Today, we will discover about an engineer and the bowmaker (of archery) who makes Japanese longbows. The Japanese have used longbows for centuries, especially in the martial art called kyudo. Bows for kyudo are 6 feet tall. Only skilled archers can handle longbows, and only extremely skilled craftsmen can make them!
A good quality Japanese longbow can cost more than Rs. 1,50,000. Archery is a sport played with bows and arrows. In the past, it was part of weaponry. Professional archers know that an authentic handmade bamboo longbow has a completely different feel to it. Let’s find out why authentic longbows are so expensive.
Kanjuro Shibata and his family have been making longbows for almost 450 years. Shibata likes to call himself a bowmaker and an engineer rather than just a craftsman as these bows are handmade. Making longbows involves precise calculations and complicated techniques. It’s not a simple craft!
The first step is to buy raw bamboo from local farms in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. The bamboo must be dried for at least three years.
Then comes the second step which includes a tiresome process. Each bamboo has to be shaved to the desired width. Although it sounds simple, it’s the most challenging task. That’s because Shibata uses madake bamboo to make his longbows. This bamboo is also known as Japanese timber bamboo. Timber is a wood prepared for use in construction or carpentry or trees grown for that purpose. All species of bamboo belong to the grass family, Poaceae. Whether it’s a dwarf bamboo, just a few inches tall, or a timber bamboo that exceeds 100 feet in height, all bamboos are grasses.
The madake bamboo is quite dense. Shaving it requires hard work.
Once that’s done, Shibata adds a special wooden rod-like thing to the bamboo and glues them together. He needs to make a bow that is flexible for the archer to pull back when aiming at the target. But when the archer lets go of the arrow, the bow should return to its original shape.
Bending the bamboo to get a crescent shape is another skill. But since Shibata has years of experience, he’s able to get the correct amount of bend on a 6-foot bow within 15 minutes. It has to be done quickly before the glue dries. Otherwise, the bow will become stiff. The perfect longbow must be light, sturdy, and sharp. Before selling, Shibata tests each bow himself with an arrow and a target.
His goal is to try to bring down his current price while offering the same quality. At the moment, only a few can afford them. And these include professional kyudo archers and members of royal families. He wants his fine longbows to be available to more people.
What a noble thought!