Yumi (弓) - The Japanese Bow

Wakyuu (和弓) - The Japanese Bow

Since the article is longer than the expectations, here is a little Index:

- History: Different bows structure and composition from the Yayoi to the Edo Period
- The asymmetry, length and draw techniques explained
- Power and range: Draw weight estimation, maximum range recorded and other sources
- Arrows and quivers: Arrows types and quivers types
- Bow & Armour: Some estimations and accounts

Have a nice reading!!

         A copy of the famous Mouko Shurai Ekotoba  蒙古襲来絵詞

History & Structure

The Japanese Bow or Wakyuu (和弓), also called Yumi (), is one of the most interesting weapons used by the ancient Samurai warriors, but its history is even more older. Like in many countries, bows were tools for hunting before being weapons, and Japan was no exception.

Stone arrowheads unearthed by archeologists suggest that bows and arrows have been used in Japan from as far back as 10,000 BCE, and it was used indeed as a weapon by the Yayoi period (c.300 BCE–300 CE), when fighting and war became frequent and widespread.

Early bows were quite simple; they were called Maruki (丸木and were made of plain wood like atalpa, zelkova, sandalwood, yew or mulberry and were lacquered or wrapped with bark thongs, to increase their durability in the Japanese climate. They were also straight bow.


                     A Maruki Bow from 弓箭圖式 

This kind of bow weaker compared with later design, but it was also easy to drawn and quite effective in short distances and fast pace engagement: this is basically were the idea of Yabusame came from, in fact this kind of bows were still used for ceremonial and competitive archery, for hunting, for some kinds of training, and even on the battlefield throughout the medieval period and beyond.

There are a lot of religious and mystical stories around bows, like the Hama Yumi (破魔弓)
The grip, as noted in the Chinese Book of Wei (魏書) of the 3th century, was already asymmetrical, even before the development of the horse archery style of combat of the early Samurai. 

Composite "recurved" bows like the one used by the Mongols were known in Japan at least since the 9th century. However, horn and sinew were quite rare in Japan: cattle weren't common and handling leather or slaughter animals was a taboo in a Buddhist society, so they turned to the material they had in abundance: namely bamboo and wood.

Entering the 10th century we have the first composite bow, and the first clear evidence of this kind of structure is inside a poem by Minamoto Yorimasa (1104–80).

These bows were called Fusetake (伏竹弓) and featured a single strip of bamboo laminated to the outside face of the wood (usually yew - kaya  ), using a paste (called nibe) made from fish bladders. This was done to obtain the power needed in a war bow while retaining a cross section of reasonable proportions. In this period, the familiar structure of the Waikyuu started to emerge.

Composite bows made of bamboo and wood, from 弓箭圖式

Sometimes later, in the late Heian period, bows took another step further in their development; around the 12th and 13th century, a second bamboo laminate was added to the inside face of the bow, to create 
the Sammai Uchi Yumi (三枚打弓and increase its power even more.

Is not clear also when the shift from the straight (or slightly curved structure) to a "recurved" ones happened; some historians argued that based on artist depictions, only after the Mongol invasion the Yumi became a recurve bow ( meaning a
 bow in which the tips of the limbs curve away from the archer) but is quite hard to tell from those kind of depictions because the bow is not unstrung; so it's possible that this change was done even before.

The bows were steam-bent into arc shapes and strung against their curves, an innovation that greatly enhanced their power, and is well accepted that from the 14th century onward, the bow was a recurved one.
In the 15th century two additional bamboo slats were added to the sides, so that the wooden core was now completely encased, producing the Shihouchiku yumi (四方竹弓).

 The final step was taken around the 17th Century, in the Edo Period, where the Higo Yumi (弓胎弓) was born. This has core of three to five bamboo slats, with additional bamboo facings laminated to the front and back edges, and strips of wood laminated to the sides.

Composite bows made of bamboo and wood, from

Another interesting and rare type of Wakyuu is the Tekkyuu (鉄弓), a steel bow. This bow was made of spring tempered steel, which allowed the bow to flex and return to its original shape. Those bows were never common to begin with, due to the massive strength required to use them and to the resources used to make them, and were more ceremonial objects than weapons.
The first steel bow, most of the time simply called iron bow, was excavated from a Kofun of the 4th century, although it is highly unlikely that said bow was spring tempered, since I'm skeptical that in those days they had the technology to produce such a big mono high carbon steel bar and spring tempered it properly.

An iron bow is associated with the 16th century period myth of the hero Yuriwaka (
It is established that by the 16th century, the Japanese knew spring tempering; this is also in line with their development in steel and iron industry of this period.
According to the Intoku Taiheiki (陰德太平記
) of the late 17th century (published in the early 18th), Takeda Mitsukazu (武田光和) used such a bow in the early 16th century.

There is also a tekkyuu in the Edo period book Jitsu go hariyumi no zu (
拾五張弓之図), and a real example preserved in the Tokyo National Museum made by Aoki Kiyohide (青木清秀) in the early 19th century.

All the Wakyuu were lacquered ( the most common color pattern was vermilion and black) to protect the glued joints from moisture, which could cause the bow staves to delaminate or lose springiness and then bound with thongs of rattan, birch bark or silk.This bindings, other than holding the bow, served as sights; you could estimate the distance between the bow and the target and aiming accordingly.

Bowstrings, Tsuru (), were generally made of plant fibre, usually hemp or ramie, coated with wax to give an hard, smooth surface.
An additional bowstring was carried around the waist, near the swords, in the early times.

   Tsuru from 弓箭圖式 

Japanese warriors were really found of their bows; in the early period, the term "Kyuusen no Ie" or "Yumiya no Ie" (弓矢の家) meant Samurai family, although the right translation is "Bow and arrow family", and being able to shoot a powerful bow was sign of martial prowess.
Most of the time the fight was carried by noble "Bushi", whom fought archery duels on horseback, at least this is what emerges from the Gunkimono (軍記物). After the rise of the infantry soldiers in the late 14th to 15th century, bows were still in use on foot, both by Samurai and by Ashigaru, which used the same kind of bow. It is actually true that Japanese warriors, in basically any kind of period, were archers before anything else.

Even if not as before, a lot of people underestimates the role of this weapon; from the Heian up the Muromachi Period, the Wakyuu remained the top killer, causing the 82% of total wounds in 14th century alone.
Even when matchlocks firearms started to widespread in Japan after the 1560, bows were still used in huge numbers, and arrows wounds were the second most common type of injury ( 45% for arquebus, 21% for arrows).
Also bows, although they required a lot more skill to be used, have more range, accuracy and a faster rate of fire than early guns, not to mention other factors like rain or mud which make guns even less effective.

Some early forms of Kyuudo, from 千代田之御表

Shape, Grip & Length -Why the asymmetry and the "huge" length?

