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Monday, January 15, 2007

Archery at Kyoto’s Sanjusangendo Temple


kimono-archerThe annual archery festival held at Kyoto's Sanjusangendo Temple is thought to have begun during the rule of Emperor Keichou in 1600. The event continues to this day, and is held in January on or near Coming of Age Day.

Every year roughly 2,000 young people compete, the men in their dark blue hakama, or male kimono, the women in their finest coming of age furisode, a kimono for an unmarried woman. Both men and women must be newly minted adults: in Japan this means 20 years old. The second precondition for participation is that the competitors must have attained the first dan, or belt, in Japanese archery.

At this year's event, which took place yesterday, 897 men and 984 women took part. On the west side of the main temple under a large white tarp to protect the archers from rain or snow, the archers line up in groups of 20 or so and fire away. The men begin at 9, the women at 11:30.

Archers at Sanjusangendo Temple, KyotoThe target lies exactly 60 meters away and, in the preliminary round, is 100 cm in diameter. Following the morning round, the field is winnowed down to the best archers. A second and final round begins at 3:20. This time, though, the target is now but 79 cm in diameter, the distance unchanged.

Close by the crowd mills about and talks, flirts and snaps pictures. Others warm up, oblivious to their surroundings. The sound of the archery jumps between the swoosh of the arrow taking flight and the thwack of the bow's string being released. The arrows fly at tremendous speed, thudding into the padded bull's eye far in the distance.

On the other side of the temple grounds are outdoor stalls selling taiyaki (a cake shaped like a red snapper, filled with chocolate or green tea paste), noodles, and other snacks.

And everywhere are lovely young women yammering into their cell phones: "Where are you?!" "No waaay!" "You must be kidding!" "Where are you going after the competition?"

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