Since ancient times the bow has been revered as a sacred instrument. It is believed to have the power to detroy evil, cleanse the spirit and to bestow magical powers. The bow has been used by shamans throughout the world as an instrument of power and weapon against the forces of evil. In Japan the bow has also long been considered to be the ultimate weapon of warriorship and its mastery was the highest achievement of the Samurai warrior. In the Shinto and Buddhist traditions the bow is used to protect, purify, remove obstacles and attract good fortune.
Azusa-Yumi (top photo)
The story is told in the sacred history of Japan that a golden bird perched on the bow of Jimmu Tenno, the great grandson of Amaterasu Omi-Kami, the Sun Goddess of Japan, and the first human ruler of Japan. This was seen as an extremely good omen for Japan. Jimmu Tenno's bow developed the power to dispel evil by the mere plucking of its string. His bow was made of Azusa (Catalpawood).
Since that time 59 Azusa-Yumi (29 vermilion and 30 black - vermilion signifying male energy and black female energy) have been enshrined at the Grand Imperial Shrine at Ise, Japan's most important Shinto shrine and the main residence of Amaterasu Omi-Kami. They serve to protect and purify the sacred inner chamber of the Shrine. These bows that are enshrined at Ise become Goshimpo-yumi (Great Treasures of the Gods). Every twenty years the inner chamber of the Shrine is renewed and new offerings are made- including the Goshimpo-yumi.
It is also a long standing tradition for the great lords and nobility to have a set of these sacred bows, either originals or replicas, in their homes (one vermilion; one black) and these are referred to as Gokaho-yumi or "Great Family Treasures". Azusa-Yumi are hand-carved from Catalpawood, or cherry and coated with urushi (Japanese laquer) and fitted with gold, silk cords and brocade.
Hama-Yumi (lower photo)
According to legend, in 1103 A.D. the Imperial palace was possessed by an evil demon, causing the emperor great anxiety and suffering. When high priests had failed in their efforts to dispel the demon an archer was summoned with the hope that his bow and arrow could rid the palace of this plague. He killed the demon with the first arrow and his bow was designated as a Hama- yumi (evil destroying bow).
Since then hama-yumi have been used in Buddhist and Shinto rituals of purification. (For example- Shihobarai- the Purification of the Four Directions) and smaller replicas have been placed in shrines and people's homes for protection against the forces of evil and for purification. They are also believed to have the ability to attract vast good fortune. Hama-yumi replicas are scale versions of a Japanese Bow coated with urushi, wrapped in fine rattan and accented in gold leaf. They are displayed in a stand along with two arrows tipped with yanone (traditional warrior tips), one representing male and the other female.
Shigehto-Yumi (not shown)
The tradition of Shigehto-yumi began four hundred years ago in the days of Oda Nobunaga, one of the greatest of all Samurai Warlords. During that time Japan was divided into 64 separate states, each ruled by a powerful Daimyo (samurai lord). There was a constant state of war in Japan as each Daimyo was eager to expand their territory. Within such division lies an inherent weakness and Nobunaga siezed this historical opportunity to wage a war of unification. Within a few years he had gained sufficient power to rule over most of Japan.
He was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who continued the fight for a unified Japan and finally by Tokugawa Ieyasu who brought a lasting peace and established the Tokugawa Shoganate, which ruled Japan for nearly 300 years. The first Shigehto-yumi was given by Oda Nobunaga to a powerful lord whom he had defeated in battle as a symbol of peace and unity. Shigehto-yumi, which symbolizes "Bow of Unity", together with two arrows were then displayed by many of the great lords who were loyal to Nobunaga and the ideal of a unified Japan.
Since that time these magnificent bows have remained powerful symbols of the honor, courage and dignity of the "warrior for peace" and are displayed in people's homes or offices in order to rouse these qualities. Shigehto-yumi are real, full-sized, useable bows coated with black urushi and wrapped in rattan. There are sixty-four wrappings which signify the sixty-four states that were unified under Nobunaga. The grip is purple leather and the top and bottom are gold-leafed.