Kyudo Notebook: Kyoto 2016 Lessons

The Kyoto tournament and shinsa were good. It’s been several years since I was last there, and it was a pleasure (if a bit overwhelming) to see thousands of kyudoka in the same place at the same time, and to meet some people, particularly Zen, for the first time. These are just some notes so I don’t forget next time:

General Notes

  • There are five shajo, numbered one to five. The opening ceremony each day is in the yamichi for shajo one and two. After that, there is a yawatashi and enbu in shajo three. To get a good view of that, try to stand near the back when everyone is lined up for the opening remarks, then you just turn around to see shajo three.
  • Sometimes they use shajo three during taikai/shinsa, sometimes not. I guess it depends on the number of people, phase of the moon, etc.
  • Although many people wear regular dogi I was told that it’s better to wear kimono. During the taikai you would do hada-nugi or tie the tasuki before entering, so it’s more a matter of respect for the situation than a practical requirement. Of course, for the shinsa everyone would be in kimono.
  • Timing is tricky. They print a rough schedule ahead of time but it’s only a guide. For example, the schedule might say your turn will be after lunch, but if people don’t show up, everybody shifts forward to fill in the gaps, so you could easily end up shooting before lunch. Announcements like this are made in the 1st floor changing area and in the hallway that is used for the 4th and 5th waiting areas but NOT in the large hall where the actual shooting takes place. So if you go in to watch while you’re waiting, take care. You won’t get any warning.
  • I think it’s best to be in the waiting area (on the third floor) at least an hour before you think you’re supposed to shoot. Longer if there is a scheduled break during that time. You really have to watch this because if you’re not in place when it comes time to shoot, they’ll skip over you and there is no second chance.
  • There is no place to practice in the venue itself. No makiwara. For practice you can use the kyudojo attached to the Budokan across the street. On the plus side, that’s a traditional dojo and has a nice environment. There are some makiwara there, too. Just be extra careful about the timing, and also walking around with your bow.
  • Bring setta or shoes that you can slip on and off easily while wearing tabi. More than in most places, in Kyoto there’s a lot of taking shoes off and putting them on. Setta or (maybe) zori are better because they won’t leave marks on your tabi. The tabi must be white, by the way.
  • While you’re in the 4th or 5th waiting areas (hikae) on the third floor, there will be an equipment check. In particular, you’ll be asked if you have a yaba shomeisho, a certificate of traceability for the feathers used to fletch your arrows. This is for compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, usually referred to in Japan as “The Washington Treaty” [washinton jouyaku]). This year the check seemed pretty much advisory, though someone using the feathers of an endangered species might have been turned away (I’m not sure). You download the form for the certificate here (PDF) or here (Word). There’s more detail on the ANKF site. You fill out the certificate yourself, so everyone is on their honor, and like many such rules (for anti-money-laundering and the like), only honest people will ever be affected, while dishonest people will just keep doing whatever they want. But I guess it’s better than nothing. The point is to have it. This year you didn’t have to physically bring it with you to the third floor, which would be inconvenient. It was OK just to say you had it with your gear on the first floor. That may change, or maybe they’ll set up some verification procedure when you’re registering to get your number.
  • Speaking of arrows, be sure to label yours, and your bow, too. One problem (at least for human beings) with limiting the types of birds whose feathers can be used is that everyone’s arrows end up looking the same. Picking up the wrong arrows, or the wrong bow, was pretty common, so it’s good to use labels and some other way to make your equipment easily distinguishable.
  • As a result of mistakes like that, and the ever-present possibility of hitting one of your own arrows, it’s best to bring at least six, so you can have a couple in reserve.
  • Likewise have a few extra tsuru ready to go. The nightmare is to make it into the later rounds but then have to stop because you broke two strings and don’t have another. If you use hemp strings, some advice from one of my teachers, who’s seen it all, is to wind a synthetic string around your tsurumaki first (so it will be the last used), then two more hemp strings on top of that. That way if your main hemp string breaks, you’ll have another, then another, and then if all else fails a nearly unbreakable synthetic as your final backup.
  • Beginning pretty early in the day, they sell some o-bento and hot curry with rice there in the back of the changing area on the first floor. They also sell drinks, or there are vending machines. If you have more time, there are some good restaurants within walking distance, and of course, there’s a Starbucks across the street.
  •  Because the events are held over Golden Week, hotels book up far in advance. If you plan to go, book early… like 5-6 months. The airport bus from Osaka (Itami) arrives at  Kyoto train station (south — hachijo — exit) in about 55 minutes (1,310 yen). It has luggage shelves over the seats where you can put your bow. Take care with bows in the subway; Kyoto is crowded. Miyako Messe is about a 25 minute walk from Karasuma-Oike subway station (K08 on the Karasuma line): walk east. cross the river, turn north, turn east again at nijo, walk until you see lots of people with bows going in to a big building on the right. Or take a taxi (anywhere from 800-1,200 yen from Karasuma-Oike depending on… who knows?).

