During the Edo period (1603-1868), an annual contest used to take place at a famous temple in Kyoto which goes by the popular name "Sanjusangendo" (hall with 33 bays). This temple, the actual name of which is "Rengeo-in", was founded in 1134 and has buildings that date back to the 13th century. It features a very long building that houses 1000 statues of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of mercy. K and I visited there in Spring of 2004.
The main building has a corridor that measures 2.2 meters wide, 5 meters high, and 120 meters long (in yards: 2.2x5.5x131). Warriors would enter a contest of skill, called toshiya in which they would see who was best at launching arrows the length of the hall without hitting the walls, ceiling or floor. (For comparison, the Olympic archers shoot at the range of 70 meters.) Moreover, they would have to do this while sitting and shooting arrows all day and all night - 24 hours. The best recorded performance was in 1686 by a samurai named Wasa Daihachiro who took 13,053 shots, of which 8,133 succeeded!
As gunpowder weapons came into use, the bow was used less and less in battle, but Kyudo was retained as a martial art form. During the Meiji era it was brought into school curriculum, and today some high schools have Kyudo teams. The bows (yumi) measure over 2 meters long, with the grip positioned below the halfway point. As with other martial arts in Japan, in its purest form, Kyudo is a spiritual art. The point is not merely to try to hit the target. "Correct shooting is correct hitting".
The rice planting festival at Kashima Jingu shrine each May 1st features demonstrations of "yabusame" - horseback archery. Unlike Kyudo, yabusame is only used for religious rituals.
Today, one of K's students who stays in touch, Emi Kinoshita, sent K an email. Emi is a serious Kyudo student and holds the top position in high school Kyudo competitions for Ibaraki Prefecture. She will be representing Ibaraki at the national competition being held in Fukuoka (on Kyushu island) next weekend.
We know that Emi will do her best and wish her the best of luck. Gambatte, Emi!