Art and Tradition: FuJETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Kyudo

kyudo_headerThis is the first in a series of articles exploring Fukushima JETs who practice traditional Japanese arts as a hobby.

Kyudo – The Art of Japanese Archery

Kyudo is one of the many Japanese martial arts. It can be deceptively similar to Western archery, but kyudo has its own unique rules and traditions that make it seem closer to tea ceremony than to archery. The footwork, the way the bow is held, and even the way the archer approaches the firing line is predetermined. It is more important to have this process done correctly than it is to hit the target accurately!

“There are particular ways to enter and exit the shooting hall,” says Tiffany Kwok, a second-year ALT in Tanagura. “The shooting sequence also depends on the occasion: exam, competition, ceremonial demonstration, etc.”

These traditions are not continued simply for tradition’s sake. The Japanese longbow, unlike a Western bow, is held not in the middle of the bow, but about two-thirds down. If held incorrectly, the archer can injure themselves, as third-year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino explains.

3rd year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino

3rd year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino

“Many things can go wrong when you shoot. I’ve had – and still occasionally get – a fair number of cuts and bruises on my inner arm to prove that.”

But practicing kyudo is a great way to learn more about Japanese culture. Tiffany explained that many of the terms used in kyudo have their roots in Japanese Buddhism. And as kyudo was originally a martial art practiced by the samurai, its tradition is steeped in the Japanese way of thinking.

“When you practice kyudo, I would say that it’s impossible not to get a sense of the spirit that led to its development as an art,” Russell says. Of course, even as a traditional art, it is practiced by modern Japanese.

Tiffany Kwok, 2nd year ALT

2nd Year Tanagura ALT, Tiffany Kwok

Tiffany says, “I’ve also heard A LOT of oyaji gags during practice – that’s probably just at my dojo, but it counts as Japanese culture, right?”

If you’re interested in starting kyudo, dojos are often looking for new members. Ask your coworkers where the local dojos are. They will often hold workshops for beginners. Also, many junior high and senior high schools have kyudo clubs which practice after school. Ask the teacher in charge if it’s alright for you to drop in! Russell has this advice for kyudo beginners,

“Be prepared to commit time to it. It takes a while to get even the basics of it, but once you do, there are few things as satisfying as hearing the twang of your bow and the sound of your arrow hitting the target.”

Special thanks to Tiffany Kwok and Russell Aquino for their interviews.
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