The Yumi is the largest bow in the world; if you are wondering why these bows were as long as 2,7 meters, well the answer is quite clear, and is a similar answer to why English Longbows are "long" too.
Simple wood bows will not bend very deeply without breaking, and overflexing composites of wood and bamboo stresses the adhesive and makes the laminations separate. To achieve significant power, therefore, wood or wood and bamboo bows must be long, sometimes even as much as 2 meters, which was quite the norm for any Japanese bow.

And this led to another important point: why the grip is asymmetrical?
Some historian argued that due to the length of the bow, the grip has to be like this to be effectively used on horseback, and this seems reasonable but the grip was already asymmetrical before any significant development in horse archery warfare, and even when horse archery wasn't practiced anymore on the battlefield, the grip was still there.

Other scholars argue that the lopsided proportions were originally necessary to balance the bending characteristics of the wood: simple bows, produced from a single piece of wood, were made from young trees, using the root end of the tree for the lower part of the bow stave. The branch end of the tree is springier than the root end.
Thus the grip needed to be located closer to the bottom of the bow ( the stiffer end of the wood ) in order to balance out the elasticity of the weapon, so that it would draw evenly, without over-stressing either end.

Gripping the bow two-thirds of the way down its length maximizes its rebound power and minimizes fatigue to the archer far better than the more familiar centered grip. Careful analysis of the mechanics of a bow pulled to full draw and released shows that the Japanese grip places the archer’s hand at one of two nodes of oscillation during the shooting movement, which means that little shock is imparted to the left (gripping) hand and arm when the string is released.
Instead, using the grip in the centre puts the gripping hand at a point of maximal oscillation.

 A detail from the 男衾三郎絵巻

And this bring us to the last point; the draw length: traditional Japanese archery could reach a draw length of 1 meters more or less, and when looking at early Samurai depictions we see warriors holding the string further than the ears, which means around 80 cm to 100 cm; a lot of power indeed.
Like in many Asian countries, the Japanese drew the string with the right thumb hooked under the arrow and locked by the first two fingers resting on the thumbnail, so the arrow was positioned on the right of the bow (as viewed by the archers). To protect the hands, leather gloves were used.
There were mainly two techniques used to shoot the bow:

1) The more familiar associated with horse archery is the Ogasawara-ryu (小笠原流), in which the archer hold the bow above the head, to clear the horse, and then moved his hands apart as the bow is brought down, to end with the left arm straight and the right hand near the right hear.
However, it is not clear if this procedure called Uchiokoshi where the bow is raised above the head was used in the early periods; it might be a late Edo period invention, to allow the right sleeve of the kimono to fall down while shooting a bow.

2) The alternative method which was used on foot is quite similar to western archery, and is associated with the Heiki-ryu (日置流); the draw was begun with the bow held perpendicular to the ground.

To release, the fingers supporting the thumb were relaxed, allowing the string to slip off the glove and allowing the bow to rotate in the hand.

Before and after the release in Yabusame, from

Power & Range - How strong it was?

After the previous reading is quite clear that bows were quite different from a time period to another, due to structure and usage.
But one of the most huge misconception about Samurai is based on their bow's power. Around the internet, especially in the "latest times" a lot of people tried to figure out the power of the Japanese bows, and a lot of them was looking for the infamous "draw weight".
Until very recently, actual data on historical draw weight weren't available and this lead to the idea that said bows were relatively weak; nothing more far from the truth! (more on the EDIT).

So, short answer: it was powerful as much (is not even more) than the majority of war bows used on the world.
Now, many people stated that the Yumi was a weak bow, weaker than the Longbow for example, mainly for these reasons:

- They got confused with Kyuudo bows, which draw weight is in between 25-66 lbs ( 11 - 30 kg circa) which is extremely low compared with war bows like the English one ( up to 180 lbs).

- They think that since it was used mainly for horse archery, it has to have a low draw weight
- Due to the emergency of Yabusame ( so short range and fast shots = low draw weight)

Well, is quite obvious that Kyuudo bows and War Bows are two completely different things, and also that Yabusame was more related to the usage of Maruki Bow rather than other proper war bows; in addition to that, Mongols and Turkish warriors, which were famous for their horse archery skills, used bows well behind the 100 lbs ( 120-160 lbs) and the Wakyuu wasn't only used on horseback!

Is quite hard to establish the draw weight of Yumi; nobody apparently bother to measure an antique bow until recently (however there are modern historically accurate replicas made with traditional techniques which are around the 110 lbs spot).
Mainly because the power of the bow in Japan was established by measuring the dimension of the core or by counting the men needed for string the bow something like a Sannin-bari (三人張り= 3 men bow) or Yonnin-bari (四人張り= 4 men bow) in ancient times.

Some researchers have tried to establish the correlation between men bow and kilograms  and they have proposed that something like a 5 men bow would be the equivalent of 70-80 kg (176 lbs).
Some chronicles mention things like 10 men bow, but I seriously doubt that would have ever been practical.

A three man bow (三人張り) from 男衾三郎絵巻

I've seen physician, historian and bowyers opinions and the draw weight range estimated is from 70 to 200 lbs, with an average of 120 lbs.
Well this is an estimation, but is also true that is not that hard to reach those numbers: you just need to add more bamboo and made the core thicker, and here you are; at the end of the day, the strength of the bow is deeply related to the strength of the archers.

EDIT: An actual historical yumi was measured in its draw weight. It was a "3 men bow" from the early Edo period, with a structure fairly similar to the ones used in the Sengoku period.
Said bow measured 196 lbs (89kg); this allowed the researcher to conclude that the idea of anything above 5 men bows were likely terms used to express power around 200 lbs, because more than 3 men cannot string a bow without hinder themselves in the process.

A screenshot taken from the video were they tested few 110 lbs bows and measured such beast.

So I'm quite happy that at the end of the day, my educated guess were not that far! END EDIT.

Now, the are some Chinese Sources that highlight the power of the Wakyuu in the 16th century (Sources via : Great Ming Military, which is a nice place where to spend some time by the way):
Ming Dynasty didn't bother to compare the strength of the Japanese bows with the ones used by the "nomads" ( Mongols) and also highlighted the fact that their arrows were heavy, deadly and capable of piercing houses from the roof to the rafters.

 A detail from a battle scene of  春日権現験記 (第2軸)

And that's actually the average range for bows designed to pierce armor; in fact from art depictions (both in the west and in the east) we see archers holding the bow perpendicular to the ground, to shoot straight.

There are also some legend involving an herculean Minamoto Tametomo (源為朝), who was able to sink a Taira Ship with his bow only; while this is indeed pure fantasy, nobody would have bother emphasize such a weapon if it wasn't powerful at all, nor wear heavy and thick lamellar armor.
In addition to that, the bow has a recurved and laminated structure, with long draw length and shoot heavy arrows; all hints that suggest that the Yumi was a powerful bow indeed.

