【Kyoto bow】Interview with Munehiro Shibata “I have to carry on the traditions of my family that has preserved for 500 Years”

Naughty childhood

The Shibata Kanjuro Bow Shop, which has been in business since the Warring States Period (1467-1615), still has a bow store in Kiyomizu Gojo, Kyoto and is a respected by archery enthusiasts. When I visited the workshop, I was greeted by their dog. After passing through their traditional entrance, I was welcomed by a father and his son working silently side by side. On the right is Kanjuro Shibata XXI, and on the left is his son, Munehiro Shibata.

There was a great deal of tension in the workshop, and all eyes were focused on the hand at work. Mr. Munehiro noticed us and said, “Hey!”- he greeted me in a friendly manner. There was no impression of a craftsman who is difficult to talk to, and we were greeted in a very friendly atmosphere. We asked Mr. Munehiro, who has been a bow maker for about 20 years, about his life as an heir, his background, his attitude toward bow making, and many other things.

—What kind of child were you when you were little?

When I was little, I was a very naughty kid. I dug up the dirt at workplace until I could see the clay pipes and I hammered nails into lots of places. I would say I was just out of control at the time (Laugh).

—Did you play any sports?

I used to play basketball in club activities. I was once selected for the All-Kyoto team. Although it is not a club activity, I used to ride a bicycle a lot. I saw a guy on TV riding a bicycle around Japan, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it too!” Then, I got a mountain bike afterwards. When I was in the sixth grade of elementary school, I rode my bicycle alone to Niigata and Hiroshima prefectures, and then to Hokkaido when I was in the first year of junior high school. I was excited as a child, wondering if I would be interviewed for a story or something, but it ended up being just a trip (Laugh). I have always loved bicycles for long time, and I have many fond memories of riding in road bike tournaments with my friends 7 or 8 years ago.

—I think you like the outdoor activities a lot. How do you spend your days off?

I’ve been so busy lately so I haven’t been able to take any day off. But when I do get a day off, I surf. Even if it is in summer or winter, it doesn’t matter! I go to the Pacific Ocean in the summer and the Sea of Japan in the winter to surf. My wife’s parents live on the Pacific Ocean side, so surfing with my family is a regular event.

—It sounds like a nice way to release daily stress by riding the waves.

If we’re talking about how to relief stress, I’d have to say going to the mountains is really nice! I like to spend the night in the mountains. I don’t have a specific spot in my mind, but if I see a forest path that attracts me, I just go in. I put up a tarp, sleep with my dog, Gen, until morning, and get right back to work. There is no phone signal there, so I just relax in the mountain. It’s a great time!

Craftsmanship as a bow maker

—Is there something you always think about when making bows?

We are always thinking about how we can make our customers happy. They usually say, “Such a beautiful shape!!” but I am happier when they say, “The arrow is so powerful!” As a bow is a tool to make arrows fly, I think it is natural for us to make a beautiful bow. On top of that, they told us the shape of each bow differs slightly as each bow is an individually unique. From this, in order to explain how to use them properly, Mr. Munehiro and Kanjuro Shibata XXI deliver bows to each customer’s home anywhere in Japan by their own feet. He also said it is a great honor for a craftsman to be able to see the joy on a customer’s face when we bring the product to our customers!

—Is there anyone you admire?

I guess it’s my father. I really respect his attitude toward work. For example, if I was him, it would be cheaper and more efficient to buy tools at a home improvement store, but my father makes his own tools. if they don’t work, he keeps trying to make them again. It is so impressive!!!

—Your father must have taught you many things, but are there any words that have left an impression on you?

I have never been taught by words. I learned everything by watching and imitating, and I stole all the techniques from him. I learned everything by watching his back.

Iikagen / Degree of effort

—Do you have a word that is important to you?

It is “Iikagen (Degree of effort in English)” which means irresponsible in either a good or bad way, but you can take it either way! I believe it is the best thing for human beings to live freely.

—I would like to ask you about your future plans.

I guess I won’t be doing anything new anytime soon! For now, I am thinking of protecting this bow store.

You can watch the process of making Kyoto bow bows on YouTube!

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