Archery Competitions at Sanjusangendo

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.

Coming of Age Day Archery Competition at Sanjusangendo Photo credit to

Coming of Age Day Archery Competition at Sanjusangendo
Photo credit to

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.

Splintered Beam at Sanjusangendo. Used with permission.

Splintered Beam at Sanjusangendo. Used with permission.

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’

chagrin—every splintering

miss. Centuries after, I,

foreign pilgrim, don’t

fail to pause at this. Under

serene Kannon

and crystal-eyed guardians,

this endures, not the winners’ thrill.

I laugh to think of every arrow

wedged in my near-

shattered heart.

Wind or Thunder,

Ah or Om

hapless hazard: Hit or Miss.

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