The Miyakonojō longbow

By Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

The Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

The Miyakonojō longbow

The Miyakojojō longbow derives from the Satsuma bow which is simple, strong and practical. With the passing of time, this type of bow made out of bamboo became appreciated for the beauty of its curves and as a traditional craft that should be passed on to future generations. 

Draw a bow, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

The history of the Miyakonojō longbow

The longbow has been produced in Miyakonojō since ancient times. Shōnai Chiri-shi (Geographic Records of Shōnai), the oldest surviving records on the region discusses the domain of Lord Shimazu of Miyakonojō at the time, between the Bunka/Bunseid era (1804-1830) and the Tenpō era (1830-1844) of the Edo period. It also includes the making of bows in the Shiwachi and Kanada districts of Miyakonojō, as well as describing how bow makers were also employed at the household of Lord Shimazu. As demonstrated by these records, bow making flourished in Miyakonojō. Furhter development of the craft took off after Kusumi Yoshiharu relocated to Miyakonojō from Sendai in Kagoshima prefecture during the Meiji period in search of materials for making bows. He was the receiver of the license for bow finish (called “Hekiryū Yumi Mura no Shidai” in Japanese), and brought new techniques to Miyakonojō His son Kurakichi, in particular, not only trained many apprentices, but also extended sales to Formosa (Taiwan), Korea and Manchuria during early Shōwa period, thus establishing Miyakonojō as the production area of bows. After overcoming post-WWII slump, Miyakonojō became the production area that boasted nearly 30 bow-making establishments at its peak. Although the popularization of bows made out of glass fibre and other factors would later lead to the decrease in the number of bow makers, the Miyakonojō longbow was designated a national traditional craft in April 1994, helping to make Miyakonojō a characteristic place as the only production area of bamboo bows in Japan.

Cutting out the bamboo, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

The making of the Miyakonojō longbow

The materials used to make a Miyakonojō longbow are madake (long-jointed bamboo) and wax tree cultivated in the rich nature and warm climate of Miyakonojō. The making of one of these bows requires over 200 processes, all of which are manually handled by one single bow maker. The Miyakonojō longbow is roughly made up of the bow (outer part and inner part), the core and seki’ita (end-plates onto which the end loops of the bowstring are attached). The bow and the core are individually created, after which the outer part, the inner part, the core and the end-plates are pounded in using wedges (approx. 100 pieces). The bow is then given a crescent curve and bonded. Next, the wedges are removed and the string is strung. The bow shape is adjusted, while the end-plates and other parts of the bow are shaved to final finish. Finally, the grip is wrapped with rattan and the bow is complete.

Combining bamboo, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Making the bow

Step 1: cutting out the bamboo

Step 2: drying (approx. 5 months)

Step 3: removing oil content from the bamboo

Step 4: combining

Step 5: heating and shaving the bow 

Shaving the bow, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

heating bamboo, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Making the core

Step 1: splitting the core (made from wax tree)

Step 2: heating bamboo strips

Step 3: shaving

Step 4: pounding

Shaping a bamboo, The Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Making the bow

Step 1: bonding of the bow and core

Step 2: pounding

Step 3: temporarily stringing the bow

Step 4: finishing

Step 5: wrapping the grip

The Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

As a bow for competition, the Miyakononjō longbow was designated a national traditional craft in 1994.

Nishiki-yumi, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Hama-yumi (ceremonial bow for driving off evil)

The hamayumi
is created in the same traditional way as the Miyakonojō longbow and is popular
as a souvenir or lucky charm.  Nishiki-yumi : The bow has been considered to have the power to
drive off evil since long ago. It was once customary to adorn a newly built
house with a hama-yumi and two bows on
the roof during the framework-raising ceremony. This practice still survives in various regions of Japan. These bows are used to decorate parts of a new house (such as the alcove and the entrance) as talismans for driving off evil.

Nobori-yumi, Miyakonojō longbowKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Nobori-yumi

The bow that was created to symbolically
shoot evil away has become a talisman in recent years. It is customary in bow-production areas to give bows as gifts during
a celebration for birth, a seasonal festival, or the Coming-of-Age, as well as
to wish for success in life. This tradition continues to be passed on in and around Kyushu.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is provided by:
Miyakonojo bows manufacturing Association
Miyakonojo City Hall, Miyakonjo PR Department

Images and text:
Miyakonojo bows manufacturing Association
Miyakonojo City

English translation:
Eddy Y.L. Chang

This exhibition is created by:
Ueyama Emiko

Project Directers:
Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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