Budo/Martial Arts · Kyudo · Nobiai · Uncategorized

Yufu Dake & Going to Kyudo Heaven

Mt. Yufu

This is Yufu-dake, and I climbed it yesterday.

Mt. Yufu


What to say,

first it’s super famous, so that should be enough to get attention … works on TV at least.

But to get a little more specific, it’s a mountain in Oita Prefecture located next to the small onsen resort town of Yufuin.

The mountain is the icon of Yufuin Town, often the poster model for Oita Prefecture, if not Kyushu is a whole.

Yufu-dake is often called Bungo-Fuji (Bungo is the old name for Oita, and Fuji refers to the great Mt. Fuji) as it’s looming image impresses viewers much as Mt. Fuji does in Honshu.

Yufu-dake is one of the reasons that called me to Oita, and climbing it has been a long goal since I have moved here down south.

Yesterday, on a glorious Monday afternoon, I finally got my chance to ascend its slopes and stand upon the peak(s).


Since I’ve been in Oita, I’ve been waiting for the perfect day to climb the iconic mountain of Yufu-dake. In pictures it’s bright lone green slopes make a shocking contrast to the blue Kyushu skies. It is on one of these days that I’ve wanted to climb Yufu, but all summer it’s been a gray rainy haze. Until now I’ve spent enough rainy days putting off Yufu for the smaller mountains, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. The next time I had a day off and the weather report showed anything but definite rain, I was going to go for it. Luckily, miracle-y, the day I planned to go showed itself like a real summer day, and even beyond the poster images. I can’t help but think the gods reward brave determination over obsessive planning on such days. Though I’ve also felt the reverse more than a few times.


So yes, Yufu-dake, the clouds really made for a cool effect today.

I took the main route from the southern side located about a ten minute drive above Yufuin Town. The mountain actually has two peaks, western (1,583 m) and eastern (1,580 m). (At some angles the two peaks resemble horns.) The guide book I have listed the return trip to both peaks at about a little less than five hours. Usually I assume I can shave off a bit of the time, but with a big lunch to enjoy at the top, I expected to use the full time.


One interesting note is that after successfully borrowing the wife’s car and assembling most all useful and useless things I thought of for the hike, I forgot arguably the most important piece of equipment, my hiking boots. I actually contemplated going in my crocks … but made the wise decision against it. I searched Yufuin Town for a shoe store to no avail, but thankfully found a Komeri, which is a Japanese home center. I wasn’t sure if they’d have shoes I could use for hiking, but knew they catered to old men who depended solely on this one store for all their needs, so thought maybe they’d have something for me. Luckily I found “trekking shoes” for only 1,000 yen, about $10. They weren’t like what I had at home, but WAY better than what I imagined buying, and way cheaper. From now on I will search hikers’ footwear on the trails for similar Komeri boots, and maybe they’ll have a story like mine.

Fortunately I found my shoes, but unfortunately lost about 45 mintues time. I was hoping I could finish the hike in time to get to an onsen before I had to get back home, but now it seemed lost for sure.


Well, with my new $10 shoes I began the great hike. A little hungover from the night before, a little over-caffeinated from cheap coffee, I had my imperfect balance and was ready to go.

View of Yufuin Town

Also, I’m planning to go to kyudo heaven one day.

Eastern peak in the distance.

This will happen because of my good deeds here in the human form. Because I’m trying to do “right” I’m going to go to kyudo heaven, instead of going to kyudo hell due to not following the golden rules.


What does all this mean? I’m going to have to explain some of this a little more, I think.

The core of this discussion lies in two essential factors to “correct” shooting” which are called tsumeai and nobiai.

These are two very important terms to kyudo, and are understood on various levels according to one’s knowledge and experience in kyudo. I am continually learning more about these two phenomenon, so please take my words with a bit of salt, as my own understanding is far from complete.

Trail of chains up to the western peak.

Tsumeai is a term I don’t feel 100% comfortable with yet, but it seems to be the correct construction of the various crosses we make with our body parts and the bow and arrow. In kyudo form we talk a lot about crosses, the cross of our spine with our two feet, our spine with our hips, and our spine with our shoulders. We also talk about the crosses with our hand and the bow, our hand and the string, the string and our neck. There are more I am not remembering here, but the important part is realizing that correct kyudo form depends upon many of these crosses and right angles. If we can protect this correct form, then we have tsumeai. Tsumeai is the correct shape of kyudo.

Chains to the western peak. If one has vertigo or a fear of heights, they should avoid this and instead go to the eastern peak.