Now, as far as the range is involved, there are a lot of misconception too. It is true that the Wakyuu was a specialized, short ranged weapons due to the fact that his role was trying to get through armor. This is why it shoot those heavy long arrows, which are not efficient for long range shooting. However I think that the word "short" has to be explained more.

The record for a Japanese Yumi in the Toushiya (通し矢) competition was 385,5 meters ( the record for Longbow & flight arrow is 315,33 meters ).
This was indeed possible with lightweight flight arrows, not meant to be deadly. At that distance the killing potential of the bow would have been minimal.

However it is reasonable to assume the fact that on the battlefields, the Yumi could reach 150-200 meters with the lightest war arrows quite easily and more or less 100 meters with the heaviest ones.

Again, quoting some Chinese Sources, from Song Dynasty Liang Wài Dài Dá (嶺外代答), a Japanese bow from late Heian or early Kamakura period bow can propel a fletchless arrow to a range of 100 Chinese paces (~163m) without the need of arching the shot!

The famous Battle of Crecy depiction,in which the bows are held perpendicular to the ground.

It is fair however to say that this could be considered "short" when comparing the Yumi with Korean or Turkish bows, but not when comparing it to Europeans or Manchu bows.

The "myth" of the Yumi being a short range weapons came from Kyuudo data (weak bows) and by a famous complaint of Musashi who said that the bow was unsatisfactory if the enemy was more than 40m away; but he probably meant an enemy with armor (which is true for any kind of bow).

Arrows types and quivers

It would be impossible trying to show all the possible Japanese arrow shapes and tips in a Blog's article and I have to say that this is already too long; so I'll started with the shaft.
Japanese Arrows (Ya - ) were made with a shaft of bamboo, cut in between November and December, then softened in hot sand and straightened with apposite tools. The length varied a lot based on the periods, and were in between 86 and 97 centimeters.
There were normally three fletchings, sometimes even four and the feathers used came from eagle, hawk or crane.
The weight varied a lot from flight arrows to war arrows; the latter often exceeded 100g, arrowheads included.
The arrowheads, or tips (Yanone) could be roughly divided into three main categories, however there are some of them which are work of art, never meant to be used. The arrowheads were fitted into the shaft by a slender tang forged with the arrow. They were usually differentially hardened in the Japanese tradition, to have maximum sharpness, rigidity and power.

Narrow four sided heads: these are often squared in section and could be Yanagi (willow leaf) , Sasa no Ha (bamboo leaf) or Togari Ya (pointed) and were the most common type of war arrows. Like the bodkin type, were meant for penetration, even of armor.

On the left some of the arrows mentioned before, from 弓箭圖式 

Barbed broadhead type: also called Hirane, these are shaped like the base of a flat-iron and are flat in section with narrow sharpened edge. This style is the most common to be highly decorated.

Hirane arrows from 弓箭圖式 

Forked arrowheads: probably the most iconic associated with the Samurai, these arrows were called Karimata after their resemblance to a flock of geese in flight and were indeed forked. Most were probably used for hunting, however in the past it has been suggested that they were used to cut the fastening cords of armor; highly unlikely in my opinion, since these were protected by the armor itself. They were used to increase the chances to hit someone.

Karimata arrows from 弓箭圖式 

Some arrows were fitted with a "whistle" and were used as a form of signal:

Other arrows images, from  弓箭圖式 and  武器袖鏡. 初編

During the early periods, when archery was performed both on horseback and on foot, arrows were carried inside Ebira, a box with a grid of bamboo which gripped the heads; it was carried around the waist:

Ebira from 武器袖鏡. 初編

While entering in the Muromachi period, the Ebira was used only for travel and the Utsubo replaced it ( it was in use since the Kamakura period for hunting). The Utsubo is a tube-like quiver, worn on the back and covered with fur.

Utsubo from 便蒙古武器圖式 (2巻. )

Bow & Armor - Which one was more effective?

As I said before, Japanese archery was highly focused on armor penetration; this is the reason why heavy arrows were shoot at short ranges with powerful bows.
"Bow vs armor" is an old debate also found in Western Europe, and like in that field, we have to use Matt Easton's favorite word: "Context!".
Is really all about context.
I have to say that when it comes to Japanese armor, which is my field of "study" and the main reason why I created this Blog, I could state that it worked pretty well.
But at the same time, the Japanese bow was indeed a powerful weapon.
In the Gunkimono we read of arrows piercing more than three suit of armor at once, or "nailing" a man with his armor to his horse's saddle.

But how much truth is in there?

Mongolian armor being pierced by Japanese arrows, detail from a copy of the  

To simplify all the major factors that could get into this topic, I would argue that there are more or less three big conditions to consider:

First of all, Range:
If the target is well beyond 30 meters forget about piercing any type of armor. This is probably the most important factor; you could have the most strongest medieval bow, but even wearing a thick jacket might save your life if you are out of that range, because the arrows would have lost the energy required. You'r target should be closer, the best range is within the 15 meters or at point blank, but even at 20-25 meters you could still have some chances

Than you have to consider the Bow & Arrow:
You need a powerful bow, likely to be in the 110-130 lbs spot or more ( we are talking of course of medieval bows) and a dedicated arrowhead fitted to an heavy shaft. This is why Japanese, Manchu and English longbow used these kind of arrows.

Finally, Armor:
There are a lot of things to consider here.
First of all, the "Quality": low quality munition armor could be easily pierced even by weaker bows. Munition armor used by infantry soldiers was likely to be pierced by powerful bows in the range mentioned before.
Than the "Type" of armor used.
In Japan, depending on the period, various types of armor were used, mainly Mail, Lamellar and Plate.

For Mail armor there are a lot of factors to be considered; I've already talked about Japanese mail, so I just give you my 2 cents: be it riveted, backed with gambeson and of thick-good quality rings, mail armor is likely to be pierced by war bows, especially by one as powerful as the Wakyuu. Even if it is a "weaker material" (meaning that a lot of the energy is lost on the impact since the rings aren't rigid but moves with the arrows a little bit), the arrows could pierce, break or slip through the rings and if is sharpened enough it could finish the job by cutting the layer of leather or clothes behind it.

Lamellar armor, like brigandine or similar, is still a "weaker" material (not as much as mail) but doesn't have the spaces in between rings so is less likely to be pierced; however this highly depends on the material ( hardened leather, iron or steel). There were some armor entirely made of leather lamellae which were more likely to be pierced, but even iron ones weren't 100% arrow proof: In some test done by Mori Toshio (森俊男) a Japanese bow was able to pierce 1,6 mm of steel ( the arrow speed was around 60 m/s). A close shot performed by an horse archers could have been able to get through the lamellar structure. And that's the reason why in Japan ( and other part of the world) the lamellae usually overlaps to double or triplicate the thickness.

