Right on Target: Japanese phrases originating from kyudo

Many of you may have heard about some martial arts such as judo, kendo and karate. How about kyudo, the art of bow and arrow? JCMU Japanese language instructor Ayumi Nagatomi would like to introduce you to the lesser known Japanese martial art, including a few Japanese phrases that originated from kyudo.

Kyudo (弓道): “The Way of the Bow”

Below is a good video that will introduce you to the art:

It isn’t just about hitting the target, though. In the past, there were times when bows were used for war. As the number of wars decreased and other modern weapons such as guns became widespread, many in Japan came to see a more spiritual side to kyudo – often called one of the forms of 立禅(りつぜん, ritsuzen), or standing meditation.

Although kyudo is less well-known than the other arts, many expressions are said to be derived from it. In fact, it can actually come in handy in modern Japanese language! Here are some examples:

はず (hazu, “supposed to be the case”)

筈 (hazu) is the nock of an arrow. Naturally, an arrow nock is supposed to fit on a bowstring.

Nock of arrow

Nock of an arrow

  • モニカは昨日10時間勉強したと言っていたから、今日の試験はよくできたはずだ。
    Monika wa kinou juujikan benkyoushita to itte ita kara, kyou no shiken wa yoku dekita hazu da.
    Since Monica said that she studied for ten hours yesterday, she must have done well on the exam today.
    "mato o iru" example spoken sentence

的を射る(mato o iru, “to be right to the point”)

的 (mato) and 射る (iru) means “target” and “to shoot with a bow,” respectively, so the literal translation is “to hit a target.”


Right on target!

  • 社長の説明は長過ぎてわからなかったが、秘書の的を射た質問のおかげで、議事録をまとめることができた。
    Shachou no setsumei wa nagasugite wakaranakatta ga, hisho no mato o ita shitsumon no okagede, kijiroku o matomeru koto ga dekita.
    Although our company president’s explanation was too long for us to understand, thanks to the secretary’s on-point questions, I managed to put the meeting minutes together.
    "mato o iru" example spoken sentence

On the flip side, 的外れな質問 (mato hazure na shitsumon) means “questions beside the point .”

手の内 (te no uchi, “things kept hidden”)

手の内 (te no uchi) literally refers to inside the hand, and it can mean “how to hold a bow” in the context of kyudo. The way of maneuvering a bow is one of the most challenging aspects the art.

  • 手の内を見せない/隠す
    Te no uchi o misenai/kakusu
    Hold one’s cards close to one’s chest

It is said to show how good or bad a particular shooter is, and one can spend years to acquire a good form. Thus, it was not uncommon for techniques and each individual schools’ instructions to be kept secret.

  • 各研究所は、激しい競争に勝つために、実験の結果を発表するまで、手の内を決して見せない。
    Kaku kenkyuujo wa, hageshii kyousou ni katsu tame ni, jikken no kekka o happyousuru made, te no uchi o kesshite misenai.
    In order to win fierce competitions, each research institute never discloses what is important until it presents the results of their experiments.
    "mato o iru" example spoken sentence

手ぐすね引いて待つ (te gusune o hiite matsu, “to wait expectedly”)

くすね (kusune) is boiled pine pitch and oil, which has been used as a glue to strengthen bowstrings in kyudo. Warriors pasted it onto their bowstrings in advance so that they were well-prepared for upcoming wars.

  • 小学校での英語教育の必修化が決まった。塾や英会話学校は新しいコースのチラシを用意し、生徒とその親達を手ぐすね引いて待っている
    Shougakkou de no eigokyouiku no hisshuuka ga kimatta. Juku ya eikaiwagakkou wa atarashii koosu no chirashi o youi shi, seito to sono oyatachi o te gusune hiite matte iru.
    It has been decided that English would be taught as a formal subject at elementary schools. Institutions such as cram schools and English conversation schools have been more than ready for pupils and their parents, with flyers to advertise new courses.
    "mato o iru" example spoken sentence

Interested in learning more about kyudo?

If so, please check out the following kyudo organizations:

There are people who practice kyudo all over the world – of course, including here in Hikone by JCMU!

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