Today, as in the past, Sanjusangendo remains the site of annual archery (kyudo meaning way of the bow) competitions. Though they are scaled back somewhat from the old days when records counted in the thousands of arrows. Now the competitions are part of Seijin no Hi or Coming of Age Day ceremonies which occur mid-January to mark a 20 year-old’s transition to adulthood.
A blackened beam splintered with the shots of errant arrows, dating back to the the time of the temple’s reconstruction after the fire in 1249, is on display in the hallway leading to the exit. Although records exist, there’s no list of champions or their spectacular feats displayed here. Only these hopelessly wide-of-the-mark shots stand witness for posterity. Perhaps, in this sacred space freighted with symbolism, such wry mockery of great effort or achievement fits.
That observation prompted a poem which I sent off to a literary journal in hope of publication. The editor declined, offering as her reason that it seemed to point at something but balked. To her credit, she acknowledged that such an observation could not be helpful. Indeed. It was a poem, not hunting dog. But wide-of-the-mark nonetheless.
Errant Arrows, Sanjusangendo
See? Here, left deep in the black
rafter—feel those archers’
miss. Centuries after, I,
foreign pilgrim, don’t
fail to pause at this. Under
and crystal-eyed guardians,
this endures, not the winners’ thrill.
I laugh to think of every arrow
wedged in my near-
Wind or Thunder,
Ah or Om
hapless hazard: Hit or Miss.