At Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto, row upon row of gorgeously clad Japanese girls in kimono come to shoot arrows at the Toshiya Archery Event. Many of them are celebrating their coming of age and they wear a special kimono to mark this known as a furisode which is a long-sleeved kimono. Archers both male and female, master and student shoot two arrows each at a group of four round targets.
Toshiya is an event that goes back some four hundred years though today it is significantly different. In the past, Toshiya was predominately for men to show off their prowess and skill with a bow. Today, archers shoot at targets 60 meters distant but in the past archers would shoot the entire length of the long Sanjusangendo Temple which measures about 120 meters.
There were a variety of competitions. Archers would try to score as many target hits as they could out of 100 or 1000 shots. The true test of strength was the 24-hour competition where an archer would try to shoot continuously the entire time. In 1686 one samurai shot 13,053 arrows from 6pm to 6pm the next day and hit the target 8,133 times (62.3% accuracy). This averages out to about 6.6 seconds for every arrow. This record has never been beaten.
It is ironic that in the time of the samurai, the Toshiya event was often criticized as not being in the true spirit of archery. Too many archers were concerned with how many arrows they could get to fly the entire length of the temple or how many target hits they could get. The event as it is today is more in keeping with the old traditions of Kyudo in that form is more important that simple prowess.
Today, it's the petite kimono-clad young women not the brawny samurai of yore that are the center of attention. Numerous photographers crowd the sides clicking away madly as the young women try to ignore all the distractions around and focus on their shooting.