Tag Archives: japan

“More than just a have-a-go”

19 February, 2021

Image via sabakuink.net

I enjoyed the positive book review from Bow International magazine for Johannes Haubner’s The Power Of The Bow, available from Verlag Angelika Hörnig (their website is at bogenschiessen.de). By far the most striking passage in the review is the quote about yaba onna, or ‘archery range women’, who worked an entertainment known as a yōkyū.

One of the most interesting titbits concerns archery in the entertainment districts beginning during the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries), where archery grounds were often found near to temples and shrines. Women known as yaba onna (lit. ‘archery range women’) called over passers-by to try their luck, using short indoor bows known as ko-yumi, rather like you might get at a fairground today.

Small prizes were on offer. You could just enjoy a cup of tea while watching the ladies and their shooting skills, but frequently, the women offered something else apart from just a have-a-go. As the book wryly notes: “This is why the expression ‘to shoot an arrow’ is quite ambiguous in 19th century Japan.”

The woodcut above, from the Sabaku Ink page, give visual clues as to the true role of a yaba onna, with dishevelled clothing and sash, a sword on the floor hinting at the prescence of a client, and the metaphor of a large bunch of ‘spent arrows’.

via https://yajifun.tumblr.com/

The historical website Sengo Kujidai takes up the story. It turns out the yaba onna persisted well into the 19th century:

“In the early part of the Meiji period, a yōkyū site was established at Okuyama in the Asakusa area of Tokyo.  This location employed attractive ladies to pick-up the arrows, garnering attention among the men. The women were assigned to gather the arrows, but also taught how to use the bows by standing in close proximity to the guests, showed their legs while retrieving arrows, and enticed customers.  In jest, some of the guests shot arrows at the rears of women who were picking-up arrows, and those women humored them by skillfully evading the arrows.  Prostitution services occurred behind the facility…”

The illustration above shows the tiny targets used, which were incorporated into what were essentially business cards, one of which appears in the book. It’s a little more explicit than the ones above. You can see it by clicking here.

Fashions changed, however, and less-expensive drinking establishments offering similar services led to fewer guests, and yōkyū as a form of entertainment declined precipitously. In 1877 the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department issued a regulation to control one prominent store in order to ‘prevent the tendency of worsening morals’.

Despite the beautiful ukiyo-e woodcuts, hinting at a certain amount of power, life for sex workers in early-modern Japan was probably difficult and dangerous. But it’s an apposite reminder that archery ranges certainly haven’t always been the upstanding establishments they are today.

Archery at the Asian Games – Day 6 (recurve finals)

29 September, 2014


After a tournament which briefly looked like it was veering dangerously away from the script followed by previous Asiads, the recurve finals finally delivered the hoped-for ‘Golden Sunday’ for the home nation.

After the shock semi-final defeat for the Korean men’s team on Friday – the first at an Asian Games for over thirty years – they had to suffer the relative indignity of fighting it out with Japan for the bronze medal, which they won 5 sets to 3. Japan came back in the third end to tie the score, but sent down two eights in the final end to hand the Korean men the bronze and a sliver of self-esteem.

The gold medal match was contested between China and Malaysia, who had unexpectedly beaten Japan to book their place here. It was a one-sided affair that saw the Chinese men comprehensively outscore their opponents to take gold.

“We hadn’t expected that we could win so fast,” said Yong Zhiwei. “But we believed in ourselves. We had faith in the team. Mu Yong, the manager of the Chinese archery team, said: “They showed no fear at all.”

In the women’s team event, Japan beat India for the bronze medal, capping a miserable week for India’s recurves who left the competition empty-handed after their compound teammates grabbed four medals yesterday and sent India into the overall top ten.

In the gold match, the pressure was weighing heavy on the Korean ladies to beat China – particularly after their last two finals ended in defeat, and the Chinese team had beaten them in competition as recently as June. In the end, they needn’t have worried. After three tense sets that saw the Chinese archers’ form fall away – they hit the ten ring just twice – the crowd roared and Korea had their precious recurve gold, with an emotional team bursting into tears afterwards. Lee Tuk-Young said afterwards: “There’s been some incredibly hard work over the last ten months, but I’m really glad to be part of history.” She also credited ‘elder sister’ Joo Hyun-Jung, who was unable to take part in the team event due to injury, as part of the team’s success “because our hearts beat as one”, in an elegant illustration of the particularly deep emotional bond between KAA teams.