Finally Plate; this is not a weaker material because its rigid, however the energy required to defeat those armors could be increased by creating curvatures: this is why helmet and breastplate usually have those shapes.

Now when it comes to plate, curvature, thickness and quality are the main factors to consider. Even low quality munition armor, if thick enough, could still stop war arrows without too much effort. However most of the time, the poor's Ashigaru were issued with low quality and fairly thin metal breastplates that were indeed pierced even by less powerful bow.
Yoshida Nouan ( 吉田能安)  shot a steel helmet in a comprehensive review held in Nikkou Toushouguu in 1967, with a 30kg (66 lbs) bow at 15m: it pierced the helmet side by side. The bow was still relatively weak, so the helmet must have been a really low/munition quality ones (and the archer a skilled ones).

Good quality, highly worked plate on the other hand could defeat arrows quite easily.
Sakakibara Kozan in his "Chukokatchu seisakuben"
 wrote of plate forged in a precise way which were arrowproof and bulletproof.

Detail from the Heiji Monogatari Emaki


At the end of the day, arrows were only capable of defeating the main defense (breastplates and helmets) of low quality or "weak" armor in some conditions, but they where still capable of piercing limbs protected by less thick plates /mail of the high end example, or bypassing entirely the protection when hitting non-protected zones (most of the time leaving a non fatal injury).
However, the best equipped warriors didn't fear them at all.
It is also true that all over the world, despite armors, arrows were still shoot in huge numbers and many people died due to their efficiency at killing, especially in Japan.
The armor piercing ability was also increased in the early periods thanks to the horse archery, which allow the warrior to close the distance without risking too much.

Yes, I know, this article is Huge. But I really wanted to create an article available for everyone filled with as much content as possible.

If you have been brave enough to finish it, Kudos to you and a big thank you.
Hope you have enjoyed! If you have any comments please, feel free to express you're opinion.



  1. Hello, I come here for a visit =D

    Actually Ming record describes that Yumi arrows pierce the roof and buried into the rafter (internal beams that form the "skeleton" of the roof), rather than hitting the floor.

    I also read that Japanese arrowheads are made in a similar manner to their sword, i.e. folded steel with tempering, which should increase the effectiveness in penetrating armour (when compared to iron arrowhead).

    On, and there's this gem:

    Shot from a 66 pound Yumi (presumably a "Kyudo" bow) at a range of 15m (took him five tries, with the first four arrows bounced off). Even if we assume that's a low quality iron helmet, piercing it on both sides is still an impressive feat.

    1. Thank you for the visit! I'm honored that you read it! As you can see all my blog is still work in progress (both in content and design); I will correct the "roof to floor" sentence since I've just misunderstand what a rafter is.

      Yes you are right regarding the steel in arrows, the process is called differential hardening; but it wasn't used in decorative arrows because the steel needed to be softer to be easily decorated.

      I'm aware of that performance; the archer is indeed Yoshida Nouan (吉田能安) at Nikkou shrine;
      yes is quite impressive but I think that the archer there was the "impressive" part!

    2. Virtually all steel in Japan at that time was of folded construction. The very poor quality bloomery steel that was available to them basically necessitated a folding process to draw out impurities and create a somewhat homogeneous internal structure. Infact their steel tended to be of such quality that it often wouldn't have met out modern definition of what steel is, a great deal of it had carbon contents which made it into the material we call "cast iron" today (this is because of its chemical makeup, not because it was actually cast into shape)

    3. Hi!
      There are many points to address in your comment.
      First of all, pretty much everywhere prior to the development of the Bessemer method, steel produced with pre-industrial technology needed some kind of refinement (a.k.a. folding). Bloomery steel, decarburized cast iron, wootz; all of them need some consolidation in order to homegenize the final product.

      Also, bloomery steel quality was pretty much the same all over the world, because the process used was very, very similar; the biggest difference would have been in the size of the furnace. A small bloomery wouldn't have been able to melt fayalite (a type of slag formation) but a big one could reach 1400 °C which is more than enough. Japanese bloomeries were able to do so, and there is not something inherenthly inferior in their methods compared to European or Middle Eastern ones as far as bloomery steel production is concerned. You can expect a very similar final bloomery steel in Europe and Japan for example.
      However, what is important, is the fact that the Japanese had access to an indirect steel production method known as Zuku Oshi Tatara which is essentially a blast furnace.
      With this process, the final quality of the steel ingots would have been much better compared to bloomery ones.
      Morover, the amount of slag % found in Japanese steel products of the period was in line with those find in Europe, India and China. You can expect to see steel with very low amount of slag in Japan too.

      Finally, cast iron/pig iron was never directly used in Japanese swords; that's a fairly famous myth. Forging cast iron into shape is something that is not even feasible in my opinion, because it's too brittle.
      Japanese swords used either hypereutoctid bloomery steel or decarburized cast iron with a carbon content range in between 0.7-1.5%. During the forging process, the amount of carbon will decrease, and usually Japanese swords at the edge have 0.7-1% carbon at best.
      To have cast iron, the amount of carbon should be around 2% or higher, and this was never observed in the first place on Japanese steel artifacts.

      I have dedicated a series of article to address the traditional Japanese steelmaking process; you can find plenty of references and information there.




    4. Bloomery iron/steel would not have enough silicon to qualify as cast iron (~2% or more). Limestone flux would tend to remove any silicon. 2nd, anything you forged with high silicon iron wouldn't survive the quenching process.

  2. Hello, it's me again.

    I happen to stumble across (apparently Edo period) rough estimates on Japanese bow thickness in relation to its draw weight, something like:
    五分 (bow thickness at the grip) = 三貫八百目 (draw weight).

    Do you have more data on this stuffs?

    1. Good day! Unfortunately no, I don't have such information; what I know is that thickness was indeed a way to measure the strength of the bow. Is not a surprise that historical Japanese warbows were 5 or more times thicker than their modern day Kyuudo counter part, which are roughly in the 20 lbs draw weight spot. If the things are related, one could expect to see a warbow being up to 100 lbs but that's again another estimation. By the way, thank you for coming here again and sharing your info! I've been busy during this month but now I'm ready to post again!

  3. I have found a photo showing what lloks like bodkin points on arrow from the Kamakura Period. That make me think, have there been a comprehensive test of arrow on Japanese armor like the Oyoroi and Do maru?

    Is the way Japanese lamellar is laced have to do with stopping arrow?

    I mean, try to compare Japanese a
    lamellar and Han dynasty reconstruction. The Japanese lamellar look like small plates fastened together to create a metal strip, then the strip are fastened one on top of the other.

