I practiced Japanese archery for two years, and it was quite a spontaneous decision when I first signed up. On one of my map-less bicycle trips in the city (where I choose a random direction and start riding my mama-chari* without any destination), I found the prefectural martial arts center and watched some people practice kyudou. I didn’t know anything about Japanese archery at that point, but hearing the sound of the arrow hitting the target and the air returning to silence really captured my heart.
Kyudou targets. Photo: Ozizo (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsMany of my friends asked if it was expensive to get into this Japanese martial art that seemingly requires a lot of equipment. For those out there who are interested in trying this elegant and meditative Japanese culture, let me break down the estimated cost for you:
1. Classes - around 8,000-12,000 yen per semester
You're not going to be allowed in the dojo to start pew-pewing arrows left and right as an amateur. If you want to get into kyudou, you would most likely start with classes offered at the dojo, which will usually be once or twice a week for 4 months. Considering most hobby classes cost you 2,000-3,000 yen per class, this price is extremely reasonable.
Classes usually begin from April or September, so keep your eye out for the announcement posters at the local dojo. After a year or two of these classes, you will be ready to start practicing on your own, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
2. Safety insurance - around 3,000 yen per semester
It's a sport with some risks involved, so you have to pay that, no choice. There is some paperwork to go through and it is likely in Japanese, but nothing so high level that basic Japanese or a little help wouldn’t get you through.
3. Equipment – it varies (from free to 120,000 yen)
This is the one element that really depends on your dojo and your own decisions. Most dojos will lend you the bow, gloves and arrows, which we are looking at 60,000 yen, 20,000yen and 15,000 yen respectively if you want to get your own set. Being in the classes means that you can borrow all those things for FREE! You really dodged the arrow there. (See what I did?) Most dojos also allow you to wear your own sports outfit, as the kyudou hakama would also cost you around 15,000 yen.
However, when I learned it at the Saitama Prefectural Budoukan (the martial art center that I randomly found), the classes were taken very seriously so we had to purchase our own uniform and set of arrows to participate, which rounded up around 35,000 yen. The main reason is that in order to shoot well, the length of the arrow should be in scale to your arm length.
There is a stack of donated used-arrows, but if you’re looking at practicing kyudou long term, getting your own set of arrows is a great investment. Plus, picking out the colour of your choice and seeing your own arrow hit the target for the first time is quite a glorious moment.
Photo by T / Y [CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsGetting a fitting glove is also crucial to a good hand-form, especially if you get it custom fit. If not, you can borrow one from the dojo that fits you the best.
As for the uniform, kyudou is more of a ceremonial art than a martial art, and I believe that was the main reason we were requested to get the hakama so we can perform better at the formality of the art than if we were wearing causal sportswear. On the other hand, I now have a super cool kyudou hakama with my name sewed on it in Katakana!
4. Textbook – 3,000 yen
One thing you should expect is that the instructions will be taught by masters speaking in full-on Japanese. While the basic steps and actions you can mimic from watching, when it comes to the principles of kyudou, you may want to consider buying an English version of a kyudou textbook (or borrow the dojo’s copy to photocopy, if they have one) to widen your understanding.
Overall, you can likely get a taste of kyudou from a semester of classes for about 13,000 yen. The hefty price comes when you start to purchase your own set of equipment, and it definitely isn't an amount of money that most people are willing to just lay down, especially when they are not sure how long they will stay on practicing the way of the bow.
Personally, however, I have practiced it for only two years, but I feel that the lessons I’ve learned from kyudou about myself will stay with me for life, and that’s a story for another article.
*Mama-chari: a basic city bicycle ("chari") ridden by most everyone, but stereotyped as a bicycle for mamas.