The individual competition brought another Chinese medal, as Xu Jing took the bronze medal match from Japan’s Ren Hayakawa 7-3 after being 3-1 down after two ends. In the men’s bronze match, Kuo Cheng Wei of Chinese Taipei beat Hideki Kikuchi 6-2 to finish a relatively disappointing meet for Japan’s highly consistent recurvers, who would definitely have hoped for more. Japan, along with China, were also the only major archery nations not to send a compound squad.


The women’s individual field inevitably came down to the two Koreans in-form this year, and Jung Dasomi thumped Chang Hye-Jin 7-1 in a gold medal match that saw her miss the middle just twice in twelve arrows. She finished the job with a 10-10-10 end.

The men’s gold match saw the familiar hulking frame of Oh Jin-Hyek, the Olympic champion, take on the young Chinese athlete – and apparently, ‘ladies man‘ – Yong Zhiwei, who had already won a gold medal that morning in the team event. The crowd went silent as Yong raced out to a 4-0 lead, before his form slipped and Oh reeled off three straight sets to take the title, looking relieved after a final end that saw both archers wobble. Reading from the standard Korean sporting script, he said afterwards:  “I concentrated on my last shot, but I scored eight. I was fortunate to win a gold medal and I will continue to do well.”

In the end, there weren’t a great many surprises. Most of the medals went to the usual powerhouse nations, with some strong runs from Malaysia and the Philippines – plus a special mention to the quarter-final performance of men’s recurver Pak Yong-Won of the DPRK. The athletes delivered. For the home nation, the KAA pressure cooker had done its job and delivered the expected medals in their most important tournament apart from the Olympics. It remains to be seen if the KAA will continue to develop and maintain a high-level compound squad, and if the men’s performances will match the women’s in either discipline. The Asian nations have proved spectacularly strong on the international archery circuit this year, and on this outing, that looks set to continue for a long time to come.

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Watch the Korea v India women’s team semifinal here. 

Thanks to the dozens of news sources in many languages that helped me pull together these reports. 

Archery at the Asian Games – Day 5 (compound finals)

27 September, 2014

Pic via indianexpress.com

Pic via indianexpress.com

INCHEON, Korea:  The Indian squad had an extraordinary day in windy conditions on the Gyegang field, as the men’s compound team capped a highly successful day for India by clinching a historic gold medal, beating favourites Korea 227-225. Rajat Chauhan, Sandeep Kumar and Abhishek Verma shot consistently in the middle from the second arrow on, in a closely-fought contest that saw the hosts’ second shooter Min Li-Hong send down a 7 in the 4th end to sink the Korean boat. Afterwards, Chauhan said: “We have been noticing India’s position on the medals table every day and were determined to win the gold today. We are delighted to have done it.”

The team’s extensive preparation for the Asiad appears to have paid off, according to coach Rajan Singh: “We went to Salt Lake City in the USA and trained with Dee Wilde (father of Reo) for 15 days. Then we came and trained in Korea in different weather conditions at Gwangju here for a month before reaching here for the Games.” said Singh, a former junior national champion.  Abhishek Verma said: “I knew how to perform under pressure… We are all delighted to win the gold. We were not overawed by our opponents.”  Iran beat the Phillippines for the bronze medal.

Watch some footage of the team gold medal victory here (featuring some very rueful Korean faces). 

Pic via Yonhap News

Pic via Yonhap News

In the women’s team contest, strong favourites Korea finally took a gold medal, beating Chinese Taipei 229-226. The women’s team had already broken the world record for a team 24-arrow match earlier in the week, and didn’t miss the gold once. India easily beat Iran for the bronze. Afterwards, Choi Bomin pointed to the sky to dedicate the victory to former KAA youth coach Shin Hyeon-Jong who had recently passed away.

