Interesting quick conversation with S先生 today after my string broke. She said the fact that the hemp strings break is actually good, that it can protect the bow from too much shock. Of course, they also just wear out naturally over time. Someone who handles the bow well can expect a string to last about 300 shots, and when it breaks, it will break at the center (at the nocking point). For someone not quite so skilled, it will probably break sooner (“The string won’t be able to live out its natural life”) and often breaks near the top or bottom, although that can also happen if the string just isn’t well-made, or gets damaged. They’re not mass-produced items, in the end… each one is a bit different.
She highly recommends them, though, even for people using glass or carbon bows (beyond a certain point, of course, and budget), because she likes the quality of the shot. I suspect it’s similar to the way musicians like certain types of strings: there’s just something that matches their way of playing or their personality. For S先生 the synthetic strings are aimai, they lack a distinct character, while the hemp strings are more clear and vivid. I like the hemp ones, too, for the feeling and sound that they impart (and also the Haru Kaze strings for the way they are made). But they do come at a price.
I always like this teacher’s explanations of equipment because for her these objects are always alive: they have feelings, and emotional relationships with each other and with the kyudoka. Probably the larger world as well. But she doesn’t talk much, so you only get these hints now and then. So now I’ll put the broken string on our little Buddhist altar. It lived well and helped me learn a lot.