Nobiai is the stretching and extending of ourselves within the bow. Nobiai is the life of our kyudo form. Nobiai is the phenomenon of us extending from within to without ourselves, extending out to infinity in all directions. Kyudo without nobiai is an archer standing under the pressure of the full draw, waiting for the release.  Kyudo with nobiai is an archer stretching and expanding within the form.

Is that difficult to understand?

I feel like it is, but really the feeling is simple…

At the simplest, nobiai is the expanding and stretching of our arms in the full draw. But it’s not really our arms, it’s the use of our spine and back. But it’s not really that, we are also expanding along our spine up to heaven and down into the earth, so we’re ideally pushing with the earth and our form instead of our fleshy muscles.

Nobiai is the flowing growing life of form in kyudo.

This part really got my heart beating, awesome view though.

By understanding and obeying the laws of tsumeai and nobiai in our practice, we can go to kyudo heaven. I don’t do it perfect, but when I try, it becomes perfect, and I guarantee my own spot in the fluffly archer clouds of the afterlife.

Western peak.


So who doesn’t go to kyudo heaven? Who goes to kyudo hell, or purgatory?

Those who don’t obey tsumeai and nobiai.

1,583 meters.

Who doesn’t want to obey tsumeai and nobiai and go to kyudo heaven?

View of the eastern peak from the western peak.

I don’t know … cause it’s hard?

Well, that’s the simple answer. Maybe we just forget about it. Simply, I know that tsumeai and nobiai are the most crucial parts of kyudo practice, and when I use them my shooting is advanced incredibly. In fact, it is no longer searching for better technique, it exists as real technique. It’s not perfect, but it is. When I don’t utilize nobiai and tsumeai there is no reason for me to be pulling the Japanese bow, I might as well be doing something else, because there is nothing else besides a guy just trying to hit a target with a bow and arrow.

Does that sound weird?

View to the northwest. From here one should be able to see the Kunisaki Penninsula, and also the towns of Usa and Nakatsu, but not today.

Anyway, I don’t always utilize tsumeai and nobiai, so what happens during that time?

Usually it’s because I don’t remember, or I’m being lazy, or I’m focusing on one small detail to the mistake of forgetting the whole form.

One of the greatest demons that interrupt with tsumeai and nobiai is … caring too much about hitting the target.

Mountain buddha.

Here it is, one of the great reasons why kyudo is not just about hitting the target.

I often forget about proper tsumeai and nobiai because I focus too much about hitting the target.

It’s really just as simple as that, while in the full draw (or most likely far before) I think only about wanting to the hit the target, so I don’t make the right checks to confirm proper tsumeai, and I don’t focus on stretching myself within with nobiai.

It’s like kyudo tunnel vision, we think only of hitting the target, and so our form crumbles, and we don’t hit the target.

Epic mountain bento provided by my amazing wife.

We get frustrated and think more about only hitting the target.

Kuju Mountain Range in the distance.

We shoot even worse and think even more about only hitting the target.

View of Beppu City at the bottom and Oita City at the top.
View of Beppu City at the bottom and Oita City at the top.

We feel stupid and weak. Everyone is watching us not-hitting the target and insecurity creeps in. It’s no longer about anything other than hitting the target so others can think we’re cool and we can think better about ourselves. Maybe we start judging the other archers around us based on this experienced.

This environment is small and cold, tsumeai and nobiai cannot exist.

This is the path to kyudo hell.


The thing about all of this, is that it’s really hard.

It’s really hard to utilize proper tsumeai and nobiai. In fact, it requires our entire focused effort. Doing such a thing time and time and time again, day after day after day, is something perhaps rarely done in life, in our outside of kyudo. We like to think that as we get better we’ll need to try less and just be awesome kyudo gods. But that’s not the case. Perhaps we can get better at focusing on the right points, and our bodies can learn to naturally fall into correct positions, but kyudo will always require one’s ultimate effort.

This effort is all one needs.

My technique is not perfect, not by far, but by enabling tsumeai and nobiai with my great effort, I am doing kyudo, and on my way to heaven.

As I said before, without tsumeai or nobiai or great effort, there is no point to doing kyudo. I might as well do something else.


Great effort … and then there’s the rest of the world.

I finished the hike way faster than I planned, in about three and a half hours, and had just the right amount of time to get to an hour onsen before driving back.

This day things came together, and we all met for happy mountain time.

Dangerous road photography, don’t try it at home.

Where is your Yufu-dake? What is your tsumeai and nobiai?

I’m sure they’re fascinating, and worth all the trouble.

Thank you for reading.


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