The Saigū-Yumi, (祭宮弓; lit. Ceremonial Bow,) is a symmetrical bow based on the Mongolian recurved bow; it is not to be confused with the asymmetrical Japanese Great Bow or War Bow, (which is up to nine feet long, whose handle is off center, 1/3 of the way up from the bottom end). The Bow is said to be one of the oldest and most sacred Japanese weapons; the first Emperor Jimmu is always depicted carrying a bow.
In Japan, a Miko will carry a Saigu-Yumi/Hama-Yumi and a set of Hamaya as part of their religious regalia. In Former times, they were used quite literally in defense of the temple, just as Kikyo and Kaede do in the Inuyasha Anime.
In Japan, it is universally believed that merely the twanging of a bowstring will frighten ghosts and evil spirits from the house. Further, even one Hamaya which has been blessed by a Shinto Priest is believed to carry great protection and spiritual power. As a result, Hamaya are sold even today at shrines as Engimono (good-luck charms). Hamaya and Hamayumi ("demon-breaking bows") were often given as gifts to celebrate the first New Year of a male baby's life.
This belief in the spiritual strength of the Saigu-Yumi is based upon the historic legend of an incident of demonic attack on the Imperial Palace in 1103 A.D. making the Emperor seriously ill. When the Imperial priests were unable to exorcise the demon, the famous archer Yorimasu Minamoto was sent to the palace and he killed the demon with the first arrow. The emperor regained his health. Yorimasu was promoted and his bow was proclaimed a Hama-yumi (evil destroying bow).
Hama-Yumi continue to be used in Buddhist and Shinto rituals of purification such as Shihobarai- the Purification of the Four Directions.
Hama-yumi replicas are placed in shrines and people's homes for protection against the forces of evil and for purification.
- The characters 祭宮, (saigū,) together, pertain to something, (i.e. an item,) within which dwells a power or force that is worshiped.