Yōkyū

楊弓

Yōkyū

Yōkyū was a game to shoot arrows at a target using a miniature bow made from a willow branch.  The bow was approximately 85 centimeters and the arrows approximately 25 centimeters in length respectively.  Originating during the Tang period (618 to 907) in China, after its introduction to Japan, yōkyū became popular as a form of entertainment among the nobility of the Muromachi period.

In the Edo period, spaces were created on the grounds of shrines and at meeting places to practice yōkyū.  At these locations, women referred to as yaba-onna would provide services to visitors, picking-up arrows and the like, which services later evolved into prostitution.  Moreover, gifts were awarded for hitting targets, which, over time, increased in value.  As a part of the Tenpō Reformation (reforms implemented by the Edo bakufu between 1830 and 1843), these places were subject to enforcement for the conduct of gambling and prostitution.  Yōkyū witnessed its peak years from the end of the Edo bakufu to the early part of the Meiji period.

In the early part of the Meiji period, a yōkyū site was established at Okuyama in the Asakusa area of Tokyo.  This location employed attractive ladies to pick-up the arrows, garnering attention among the men.  The women were assigned to gather the arrows, but also taught how to use the bows by standing in close proximity to the guests, showed their legs while retrieving arrows, and enticed customers.  In jest, some of the guests shot arrows at the rears of women who were picking-up arrows, and those women humored them by skillfully evading the arrows.  Prostitution services occurred behind the facility, and, to attract the attention of the women, some of the guests visited frequently.  In some cases, the guests faced dire straits owing to their expenditures.  However, over time, less expensive drinking establishments that also offered prostitution services (known as meishuya) led to fewer guests, and, from the middle of the Meiji period, yōkyū as a form of entertainment declined precipitously.