Traditional Archery Bows – The Japanese Yumi

By Moritz

Aug 17

traditional archery bows

This is the second part of my traditional archery bows series.
If you haven’t read the first part, make sure you head over there to read all about the English longbow.

Today I will talk about the Japanese Yumi, which is the bow used in Kyūdō or Kyūjutsu which are both Japanese forms of archery used originally by the samurai.

Keep on reading:

Form And Specialities Of The Yumiyumi bow

The Yumi is easily the world’s longest bow. Its length ranges from 212 cm – 245 cm (6 ft 11 in – 8 ft).
Compared to the longbow this is pretty amazing, as the longbow is already longer than many archers are tall.

It is not only the length that makes the Yumi special, though.
Most people will remember its special form when they have seen one of these Japanese bows.

The Yumi is an asymmetrical bow and I absolutely love how it looks.
The lower part (hankyū) is shorter than the upper part (daikyū).

If you are already an experienced archer with a longbow, recurve bow or compound bow, it will be tricky to shoot a yumi, as the feeling is quite different, as is the technique.

Inside The Yumi

In prehistoric times, this bow was made of a single piece of wood, but later it was made of a combination of wood and bamboo.
The bow evolved over the centuries, but the materials stayed the same for a long time.

Only now, in the modern times, can you find Japanese bows that are of similar materials like other modern bows: wooden laminate enhanced with fiberglass.

The Way Of The Bow: Kyūdō

Maybe you already knew that the Japanese word “dō” means “way” and the word “kyū” stands for “bow”.

So, when you practice kyūdō you are walking the way of the bow.

Just like judō (the gentle way), kyūdō is much more than just a sport. It is not just about holding a bow and loosing arrows on a target.
There is a whole philosophy behind it.
It is a lot about meditation and bringing your mind to rest and piece.

Kyūdō today is famous for its slow movements which follow always the same pattern.

kyudo training

Kyudo training. Used under creative commons from: Wikimedia Commons

If you want to succeed in kyūdō you need to find your inner center. Masters of kyūdō will say that “correct shooting is correct hitting”, which means that you have to get the technique right before you will be able to hit your target consistently.

The ultimate goal is, that you can perform this form of archery without thinking and with your mind at peace.
There should be no pressure, but only you, the bow and the arrow.
The arrow will find its target automatically when you have mastered kyūdō, the way of the bow.

However, this is not to be mistaken with “Zen”.
Kyūdō can be very spiritual, but this is not a must.
Many who practice kyūdō, like to join competitions and compare themselves to other archers.

If you are interested in kyūdō, I highly recommend reading this book.
It explains very detailedly what kyūdō really is about and how you can get started with it.
It also talks about its history and helps you understand this amazing form of archery.

I would say it is “archery of the next level” in some ways.
While western archery has many health benefits and can bring your mind to peace, kyūdō takes it a little further.

If you are a fan of Japanese philosophy and love archery, I would like to recommend you to try it, if you get the chance.

More Facts About The Yumi

Why is it asymmetrical?

It is actually not really known why the Yumi is asymmetrical.

Some theories say that it is asymmetrical so that it can be shot more easily from horseback and from a kneeling position.
Others say that it has to do with the reduction of vibration or with the techniques they used in ancient times to craft the bow.

What draw weight do Yumi bows have?

In modern kyūdō, the draw weight is usually around 30 LBS.
It is more about the meditation and not so much about hitting a target at a big distance, so heavier bows are not needed.

You can get heavier bows, though, if that is your wish.

Do modern Yumi have any accessories?

No!
Kyūdō follows its traditional path and you won’t see any fancy stuff attached to the bow.
Archers who practice kyūdō might be wearing protective gear and a quiver, but many will hold their extra arrows in their hand and won’t even use a quiver.

traditional kyudo

Traditional kyudo. Used under creative commons from: Alletto

Yumi maintenance

Yumi bows need a lot of care and can lose their shape if not treated well.
This is another part of kyūdō. You need to know your bow.
It has to become part of your life.
If mistreated, it will be unusable after a short time. If treated correctly, it can last for many generations.

You need to learn when you have to keep your bow strung and when unstrung.
Don’t get a Yumi, if you don’t have a kyūdō master who can teach you the way of the bow.
It is not like a western bow at all!