In the women’s individual compound, India’s Trisha Deb couldn’t keep her strong run going against Seok Ji-Hyun, but lucked out to beat Huang I Jou in the bronze medal match. Deb was trailing from the first end, but the Chinese Taipei athlete unexpectedly missed with her penultimate arrow in the last end to hand her victory.  The gold medal match was contested between Koreans Seok Ji-Hyun and Choi Bomin, turning into a dramatic contest which saw the lead swinging back and forth with Choi shooting the last end clean to win by just a single point, 144-143.

The men’s contest saw some less familiar names in an international archery final without the usual European and American stars. Iran has long been strong in compound archery and Esmaeil Ebadi took the lead from the second end to beat India’s Abhishek Verma 145-141 in both athletes’ second appearances of the day. The match was a re-run of the first Asian Grand Prix final from this year, also won by Ebadi.  The bronze medal went to Paul Marton De La Cruz of the Phillippines.

Two gold medals for Korea means that the women’s recurve team and Oh Jin-Hyek will both have to take gold tomorrow in order for the host nation to meet its stated target of “four to six” golds from the eight available. But today belonged to a superb Indian squad with a well deserved gold, silver and two bronze medals from the first compound programme at these Games.

The competition continues with the recurve finals tomorrow.

Archery at the Asian Games – Day 2

24 September, 2014


Jung Dasomi (pic by Yonhap News)


INCHEON, Korea: The Asian Games recurve ranking rounds were completed today. Both men and women shot a two-day full FITA round to decide the ranking – a decision of the KAA which contrasts with the now normal 70m ranking round in World Archery sanctioned international competition.

The full results are here. No particular surprises as to who came top – the Korean men’s team qualified one-two-three-four with Lee Suengyun taking top honours with 1377.  Oh Jin-Hyuk and Ku Bonchan were tied for second place with 1362 points, but the Olympic champion advanced on total tens scored (although he shot less X’s).  This means that Oh and Lee will contest the individual competition, as the rules only allow for two per country per gender; all three will contest the team competition. Kim Woojin shot 1353, good enough for fourth place but not good enough to make either the team or the individual knockout stage.

In the women’s competition, a Korean one-two-three means Jung Dasomi and Chang Hye-Jin will advance to the individual competition with scores of 1364 and 1359. It appears they will be joined in the team event by “elder sister” Joo Hyun-Yung, who only qualified 13th but squeezes Lee Tuk-Young out of the team event on previous results under the complicated KAA rules. Jung Dasomi was sanguine about the system in place, which sees at least one team member squeezed out for good. “The individual result doesn’t matter. Whoever goes out there to fight (as the team), we will give it everything.”

The main challengers to the Koreans for medals here are China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and India, who all recorded top ten placings. Indian superstar Deepika Kumari placed a strong 8th, but the rest of the Indian women’s recurve team floundered and the team only managed fifth place. Top Malaysian pro and World Cup medallist Khairul Anuar Mohamad managed a strong sixth place in the men’s competition.

The compound individual and team eliminations start tomorrow, just after midnight here in Europe.  There have already been controversies over the venue, but now there are further fears about the weather disrupting the competition, with Typhoon Fung-Wong battering parts of the east Asian coast and currently approaching south Korea. According to the organisers, the competition will go ahead unless “the target cannot be seen or the target is knocked over by wind and rain.” [waahh! – Ed]  Although Chang Hye-Jin was noticably bullish about the situation after the ranking round: “I hope the wind blows harder tomorrow.” she said.

“kyudo with fan targets”

14 August, 2014

More Japanese archery, this one via Ronin Dave over on his blog. Apparently: “on August 4th, a Japanese archery meet is held on the shores of Lake Chuzenji near Nikko, two hours north of Tokyo. Archers gather to shoot at folding fan targets attached to small boat masts. Ogi no Mato comes from a legendary archery incident over 800 years ago when a samurai archer shot a fan off of a boat mast in response to a challenge from his enemies.”  LOVE the mega-weird mannequin.