The Taikai

  • In the first round you’ll shoot two arrows (hitote). If you don’t hit with both, you’ll be asked to give back your number (zekken) as you exit, and for better or worse, you’re done for the day. Relax and enjoy being a spectator, go sightseeing, go practice at the Budokan, or (dangerous) visit the kyudo shops set up in the waiting area on the first floor. Remember you’ll need money to get home. Some 86% of the people in the you-dan taikai (4 and 5-dan) were done after the first round.
  • The second round will begin after everyone finishes their first round, but there is no gap. The first people to begin the second round will shoot immediately after the last group shoots in their first round. So the first five groups to shoot in the second round should already be in the chairs, waiting, while the last group of the first round shoots. I nearly got caught out by this.
  • For the second and subsequent rounds you’ll be asked to bring four arrows. There’s a whittling down process that ensues, where you go in, shoot one arrow each. Those who miss turn in their numbers. Those who hit keep going. After the third round like this, they’ll switch from 36cm targets to the 24cm hoshi (“star”) target. This continues until there are ten or fewer people left (enough to fit in two combined shajo). After that it seems you shoot two at a time. Once a winner (the last person standing) is decided, there will be enkin rounds to decide any ties.
  • The usual shooting is zasha, though with thousands of people shooting (there were about 1,700 in the you-dan taikai alone) there are a lot who shoot rissha due to injuries, etc. This means you need to be ready to shoot with people using either form. Each group has five people per shajo, except maybe at the end, when there could be a few smaller groups.
  • Be sure you know the proper shooting sequence. In particular, in the taikai you stand up when the person in front of you brings their right hand to their hip to set dozukuri (the first time — don’t wait for them to bring the otoya back to their hip), then do all of the preparation to shoot. You have to be ready to raise your bow (uchiokoshi) at the tsurune of the person in front of you. The omae stands up again after shooting but waits to do torikake until the tsurune of the last person (ochi) in their group. This can be a little hard to gauge when there is another shajo behind you, and the hall where the shooting is done is a closed room, so there are lots of echoes. If you can’t tell, make a guess, or the teachers watching will tell you. If you’re unsure about the order, check the charts that they have posted. Oh, and you enter when the second person in the group of five currently at the sha-i shoots their otoya.
  • When two shajo are combined, for example shajo 4 and 5, everyone exits at the area all the way to the front (so for shajo 4 and 5, the exit is behind the first target for shajo 4).
  • Spectators should be careful to turn off cellular phones (or put them in silent mode, or just leave them at home… horrors!) and also turn off the flash unit on cameras. Although in theory someone who is shooting needs to be able to adapt to anything, there were a couple of instances where phones and flashes went off and created distractions at just the wrong moment.

The Shinsa

  • There’s really not a lot to say about this except to reiterate some of the general notes above. Be sure you’re in the waiting area on time. Be sure you’re in the waiting area on time. And then be sure you’re in the waiting area on time. Otherwise normal shinsa rules apply.
  • Be sure to review the timing for shooting, though. Since the shinsa here is for people already at 5-dan or above, I was surprised to see a person testing for kyoshi use the competition timing. My guess is that one of the waiting areas still had the timing poster up from the taikai, so he thought that was what he was supposed to use. Ooops.
  • It seems that many people, if they don’t hit with both arrows, simply give up, change clothes, and start packing. Resist this temptation. One person testing for renshi apparently changed clothes and got packed up, only to discover that she’d passed the first round, so she had to run to change back into kimono and get her equipment ready before the ni-ji shinsa.
  • Likewise you hear stories, sometimes even from the hanshi, suggesting that people early on in the order aren’t likely to get a passing mark simply because they don’t have experience yet. But in reality it’s individual and sometimes a person very early in the order will pass while the veterans continue to struggle. The benefits of (kyudo) youth! So again, avoid giving up before the results are posted. Sometimes it’s very hard to know what the hanshi are seeing, how they make their decisions.
  • Speaking of which, results are posted both downstairs on the first floor and in the waiting areas on the third floor. If you have a ni-ji shinsa, you need to have your arrows and be ready to go when the results are announced.
  • The written test is given in meeting rooms on the B1 floor. The timing for the test is staggered. Be sure to go at the correct time posted for your number or you may be turned away.
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One Response to Kyudo Notebook: Kyoto 2016 Lessons

  1. Zacky Chan says:

    Thank you for the treasure chest of helpful info!

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