Is A Yumi The Right Bow For You?

I would really like to know what you think of the Yumi and kyūdō.

I still have to try it, but I have a close friend who is very fond of kyūdō. He is practicing for a long time already and absolutely loves it.

Let me know if you have ever tried it and what you think about it.
Don’t forget to take a look at the book “Kyūdō, The Way Of The Bow” if you this Japanese archery form interests you.

I am looking forward to discussing the Yumi and other traditional archery bows with you.

Yours,

Moritz

About the Author

Hi, as a huge archery enthusiast I love sharing my knowledge about archery. Enjoy your stay and don't hesitate to leave a comment if you have a question.

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(12) comments

David Mapugilo September 27, 2015

Hello Moritz

That was a really interesting read about the Japanese Yumi.

l have two issues at hand

1. May be its about a target market, are you targeting the Japanese or is it widely open to other archers?

2.If it is open to all other archers, what special trainings an archer should have in order that he/she could use the Yumi?

David

Reply
    Moritz September 28, 2015

    Hi David.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I don’t really target any specific “market”. I just like to inform everybody who is interested in archery about different aspects and forms of archery.

    “Kyudo”, the Japanese form of archery which uses the yumi, is fascinating and yet so different from the archery I am usually talking about.

    Everybody who is interested in trying a yumi can do that, but I recommend to go to a place where they teach kyudo.
    A yumi does not forgive mistreatment easily and might get damaged quicker than another bow if the archer does not know what he is doing.

    Do you have any other question about yumi or kyudo?
    I am happy when I can help you in any way.

    Moritz

    Reply
Hannah September 27, 2015

Hey Moritz.

I never knew archery could be so graceful!

Yumi looks like a very meditative form of archery and one that I would definitely be interested in trying if I ever get a chance.

I’ve never heard of any classes or groups that specialise in Yumi in the UK but might have to try and find one some day!

Thanks for this article. I have finally found a form of archery I like!

Hannah.

Reply
    Moritz September 28, 2015

    Hi Hannah,

    I absolutely love it that I was able to spark your interest in the yumi.

    If you want to try shooting a yumi in the UK, you can search for “kyudo uk” in google.
    Kyudo is the Japanese form of archery which uses the bow called yumi.

    I found a few organizations that teach the way of the yumi in the UK.

    One of them would be the UKKA.

    I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know how you liked it.

    Moritz

    Reply
jordan July 6, 2016

how far could a yumi shoot?

Reply
    Moritz July 6, 2016

    Hi Jordan,
    a Yumi can shoot further than 100 meters.
    But it is traditionally shot at up to 60 meters.

    It depends on the purpose and skill of the archer.
    Kyudo is a lot about perfection and therefore the distance to the target is often rather short.
    Especially at the beginning.

    Moritz

    Reply
Elijah December 9, 2017

Where do you get a high poundage yumi?

Reply
    Moritz December 9, 2017

    Hello,

    I would recommend trying to find a local store or club where they exercise Kyudo.
    While there are online shops, it is best to actually hold a Yumi in your own hands before buying one.

    Sorry, I can’t help you more with that.
    I found online stores but I don’t want to recommend any store when I haven’t purchased from it myself.

    Best,
    Moritz

    Reply
      Elijah December 12, 2017

      I want to practice kyujutsu, which is the historical way of shooting the yumi. However I can’t find a single shop online that makes high poundage yumi bows.

      Reply
        Moritz December 13, 2017

        You can try and get in contact with these guys:
        http://sambu-kyugu.com

        They offer custom-made bows but the waiting time would be very long. A few months.
        But since I haven’t bought from them myself, it would be at your own risk.

        If you buy from them, it would be awesome if you could share your experience with me.
        Then I could recommend them to my readers.

        Moritz

        Reply
          Elijah Saba December 22, 2017

          Will do, I’ll expierment with them and I’ll be sure to tell you if they offer good quality yumi. And thank you for finding a website where they do that.

          Reply
          Moritz December 22, 2017

          You are very welcome.
          I hope they will provide you with the yumi you are looking for.
          All the best,
          Moritz

          Reply
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