The other day I noticed that the kusune protecting the tsuru-makura on my glove (kake) had worn away a bit, so my teacher fixed it this morning so I wanted to make a note of how it was done. It’s important because otherwise the deerskin will slowly wear away.
People who live closer to the kyudo shop where they got their kake can probably just take it there. Some shops do it for free as a kind of after-care responsibility, others (like Koyama in Tokyo) charge a few hundred yen. But for those of us far away from shops (and people outside Japan are way far away), it’s good to know. What you need is some kusune, a pair of pliers, a common nail about 2.5mm thick, and a source of heat, like a gas stove.
First fold the fingers of the kake under the himo (the wide band that goes around the wrist) so that only the thumb is sticking out. Holding the head of the nail with the pliers, heat the opposite end in the flame until it’s quite hot. Not so much that it’s glowing red or anything, but just hot. Then dip that in the kusune so that the side of the nail gets a thin coat of molten kusune. Expect some smoke. Now apply that to the tsuru makura. Take your time, and it’s important not to put too much on. Just a thin layer. Use the side of the nail to coat the inside of the groove, and then slide it over the edge and forward (toward the tip of the thumb) for just a few millimeters. Again, just a very thin layer. Let it harden and you’re set for another half year or so.
The other thing is some tricks for extending the life of hemp (asa) bowstrings. The main enemy here is dryness, which in Hokkaido in winter is a big deal. One recommendation is that, when the bowstrings are still in their plastic package, moisten a piece of cotton and put that in the package, too. Strings in their packages should also be kept in some kind of airtight container, like the kind you use for keeping leftover food. I found a nice round one that is also perfect for tortillas.
For a bowstring that is strung all the time, every now and then just wipe it with a moistened cloth before putting it away for the day. Also, when a string breaks because of dryness, it usually breaks at one of the ends, near the cloth wrapper (in my case it’s usually the one at the bottom), so when you take the bow out to warm up before practice, moisten both cloth wrappers and the string, just at the ends. You can do that with your mouth if you don’t mind the taste of kusune. But of course, you could also use moistened a cloth.
The other thing that applies year-round, is that, if you store your bow strung (most people here with take-yumi do), take some of the strain off the string by adding a second string on top of the first. The tension on each string should be about the same (so half the normal tension), and I usually use a synthetic string for this job, since it’s unlikely to ever break. Because it goes on top of the “real” string, it has to be tied longer than normal, so since you won’t ever use the second string to shoot, it doesn’t need a nakajikake. Doubling the string has the added bonus that if the bow is stored for a long time, and the hemp string breaks, the second one will prevent any damage that might otherwise occur to the bow.
And then, at the dojo we have a couple of waraji that are coated on the inside with kusune. If the string starts to look a bit ragged or worn, it’s good to rub this over the length of the string to help bind the hemp fibres back together again. Also, of course, before and after use, rub it with a regular waraji, especially the nakajikake. I find that with all of this I usually get the 300 or so shots per string that people say is normal, even in the winter time, though I’ve been surprised a couple of times, too. The other day, when had a run of particularly frigid days with super-low humidity, I saw a new string snap just by rubbing it with a waraji.
Some people also use synthetic strings during the winter because of this. If you do, you should still make a new string every 300 shots or so, even though they’re usually good for 600 or more, because the shock to a take-yumi when a synthetic string breaks is much sharper than when a hemp one does, and it could damage the bow.