Japan’s Broken Arrows

Lust, War, Religion

In Japan, adulthood starts at age 20, when one can legally vote, smoke, drink alcohol, and marry. Celebrated annually on the second Monday of January, Coming of Age Day recognizes all the Japanese who’ve turned 20 in the past school year.

Originally conceived as an official government ceremony, the holiday now often involves getting dressed up and well, drunk. But at the Sanjusangendo temple in Kyoto, Coming of Age Day celebrations also include a traditional kyudo, or archery, competition called Ohmato Taikai.

In the days of the samurai, competitors here displayed their prowess with events like “most target hits with 1,000 arrows” and “most target hits in 24 hours.” Today, young archers at Sanjusangendo temple have a full two minutes to shoot just two arrows, but the event is already limited to just the country’s top talent. It is considered an honor even to be invited to participate.

Yesterday, nearly 2,000 young archers gathered to compete in Ohmato Taikai. All were born between April 1, 1994 and March 31, 1995, and more women than men competed, with 977 young women and 839 young men.

Contrary to the hooliganism exhibited elsewhere in Japan on Coming of Age Day, this ceremony shows former adolescents standing in orderly lines, squinting diligently before releasing their arrows. According to the International Kyudo Federation, the supreme goal of kyudo is the state of shin-zen-bi, or "truth-goodness-beauty." In other words, when an archer shoots truthfully—with a virtuous attitude toward everything and everyone—beautiful shooting follows: a poetic metaphor for hitting adulthood gracefully.

But this year, just 1.26 million Japanese turned 20 – compared to 2.76 million at its peak in 1976. This is largely due to the fact that Japan’s population as whole is consistently shrinking, having reached an all time low for births in 2014. 

Japan’s young people seem to be coming of age with a biologically-confounding aversion to sex. Surveys from the Japan Family Planning Association reveal that nearly half of 16-24 year-old women are "not interested in or despise sexual contact," and more than a quarter of men feel the same way, preferring a virtual partner to any “3D woman."

Photo: Archers wearing traditional kimono take aim at Sanjusangendo Temple on January 15, 2012 in Kyoto, Japan.  (Photo by Sankei via Getty Images)


Joyce S. Lee does this and that here and there. She lives in Oakland, California.