    With that kind of lacing, maybe the arrow will have to spent energy on moving the free hanging lamellar rather than spend all of its energy hitting a solid target.

    1. Hi! As far as I know there aren't many test on the specific Oyoroi or Doumaru armor, not as many as Europeans ones for example, where you have videos, books and scientific publications.

      However, although quite unique in its aesthetic, samurai period lamellar armors are quite similar to the lamellar armor used all over the world, especially in Asia. What you said is true, I will write an article on the structure of these armors, but essentially they were assembled to create a row, and then they were fastened on top of the other.

      This structure is "weak" meaning that is not as rigid as plate since each lamellae has some spaces to move in the row; this makes the arrow losing some of its energy as you said. This was also demonstrated in some test in which lamellar armor performed extremely well against longbow (but honestly I can't remember the book in which these test were done).

      In addition to that, there are some Japanese armor which were made with a triple overlapping, which means more or less 1 cm of material to bypass.

      Japanese bows were surely built around piercing armor, but they were effective only in specific context against the heaviest form of armor.

    2. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/The_arrow_of_the_Kamakura_period_%282%29.JPG

      This is the bodkin point, I mentioned.

      How common is the usage of bow in a Japanese army?

      Because in almost every painting I see a lot of them carrying bow whether mounted or on foot. Is the Yumi hard to mass produce?

    3. Prior to the widespread usage of arquebus, the bow was probably the most used weapon. It was used both by cavalry (with some exceptions in the 14th century) and by infantry, and even in the Sengoku period bows were fairly common inside Ashigaru units.

      I don't know the precise numbers of the armies prior to the late 16th century, but for comparison in the 16th century, bows were still used a lot. It depends on clan, but for example the Shimazu in Korea sent 1500 arquebusers, 1500 archers and 300 spearmen.

      I cannot say with accuracy but I think Yumi are not so hard to mass produce: they need wood, bamboo and others elements which are found in Japan with no efforts; they required some time to be assembled but back in the days man work was cheap, so they were able to make a lot of bows per day. Otherwise they would have not rely too much on these weapons.

    4. I should caution that the replicas produced and tested by a certain Iron *something* armoury are considered a really, really bad joke (as in "even SCA armours are better than theirs" level of bad) by some of my serious armourer acquaintances.

      Take their tests (and other's tests on their products) with a gigantic pile of salt.

    5. Yes indeed;
      I have seen the tests done by the armory itself and by other you tubers here and there and all I can say is that, despite the armor preventing potential fatal injuries, it was severely dented, even by sword blows.

      This doesn't rappresent the best quality of Japanese armor available at that time, according to the survival battle damaged armors and battle accounts as well.
      In fact it is a very light set of armor.

      It is a fair level for the price you get; nobody would consider historically accurate the tests done against a full set of European plate armor in the same price range.

      I wanted to write an article about that in the past, but honestly I don't want to argue with companies that are selling their products just because they aren't "historically accurate". However, people should be aware that their armor is not an accurate analogy for a period armor as far as protection is concerned: this fact should be address by the ones doing the tests or reviewing the armor!

  4. Hello,

    I'm so happy I stumbled across your article! I've seen so many people on the "internet" talk about how weak Japanese yumi's are based on some wild assumptions (mostly surrounding modern bows). They all claim how there's a lack of historical proof that show the power of Japanese bows, when all you have to do is go to Sanjusangendo in Kyoto. You actually see how deep the arrows penetrated the old hardwood rafters and there is a collection of ancient bows there that resemble English longbows (in core thickness).

    But, the real reason why I found your site was I'm looking for information on the rattan wrapping on yumi's. For example I've heard in ceremonial shooting like the Ogasawara school only highly ranked archers shoot bows with rattan bands running the length of the bow. Then I've heard the decorative rattan circle wrap above the arrow pass is added by Kyudoka's to signify reaching a certain point in their progress. But, I haven't actually seen any solid information with regards to the rattan wrappings.

    Do you have any information about this?

    1. I'm so glad that you found my blog!
      I do agree with you, the information about the power of the Japanese bow in English sources is fairly limited and not accurate at all, that's why I made this article in the first place.

      Unfortunately I don't have the information you were looking for; as far as I am aware, the rattan main purpose was to protect the bow from moisture, most likely.
      It might be that said traditions were established, maybe in the Edo period, maybe before that but I guess that it's more related to Kyudo and Kyujiutsu, two arts that I'm not familiar with.

      If this can be of any help, you might ask to (or read something about) someone related to the Ogasawara school.

  5. Hello, and thank you for posting this information.

    Some points, though: Being a kyudoka in Heki-ryu Insai-ha school (not Heiki-ryu, typo, I guess)(the school is practising the way of foot soldiers) for over 25 years now, I've not heard of any history of bow being held horizontally. I am not saying it wouldn't be impossible, but even in battle demonstrations (Koshiya Kumiyumi, [薩摩日置流腰矢組弓 演武]) the draw begins first when the bow is upright, even it could have been nocked laying on the ground. The Uchiokoshi (lifting the bow up) is lower, you will not show your bare armpit to the enemy, that would be bad. The bow is opened from down up. Lifting the bow high up over your head is anyway quite a late invention, late 1800s, if I can recall, and one of the purposes might be letting the right kimono sleeve drop out of the way when shooting, so it has little to do with medieval warfare.

    And about the rattan windings, besides holding the bow in one piece, the rattan just over the nigiri (handle) serves as a sight. You can estimate the distance to the target and aim higher or lower according to the windings.

    1. Thank you so much for leaving a comment!!

      I have realized just now how bad were my choice of word when it comes to horizontally; I didn't mean that the bow was held horizontally like in a crossbow; I meant that the bow was held "perpendicular" to the ground, without arching the shot but shooting straight (like any other bow when you are shooting ) I'll change the word!

      Also, I've never been too sure about the Uchiokoshi; although it might make sense on horseback, since you have the horse's neck to deal with, is a little bit awkward when it comes to strength. My sources said this so I reported it, but I will add the kimono explanation too which seems very reasonable!
      And thank you so much for your comment on the rattan windings; this is a very useful information!

  6. I have read somewhere on your article about the Japanese steel bow (for showing Japanese prowess in metallurgy), are they commonly used?

    I find 2 websites in Japanese about a steel bow from a 4th century Kofun tomb. I cannot understand the Japanese article and I don't trust the Google translation.



    Did the Japanese use arrow guide or blunt arrow for inflicting blunt trauma?

    1. Well I'm impressed, that's actually an iron bow with arrows entirely made of iron!
      I didn't knew they existed in that period, I'll have to update the article. I have few things to consider:

      1) It might have been of steel since the Japanese use the word tetsu for anything steel/iron/cast iron. To be spring tempered it has to be monosteel with a medium carbon content and I highly doubt that such technology exist in the 4th century Japan.

