the bow and create its best final shape.
- 11. Grip
The grip is made by winding rattan cord and buckskin.
- 12. Completion
Small adjustments, such as changing the length of the grip, are made to suit the archer.
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