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Japanese Bow – Weapon of the Samurai

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The beginning of archery in Japan is, as elsewhere, pre-historical. The first images picturing the distinct Japanese bow are from the Yayoi period . The first written document describing Japanese archery is the Chinese chronicle Weishu (dated around 297 AD), which tells how in the Japanese isles people use “a wooden bow that is short from the bottom and long from the top.

Yumi  is the term for Japanese asymmetrical bows, and includes the longer daikyū  and the shorter hankyū  used in the practice of kyūdō and kyūjutsu, or Japanese archery. The yumi was an important weapon of the samurai warrior during the feudal period of Japan.

Early Japanese used bows of various sizes but the majority were short with a center grip. By the 3rd century BC, the bow length had grown to nearly 2 meters. This bow was called the maruki yumi and was constructed from a small sapling or tree limb. It is unknown when the asymmetrical yumi came into use but the first written record is in a Chinese manuscript from the 3rd century AD which describes the people of the Japanese islands using a wooden bow with upper and lower limbs of different lengths, and bamboo arrows with points of bone or iron. The oldest asymmetrical yumi found to date was discovered in Nara and is estimated to be from the 5th century.

During the Heian period (794-1185) the length of the yumi was fixed at a little over two meters and the use of laminated construction was adopted from the Chinese. By the end of the 10th century the Japanese developed a two piece bamboo and wood laminated yumi. Over the next several hundred years the construction of the yumi evolved and by the 16th century the design of the yumi was considered to be nearly perfect. The modern bamboo yumi is practically identical to the yumi of the 16th and 17th centuries.

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