      2) The bow and arrows are clearly cerimonial, because all iron bows in Japan were actually cerimonial and these arrows are too heavy to be shot. So if it was cerimonial, they might have used another material as well like copper or gold, but they chose iron (or possibly steel); maybe to allow the bow to work properly nevertheless? If I am right, the bow was spring tempered.

      In any case, the later iron bows I'm pretty sure that were spring tempered; they were never really common because they have a really high draw weight and are also very expensive to make. These bows however were supposed to work.

      As far as blunt trauma arrows, no they were not used; an arrows has to be reasonably light to flight, and even the heavier ones are not heavy enough to inflict blunt trauma. They used blunt arrows for small games and yabusame but not for war

    2. The Han Dynasty already know tempering techniques and make flexible sword.


      Maybe the techniques spread to Japan as well.

      I have once read that the Tatara furnace is actually unrelated to Chinese metallurgy and have more in common with Southasian furnace.

      Steel bows have been used in India too.


      Is there maybe a correlation?

      By the way, with the wide usage of rigid armor made with plates, I think there would be incentives to create powerful long range weapon.

      Do you have information about the usage of the Oyumi?

    3. The Kofun bow is 182 cm long and the arrow is 80 cm long if you want to know.

      By the way for more large Kofun Period weapon, there is also this long sword with original length of possibly 150 cm.


      If it is really practical, I think it would need to be spring tempered as not to break or bend easily upon hitting.

      I have no idea how to get such info, maybe ask the museum to perform test on the bow.

      I have rarely seen metallurgical composition testing on Samurai period weapons and armor, but never on Kofun weapon or armor.

    4. Thank you for the information, I didn't know that they already had access to spring tempering that early, but I'm not that surprise given the high level of technological development in metallurgy of the ancient Chinese.
      It could be possible that said technique arrived in Japan, although they were much more connected with the Koreans back then rather than the Chinese.

      I've read about these steel bows made in India, but I cannot find any correlation since the two culture were very far from each other especially during the Kofun period. In any case, I read that these bows weren't that powerful in terms of draw weight according to a paper that dealt with the physique of Asian Warbows, by Timo Nieminen ( which I suggest you to read it, it's highly informative and it's free, just google it!). Might be wrong here though.

      All things considered I don't think that they were worth the cost; steel bow is incredibly more expensive compared to one made of wood, which can still reach high level of draw weight provided that it's thick enough.

      I also have some information on the Oyumi and I will write something about it, but given the fact that I'm quite slow with all these articles, if you are interested I can write them in this comment section! Just let me know.

      About that sword, it is indeed an incredible discovery! As far as I know, swords in this period weren't that different from the later ones, in the sense that they were laminated and differentially hardened (although the techniques involved in swordmaking improved over the ages and by a lot); that being said, the Nodachi of the later periods were made without spring tempering and still hold very well on the battlefields. For example, the fact that it is single edge greatly increase its structural strenght due to the thick back supporting eventual shock.

      Unfortunately, as far as that bow is concerned, I doubt we would be able to know if it is spring tempered or not, mainly because the risk of damaging while testing is too high.
      In any case, if you take katana for example, they were hardened and tempered, so you could possibly have tempered martensite on the edge.
      About metallurgy of this period, there are some papers in Japanese, but I can suggest you to read this paper: "On the Origins of Nihonto" by Carlo Giuseppe Tacchini.
      I don't know how reliable it is ( I suspect it is very accurate) but it is very well made and it is full of references; there are metallurgical details inside too and it talks about swords prior to the Nihonto. I will definetely use it for the future!
      Hope that this could help

    5. I am quite interested in the following:

      - Yumi gradually become more powerful.

      - Therefore earlier Yumi are not as powerful.

      - There are conflict between Japanese themselves and with Continental power,

      - How do they kill each other?

      other than with meelee weapon, because extensive armor + shield with iron/steel facing means they can defend very effectively against arrows. I am certain they are more protected than the Roman legion or the later Samurai against ranged attack.

      If bows are used in mass number since the beginning of the Japanese history, how do they had difficulty in facing the Emishi? Couldn't they just counter hit and run tactics by shooting them with arrows?

      How do a horse archer army (Emishi and Japanese) work on an island? I have always read that horse archer cannot operate in forest, mountains or islands. Since I got those information from forum debate about potential Mongol Invasion of Europe, there might be Eurocentrism there.

    6. About steel working method at that time,

      I am pretty certain that it is highly advanced, but how advanced I don't know.

      I have read somewhere in Historum about Han Dynasty iron pillar for supporting bridge with weight reaching to 1 ton. There also steel sheet of around 3 m x 2 m with thickness of 4 cm+.

      If even some of this technology are transferred to Korea and Japan, it would explain the heavy armor used in that area at such early time.

      Also relationship between India and East Asia is quite close at this time with Buddhism spreading to Korea and Japan and Indian monk visiting Japan.

      How do Nodachi fare in battle when they are untempered?

      I have never heard of later Japanese being tempered, how is the process done? Not that I don't believe, I just never see it done in documentary or books.

    7. Although earlier Yumi were not as strong as the later ones, it is very hard to know for sure how strong they were. Much of this article was written with the support of Karl Friday's book "Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan" but I have to say that all the book is very harsh and somewhat biased against Japanese bows, armors and horses and presented some very old, already dubenked idea.
      So honestly I don't know if the bows used in the Kofun periodweren't powerful enough to pierce armor, or if they were more than capable of doing so. So if Yumi of the 16th century might have reached the 180lbs spot, it doesn't mean that Yumi of the 6th century weren't capable of reaching the 100 lbs spot.

      Despite my argument above, arrows might have been a minor issues in those periods, although there were some gaps in the armor that might have been exploited by massed archery.
      How did the Yamato lose against the Emishi? Well, it's quite simple:
      Most of the war against them was waged in the Kanto and Sendai planes which highly favored cavalry troops like the Emishi.
      Beside, the Yamato army was made of untrained conscripted soldiers, which lacked the morale and discipline of the Emishi, who were motivated to defend their land. Last but not least, they were familiar with their own land, unlike the Yamato army, which was based on heavy infantry, highly rigid.
      The Emishi were able to exploit any single weaknesses of the Yamato while being able to fight in the most favorable condition.
      This is why the government decided to hire troops of the Kanto region, which were familiar with the territory as well as the way of fighting of the Emishi, and then you have the first step towards the direction of the Samurai.

      Also, the battle of the Heian and Kamakura period, which saw the usage of horse archery, were either fought in favorable terrain, like the Kanto, plains, shores, riverbeds and such but also involved small numbers of troops, so even with uneven terrain things weren't as bad. It is also worth notice that Japanese horses were able to perform quite well in mountainous and hill terrain, as the famous charge at Ichi no Tani suggest.

