Kyudo Notebook: 2011 Kyoto Taikai/Shinsa

Made it there and back alive. None of us fared very well in the taikai, which was strict: miss one arrow, you’re out. But with two thousand participants they could hardly do otherwise and still bring things to a conclusion in a reasonable amount of time. Although the image of Kyoto is traditional, the location for the taikai itself didn’t have very much charm. It was held inside Miyako Messe, an all-purpose exhibition centre. In the enclosed space the sound of an arrow hitting the target sometimes resounded like a rifle shot.

#1-2 Shajo

第62回全日本弓道大会 (Shajo)

#1-2 Shajo (Targets)

#1-2 Shajo (Targets)

Since it was Golden Week, there was a kendo tournament going on at the same time, but I wasn’t able to go. People said it was pretty cool.

There is video of one of the final elimination rounds in the kyuoshi division on YouTube. At this point there were only four people left and the targets had been switched from the normal 36-cm kasumi target to a 24-cm star target. O-mae is Komaki-sensei, who you might recall from this other blog post. I’m pretty sure the eventual winner was the third person, in the blue kimono.

The next day we went to practice at a small 3-person dojo attached to a temple called Byodoji (平等寺).

Kyudo Dojo at Byodoji

Kyudo Dojo at Byodoji

This felt much more like Kyoto!! The atmosphere promoted a peaceful feeling, and I found it interesting that I had to push myself a bit to generate the energy needed to shoot. My mind wanted to turn inward. The wall to the right leaves very little clearance if you are o-mae. Also note the wear on the floor where decades of people in tabi have stood and slid their right foot to establish ashibumi. I wonder how old the floorboards are?

Bamboo at Tenryuji

Bamboo at Tenryuji

After that we went to Tenryu-ji and I was happy to meet an old friend, a monk there, who I hadn’t seen in 16 years, and to wander in the bamboo grove. I love sound of the giant bamboo stems clonking against each other.

Then on the next day I watched the 8-dan shinsa. It was interesting to see the same people who’d competed in the taikai before go into shinsa mode. Not much difference, really. There were about 160 candidates. Six people passed the first round test at this shinsa, but only one person (Harikae Kenichi sensei, from Ibaraki) passed the second round. Those who pass the first but not the second have one year to pass the second round. In fact Harikae-sensei had passed the first round earlier, so we didn’t get to see him in round one. Now all he has left is to write an essay. I wonder what they ask him to write about?

There were very few foreigners around. I spoke with one or two, but had expected to see more, including the bearded contingent from South Africa, but I guess people stayed away this year? One person from France passed the renshi test. Félicitations!

After that I wandered for a few days in Kyoto and Nara. Good weather, for the most part, but a bit hot for this Hokkaido-ite. Most of the hotels still had their heating going despite temperatures in the mid-20’s. It was a fortunate time, though. Many places not normally accessible were open to the public for a few weeks, so I saw some astounding sculpture and gardens. No photography was allowed, but the images are pretty well burned into my mind. I was particularly impressed by the statue of Muchaku (Asanga) at Kofukuji’s north octagonal hall, as well as old friends like the Fudo, and the Vairocana statue at Toji.

Speaking of floorboards, though, one of my favorite quiet temples is Hokke-do (Nigatsu-do) in Nara, but when I got there it turned out it was under construction to replace floorboards that were 1,250 years old. It was strange to think that I’d walked on boards that old just two years before, and that nobody is going to have that chance again (not there anyway) until the year 3036!

Fire Suppression System

Fire Suppression

The temples also reinforced the need to do more while I have the chance. With earthquakes, volcanoes, wars, corporate development, cultural revolutions, etc, there’s no guarantee that any of these things will still be there in 3036. Fire especially has been a danger throughout history here, of course, but it was telling to see that, at Toji, the “high tech” fire suppression system was nothing but these buckets of water.

After a few days of seeing treasures, though, I needed a rest and just sat for a time in my room, overlooking Kofukuji, wondering about the people who made these things, and why.

Five-Story Pagoda

Five-Story Pagoda, Kofukuji

The explanations in the guidebook seem simplistic and facile given the incredible effort that would have been required. They’re rebuilding one of the halls at Kofukuji now, and even with modern equipment — cranes, fork lifts, scaffolding, trucks, power saws and planes — it’s going to take ten years. Imagine doing that by hand. And the sculpture! Does anyone (can anyone?) make anything approaching these now? So I think there must be more to it, and such a huge divide now separates the world views of people then and now that we settle for simplistic one-liners because we’re incapable of imagining their actual motivations.

I like Nara Buddhism, though. Much older, with an emphasis on jiriki practices. Kofukuji is an Hosso-shu temple, so based on the philosophy of the Cittamatra school (which explains the statue of Asanga). But I couldn’t help wondering about the people I saw coming in, putting money in the offering box, and then praying. It’s the way it’s done now, of course, but I suspect many see these things now through the lens of tariki sects like Jodo, Jodo-Shinshu, and Nichiren, which I find kind of sad.

At the same time. People do come. Old people, young people, all ages in between. Sometimes when I would sit looking at the gardens, I would hear people gasp as they turned the corner. They sensed something special, even if (thank goodness) they didn’t have a philosophical hook to hang it on. The guides (again) provided silly explanations (“The rock on the left represents a person. The rock on the right represents a tiger”) that missed the point entirely, but I think people still had an intuitive sense of something deeper. And they do support the temples, either directly, or by coming and paying the entrance fees. It’s hard to fault that.

The other thing hard to ignore is the way that, at least in traditional Japan, people made things that didn’t have to be beautiful beautiful.

Wall Repair, Toji

Repaired Wall at Toji

You can, I think, justifiably criticize many things here that are left undone or insufficiently thought-through. Environmental policy for one thing. But the work of these craftsmen, who (I suspect) were simply too stubborn not to do a superb job, creates art that would take my breath away, country bumpkin that I am. I would look at some of these things and wonder how humans beings could make anything so completely perfect? Even so that it ages perfectly, for centuries.

So, now back in Hokkaido, and with many challenges to overcome and, now that I’ve recovered a bit from the trip, a bit more sense of urgency about doing so. Time is short. We flew along the coast of Iwate and Fukushima prefectures both ways, and the damage from the tsunami was visible even from 35,000 feet. Several members of our kyudo family were killed, and more are missing, probably never to be heard from again. Use this opportunity now, while you have it!

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