There’s embedded English commentary. Watch and learn:


He also shares a shot of a dragonfly sitting on the tip of a bow. That’s got to be lucky, right?



what does your indoor range look like?

13 August, 2014


These photos show the archery hall (more specifically, kyūdo hall) built by FT Architects for Kogakuin University at their campus in west Tokyo last year. The brief was to build a inspiring venue with 100m² of uninterrupted, column-free floor space, using locally sourced timber.

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The roof is constructed of Japanese cyprus, a timber latticework with straight mortise and tenon joints using furniture-grade wood in a meticulous arrangement. According to the architects:

We have salvaged the purity of standard Japanese timber composition, just made up of horizontals and verticals, which has been somewhat disregarded ever considering that the advent of modernism in Japan.

(although *really* traditional Japanese woodworking doesn’t use any nuts and bolts at all, as I understand)


The very light but strong design seems particularly appropriate to the intended use. Whether by accident or design. the ends of the vertical and diagonal beams are split in a manner reminiscent of arrow nocks. If that was the intention, this wouldn’t be the first purpose-built archery building to do this; the Sydney Olympic Archery Centre has nock motifs on the upper end of the roof beams:


Photo by Peter Miller

The same firm also built a boxing hall on the same campus, using similar materials but in an appropriately more brutal, weighty style:


It’s very rare that archers in the west  – or any sportspeople, frankly – get to train in such inspiring purpose-built spaces like these. Yeah, I’m jealous.

(Pics and information via http://www.archivitamins.com/)

London 2012 one year on: 29th July – women’s team final

29 July, 2013

A year ago today I went to Lords Cricket ground for the first of three sessions at the Olympic archery venue. Here’s to the memories. 

At 8.30 this morning I wake up in Berlin, of all places. Long story. Then it’s walk to the station, train, plane, bus, train, tube, bus (to office to dump stuff), bus, tube, and another bus to find myself outside Lords shortly before the 3pm afternoon session with my eight year old nephew. Thanking the transport gods, we go in. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him, and it’s probably the first time I’ve properly hung out with him, ever. If I’m going to finally do ‘uncle stuff’, it’s best I kick it off in style: the women’s team Olympic archery final. I sit him down outside and explain how important the day is to the both of us. He’s, like, yeah, whatever Uncle John.  I know now he’s more interested in Star Wars, but one day, he’ll thank me.

We are up in stand 2 on the right of the shooting lanes, so we can see the right-handers front on. Good. Unfortunately the Team GB women got knocked out this morning by a rampant Russia. E wants to support someone, but he seems a bit lost as to who until the noise level around us cranks up, and the excitement builds. Korea are shooting. The immense shower that follows rattles no one (it’s the rainiest day of the shoot and leads to some of the more spectacular photographs). No one even flinches. Me and E hide under an umbrella in the bedraggled stand. You wonder if, given the training standards in Korea, seven years ago the developing squad heard something like “Oh, the Olympics is in London? Rainy old London? Right, turn the hoses on…”. As Ki Bo Bae, Lee Sung-Jin and Choi Hyeongju demolish a miserable looking Denmark, E has picked his team. Luckily the two Korean lads in front of us, who have taken a shine to him, have some spare flags and noisemakers.

The rhythms of the team event become gradually familiar as the afternoon winds on. The ‘third’ up first, usually looking the most nervous of the trio, the quick to the mark second, and the grimly determined first, usually the most senior member. The widest shoulders. The anchor. The skip. The one with the most difficult job. As the gold medal match between China and Korea comes up, no one seems to have taken to this role with more fervour than Yuting Fang…


…a 22 year old of terrifying focus and will. Although she is run a close second by the Japanese skip Ren Hayakawa, the string sometimes distorting her face into a terrifying, malevolent rictus grin.


Both pics source: Paul Gilham/Getty Images Europe

The script is for Korea to win, as it has been for decades. But China come incredibly close. It is down to Ki Bo Bae, needing that 9. I remember watching her, and not the arrow, and then listening to the roar. Just another day at the office. Perfect.

VIDEO to follow: Korea v Denmark in the rain, 29/07/12 at Lords Cricket Ground.