    8. One thing to consider with the armors of this period is that the centralized government had the resources needed to produced complex armors in large quantities, like with the Roman empire: within its period, Roman soldiers were equipped with armors, be it mail or laminated. Few centuries later after the fall of the empire, mail was reserved only for the elite warriors.

      You are also right about Indian monks, although I don't think that there were enough cultural exchanges (like a well established trade rout in between the two country) to brought Indian arms and armor in Japan.

      Actually, every edged Japanese weapon was hardened and tempered at the edge, be a Nodachi, a Yari or a Katana. I will talk about the metallurgical properties of these types of swords, in any case the process of tempering in Japanese is called either "aitori" or "yakimodoshi" (焼き戻し) and consist of reheating the blade after the quenching (yaki ire) to relieve internal stress. This is indeed a tempering process.

      I know that it is always omitted in any article/documentary that talks about Japanese swords. Why? I don't know, pretty much the same thing with the Zuku Oshi Tatara. Sometimes things are just left behind, what a shame. After all, people still use tempering and hardening interchangeably so I'm not that surprise.

      Here you can see all the process of hardening (yaki ire) and tempering (yakimodoshi) plus some test to the blade. In fact the idea that the Japanese edge were brittle is kinda bullshits; bad swords had brittle edges, good and well made swords didn't:


      (And this doesn't even have a Niku, which would further increase the strength of the edge)

    9. You mention several bias in Karl Friday's book. You have already explain about the bows and armors.

      What about Japanese horses?

      There are always the usual remark of small, weak horses.

      My opinion is that these horses may not be having speed or body size as their strong point.

      They maybe similar in advantage to the Xiongnu horses described by Han Dynasty reports, that the Xiongnu live in mountainous country and their horses are adept at traversing hills and jumping.

      There is also the remark of couched lance whenever comparing Japanese mounted warfare with others. From what I know the Japanese use 2 handed spear and other 2 handed weapons just like other East Asian cavalry.

      This could be a good material for an article. Japanese mounted combat, both ranged and close combat.

      I have seen some interesting weapon used on horseback like Nodachi, Kanabo and the Kumade (which is also interesting since it appears quite early as it is often shown used alongside Naginata).

    10. Well, about horses, I have already covered the topic in this article here; I have also used another, modern day test to support my points:


  7. I start kyudo a couple of months ago, here in brazil, and this article answers a lot of questions. Thank you and keep the good work

    1. Hello and welcome to my blog! Thank you, I'm glad that you enjoyed the article, and good luck with your kyudo training!

  8. Hi

    First let me commend you on the length of your post, it was very interesting. I would take a grain of salt with "(..) a Japanese bow from late Heian or early Kamakura period bow can propel a fletchless arrow to a range of 100 Chinese paces (~163m) without the need of arching the shot!"... a fletchless arrow would more probably than not become unstable very soon without feathers or other similar devices to stabilize the flight. I am having a bit of trouble with this claim due to this.

    Anyway, great blog, congrats, I have been learning from it!

    1. Thank you so much!!

      It is very likely that the Song dynasty quote was exaggerated, but nevertheless it is a quote from the period taken from a Chinese sources dealing with history, so if anything it proves that by that time the Japanese bow had already a well established reputation.

    2. Yes, you are correct. And although I express my reservations I am curious if such a thing is possible in anyway (some stabilizing effect/design not accomplished by fletching, induced rotation maybe?).

    3. Well I'm not an expert in physics, and honestly I don't know if such a thing is possible. The war yumi was a very powerful bow, so you had a lot of energy in the arrow to begin with, and said arrow is probably among the heaviest arrows shot historically due to its dimension, so although its speed would be limited at first, it has a greater resistance against air (theoretically). But the only way to see if it is possible is to try it, but I don't know if war yumi are still made nowadays

    4. To be clear, I don't discuss the power of the bow. I am thinking on the arrow being able of keeping its trajectory in such a distance without having feathers to stabilize it's flight. I was reading on javelins to check how you can do it... If you don't design the arrow for this... I don't see how it is possible.

    5. Yes it is very unlikely to happen; the more I think about it, the less feasible it seems. It may have been an exaggeration to reteirate the prowess of the bow

  9. Horn wasn't rare in Japan. From what I can tell, there are no horn bearing animals, native to Japan. There may be some now, in Zoos and farms, but during Samurai times...
    Please note that antlers and tusks are completely different, and beyond useless for bow making.

    1. Hello and thank you for leaving a comment! Horn was indeed rare in Japan, but there were some native horn bearing animals in Japan, like cows.

  10. Hi, I found your article through a link posted " ATARN Traditional Asian Archery " group on Facebook, a group dedicated to historical archery of the Middle East and Asia. First, I thank you for writing this, it has the most solid and sound information on military Japanese archery I have found on the internet yet, excellent work that was a joy to read! I have long wanted to know more about real military Japanese archery because i have interest in samurai culture and warfare, and kyudo,despite being a respectable art, it really lacks on that military, substantially practical and designed for actual use aspect.

    I have a question for a long time now, maybe you could help me with that: It is said that after the mongol invasion, archery starts to decline in Japan as a chief art of the samurai (or was just mounted archery?), what is the reason for that?

    It seems like that the use of the sword became the main focus of the samurai warrior, as having discovered the inefficiencies of archery. Or, maybe, because the samurai strategy for use archery was not really suited to obtain the best results with archery on the battlefield, that arguably is mass shooting arrows. Anyway, Mongol invasion seems to be a turning point from archery to swordsmanship (for reasons I don't have more information about, just my suppositions)

    Sorry for any spelling mistakes, im not a native english speaker.

    1. Thank you so much!! I'm glad that my articles are receiving attention from other people who share this passion!

      To answer your question, it is a little bit complicated, but there is an answer.

      It is true that after the mid 14th century, there was a shift from mounted archery to ground combat and that the Samurai's first weapons of choice during the late 14th and 15th century were polearms (and not swords - unless you consider nodachi and nagamaki swords), in particular the naginata and then the yari, but nodachi and nagamaki became common as well.
      It is due to the wars of the Nanbokucho period rather than the mongol invasions.
      Still, archery was very popular for samurai, so it is kinda incorrect to say that they weren't archers anymore, but we see others weapon becoming the prevalent ones.

