Yumi The Japanese Bow

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Yumi (弓) is the Japanese term for bows (which includes the longbow, Daikyu and the shortbow, hankyu) used in the practice of kyūdō, or Japanese archery. The yumi is exceptionally tall (standing over two meters), surpassing the height of the archer (iteh 射手).

They are traditionally made by laminating bamboo, wood and leather, using techniques which have not changed for centuries, although some archers (particularly beginners) may use a synthetic yumi.

The construction used may be a Japanese development of the laminated bows widely used for centuries across Northern Eurasia and in Jōmon times in Japan. The yumi is asymmetric; the upper and lower curves differ and the grip is positioned at about one-third the distance from the lower tip.

There are several alternative explanations for the asymmetric shape of the bow. Some believe the asymmetric shape was designed for use on a horse, where the yumi could be moved from one side of the horse to the other with ease.

Others claim that asymmetry was needed to enable shooting from a kneeling position and yet another explanation is the characteristics of the wood from time before laminating techniques. The most recent explanation is that an assymmetric bow provides a position for the archers wrist that enables the maximum use of force.

The string (tsuru) of a yumi is traditionally made of hemp, although most modern archers will use strings made of synthetic materials such as Kevlar, which will last longer (around one thousand shots). Strings are usually not replaced until they break; this results in the yumi flexing in the direction opposite to the way it is drawn, and is considered beneficial to the health of the yumi.

The nocking point on the string is built up through the application of hemp and glue to protect the string and to provide a thickness which helps hold the nock of the arrow in place while drawing the yumi.

Serious kyÅ«dō practitioners treat the yumi with reverence, as pieces of great power, and as teachers with much to impart to the student (a yumi is said to hold within it part of the spirit of the person who made the yumi). A kyÅ«dō student will never step over a yumi which lies on the ground (that would be considered disrespectful), and will typically treat a yumi as they themselves would wish to be treated (e.g. kept away from excessive heat or cold, kept dry, kept away from excesses of humidity or dryness, carried upright). It is also considered disrespectful to so much as touch another person’s yumi without his/her permission; yumishi (yumi-maker) Kanjuro Shibata has said this is tantamount to touching someone else’s spouse in a sexual manner.

A bamboo yumi requires careful attention. Left unattended, the yumi can become out-of-shape and may eventually become unusable. The shape of a yumi will change through normal use and can be re-formed when needed through manual application of pressure, through shaping blocks, or by leaving it strung or unstrung when not in use.

The shape of the curves of a yumi is greatly affected by whether it is left strung or unstrung when not in use. The decision to leave a yumi strung or unstrung depends upon the current shape of the yumi. A yumi that is relatively flat when unstrung will usually be left unstrung when not in use (a yumi in this state is sometimes referred to as being ‘tired’). A yumi that has excessive curvature when unstrung is typically left strung for a period of time in order to ‘tame’ the yumi. A well cared-for yumi can last many generations, while the usable life of a mistreated yumi can be very short.