      This has mainly two reasons; the first one is that during the 14th century, a lot of battles were fought nearby mountains, forest or early castles, so cavalry in general declined.
      The second is that armies increased in numbers and the mounted samurai were not the major striking forces anymore, but pikes and bowmen on foot became the most common soldiers of this era. So they started to rely on pikes and massed archery as well; in this context, a group of mounted archers samurai could be harrassed by multiple foot opponents with long weapons, who could have been deadly if the samurai didn't have space to use his bow and horse. So they choose to rely on long hand held weapons too and shock cavalry to better deal with this new type of warfare.
      It was mainly cavalry and mounted archery that declined in this period.
      I hope that now is more clear!

  11. Thanks for sharing this Post, Keep Updating such topics.Totosite

  12. Good afternoon,
    Thank you so much for such a wonderful and complete information!
    I dream of making a Yumi ..
    But the laminated core is very difficult for me to do.
    For practice, cut 3 bamboo strips, and glue them together and then heat the sdobre. I made ties every 40 centimeters ... And it works very well! It has a power of approximately 40 pounds.
    I wanted to know if there is any Yumi record made in this way ...
    Thank you so much.

    1. Hi and thank you so much for your comment!

      Building a traditional yumi is indeed very complicated. There are some documentaries online that illustrate how they are made and the amount of time and skill needed is very high.
      I have never heard of such structure to be honest, usually they were made im the way I've described here and according to the period in which they were used.
      Good luck with your craftmanship, I hope one day you could buy a traditional Yumi yourself!

  13. Hello, Gunsen

    Someone said to me that the long draw of the Yumi with the thumb until the string was behind the ear is only applicable for drawing low draw weight Kyudo bow.

    Do you have any link to an old photo which show combat grade bow being pulled until the string was behind the ear?

    The video of the combat bow testing show the archers as seemingly unable to pull the bow further, perhaps because of lack in training with such heavy bows.

    Thank you, sorry for asking something from you.

    1. Feel always free to ask something here!!

      Well, I haven't such pictures because as you said it's not common to train with such bows (More than 100 lbs to be clear). On the other hand, there are plenty of period illustrations depicting warriors pulling the string at the ear level or behind, and Japanese helmets of the period were also adjusted for that with those big fukigaeshi so I don't see why one shouldn't be able to have such a pull if he has the proper training and strenght.
      Anyway If I'll find something I'll leave a link down here ;)

    2. Thank you, I hope it's not a problem.

      So it's a matter of training right? Not body mechanic?

      Also thank you for verifying that there were period painting showing long draw. Could you leave a link to the depictions?

      Also I had once asked you about the use of arrow guide and foot bow in Japanese archery.

      While I haven't found any Japanese foot bow yet, I found that the Japanese had arrow guides.

      The special short arrow shot from it is named Kudaya 管矢.

      I first found out from here.


      Here are the photos and videos:




      The video of the combat grade Yumi you post here really impress me and I wonder how dangerous the Kudaya arrows would be, if shot from such bows.

    3. It is definitely a matter of training, although don't quote me on this one since I haven't been shooting a real yumi, let alone a battlefield one.
      There are multiple depictions in this post as well were you can see the bow string getting to the ear, but if you want more check the Mongol Invasion scroll.

      I've recently seen some old Japanese manuals having these kind of arrow guides but my guess is that it was a Edo period adoption of Korean archery (again, my guess, I could be wrong.)
      Some folks I follow on twitter who do traditional Japanese archery tried those arrow guides actually:


      It is quite useful to shoot shorter arrows as well

  14. Hello, I was wondering what your sources were for Japanese war arrows being over 100g.
    The only other place I've seen this claim is "the Asian war bow" by Timo Nieminen.
    From what I've been able to gather from basic Googling, Japanese Soya ranged from 50-90g, but I haven't found anything over 100g.
    Anyways thank you for your blog! This is very informative for English speakers.

    1. Hi!
      I don't have the source at hand but if I recall correctly either Friday or Conlan have something about the weight of the historical war arrows.
      The problem with "traditonal" modern Japanese arrows is that they are often made for Kyudo which despite its long standing tradition, is not representative of the battlefield version of archery.
      But if you think about it, the arrow heads themselves were quite big having a long tang as well, and the arrow shaft usually were quite long so it's not a surprise that those arrows could reach those numbers

  15. Please note in comparing the power of bows you must consider draw length. A two hundred pound English bow is not nearly as powerful as a 200 pound bow drawn more than a meter! Stored energy is the integral of draw force times draw distance thruout the whole draw.

    1. Indeed you are right! I would say that higher draw weight corralates positively with higher energy output but it's not the only important measure. Weight and velocity of the arrows, draw lenght etc.

  16. Hi, thank you for this very interesting and thorough article. For a long time, I wondered what was the draw weight of war yumis and if the usual explanation for their asymmetry was based on historical evidence.

    I would like to know, what did mounted samurais do with their bow when they wanted to switch to a melee weapon during a battle? From what I have seen, samurais didn’t have bow holsters like continental Asian cavalry archers to store their bows, and even if they did, it would have proven quite cumbersome to keep a two-meter-long thing dangling from your hip on horseback. I haven’t seen evidence of keeping the bow on one’s back or on the horse either.

    So did they go back to hand their bow to a squire-like assistant, constantly keep it in their left hand, or simply throw it on the ground?

  17. I am not sure you are quite right on the fact of bows being long because of stress to the adhesive, as the majority of compression and tension happens at the outer edge rather than the middle, and there are many examples of asian bows of wood and horn composites that are extremely short. English warbows indeed needed to be long due to their rounded cross section not distributing compression forces evenly - a flat cross section is better. The fact of Japanese bow being so long doubtlessly had a significant negative impact on their efficiency, as it means there is a lot of weight in the limbs that the bow has to propel forward. Also, the long draw length of Japanese bows necessitates very long arrows which would increase drag - that would be another reason why japanese bows had a far shorter range when compared to korean bows.

    Secondly, I am not sure if you are quite right of bows not being able to perforate "any type of armour" at range. You may well be, but one of the benefits of heavy war arrows is their greater mass allows them to retain a lot more energy at range when compared to lighter arrows and would leave them with enough energy to achieve some effect. Whether enough to pierce armour is a moot point. Mark Stretton, who is a Guinness World Record holder for pulling back a 200lb, demonstrated in a practical test that bows shooting near the edge of their range appeared to have a grater penetrating capability when compared to a middling range - it would seem that the arrows accelerate after reaching their apex due to gravity.

    Thirdly, you said Samurai and Ashigaru used the same bows. I would be very interested in comparison between asigaru and samurai archers. The English had a system whereby commoners had to train archery every Sunday. Did the Japanese have any such system? Because if not, I find it hard to believe that ashigaru would be able to wield bows as powerful as the samurai due to it requiring several years of training to pull back heavy bows. And were they both equipped by the same bowyers and fletchers? What were the logistics behind supplying of ranged weapons?

    Lastly, I'd just like to comment that the use of bold type every few sentences is unwarranted and obnoxious to read.


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