Assist Archery school in Konan, Shiga

Assist Archery target on old tatami mat.
Old tatami mats are useful for archery practice.

Assist Archery (アシストアーチェリー) is the name of an archery school near JR Ishibe Station in Konan, Shiga Prefecture. I recently visited and took a trial lesson for ¥1,000 (本格体験). Such a bargain.

The unique thing is that the archery school is inside a Heiwado supermarket, occupying almost the entire third floor. Archery is usually done outdoors, so I had to see it for myself.

The Heiwado Ishibe branch looks like a typical three-story Heiwado with a parking lot. The supermarket is on the first floor, apparel and household goods on the second, and the archery school on the third floor via escalator.

When you get to the third floor, you see a most unusual interior for a Heiwado. Instead of shelves of products, it’s one big room with a large open space. Same floor size as the supermarket downstairs and well lit with window light (during the daytime) and fluorescent lighting. My guess is that this floor used to be occupied by an arcade game center or dollar store (¥100 shop) or both which is typical of Heiwado stores. What a great way to use available store space.

In recent years, a few Heiwado stores have sadly been downsizing or closing due to hard times and aging facilities. Heiwado near Maibara Station is already gone (replaced by a Friend Mart supermarket), and Heiwado’s Kosei-Chuo branch in Konan (near JR Kosei Station) just shut down on Aug. 28, 2022 after 36 years in business (since 1986).

In fact, Assist Archery was operating inside the Heiwado Kosei-Chuo store from July 2019 before it moved to the Heiwado Ishibe store in Aug. 2022 due to Kosei-Chuo’s closure.

Their new digs in Ishibe is smaller than the old location I’m told, but it’s big enough for several practice range targets 18 meters away and a small cubicle range for trial lessons and total beginners like me.

The practice targets (made of paper) are pinned on old tatami mats, the perfect arrow stopper. After getting stabbed many times, even the old tatami mats are eventually replaced.

I made reservations by email for a 40-minute trial lesson, costing only ¥1,000.

A staff person (Sayaka-san in my case) teaches you all the basics, and they provide everything you need like an arm guard and arrow case to hold arrows. Just wear loose-fitting clothing and sneakers.

For the trial lesson, you use a recurve bow and Olympic-standard arrows. They also have compound bows (makes it easy to pull back the bow string and arrow), but they provide only recurve bows for the trial lesson.

The lesson starts with a brief explanation (in Japanese) about archery, then you wear the safety guards and arrow case and start shooting arrows. They teach you how to mount the arrow on the bow string, pull back the arrow on the bow, aim, and shoot at a point-blank target only four meters away.

They gave me six arrows which I put in the arrow case slung on my hip. After shooting the six arrows, I pulled out all the arrows from the target (and tatami mat) and repeated the shooting three more times. My arrows tended to land slightly left of the bull’s eye, so my bow’s sight was adjusted.

It’s hard to keep your bow and arrow absolutely still when shooting because your arms and fingers are naturally shaking. In total, I shot 24 arrows hitting (or missing) the target. Good experience. Anybody can do it. Wish I also had a chance to shoot at a farther target, maybe nine meters away. Four meters is still too close to judge whether you have a natural talent for archery.

To make reservations for a trial lesson, send them email and state which three candidate dates/times you want. Then they will reply and say which date/time they can make it. They have bows in various sizes to suit kids and adults. https://www.assist-archery.jp/trial/join-tryal

At the end of the lesson, they tell you about the archery school and lesson plans. If you want to shoot more, the next step is the introductory lesson plan for beginners costing ¥6,000 for four 50-minute lessons including equipment rental. There’s a wide variety of archery lesson plans for hobbyists and serious competitors alike for both kids and adults.

They have practice ranges with targets placed 9 meters away and a maximum of 18 meters away. At the Olympics/Paralympics, archery targets are 70 meters away.

It’s great for people who live nearby. Kids can take an archery lesson or practice while their moms go grocery shopping downstairs. The school has produced quite a few winners at archery competitions in Shiga and Japan.

The school is quite impressive and has been getting a lot of PR in local media. I actually first heard of them on NHK TV news in Shiga. (Video below.)

NHK Otsu news aired in March 2020.

Assist Archery is operated by KAMI Shogo (神 省吾) who is from Shiga Prefecture and also a competitive archer. He started archery in high school and won archery competitions. He also did well while in college at Kindai University in Osaka.

He first opened the archery school in March 2019 in Tsuchiyama, Koka in Shiga, then soon moved to the Heiwado Kosei-Chuo store (3rd floor) in Konan in July 2019. Now they are at Heiwado Ishibe.

It’s still a young school, but it has been growing steadily from just a few students and to about 80 students today. It’s great that he can run the archery school while competing as an archer at the same time. He’s very passionate about spreading the sport of archery, still a niche sport in Japan.

Kami also represented Japan at his first international archery competition at the Yankton 2022 World Archery Field Championships in Oct. 2022 at Yankton, South Dakota, USA. He was the only Japanese national to compete in the Compound Men’s individual event and placed 21st out of 28 competitors in this category.

It followed his victory in the Compound Men’s event at the 51st All-Japan Field Championships in May 2022 which was coincidentally held at Oku-Ibuki (Gransnow) ski grounds in Maibara. It wasn’t the first time it was held at Gransnow, and it looks like a great place for a field archery competition besides skiing. How nice that someone from Shiga won one of the competition events in Shiga and went on to represent Japan. Let’s wish him luck in future competitions.

Field archery has archery targets outdoors in varying, natural terrain for archers to shoot at. Sounds like fun. Hope to try it someday. The only thing is that field archery is not an Olympic sport. Neither is horseback archery (yabusame).

If you live in or near Konan and wanna try something new, I can highly recommend Assist Archery. Just note that they have nothing in English. Website is in Japanese only. I’m not sure if they can teach you in English, but since archery is an international sport, I believe the staff can manage to communicate with you somehow. Let’s hope this Heiwado will remain for a long time along with Assist Archery.

From Kyoto Station, JR Ishibe Station is not that far. Almost a hour by train. Since it’s on the JR Kusatsu Line, you can also visit the ninja house in neighboring Koka and other sights. From Ishibe Station, you can walk most of the way on a pedestrian path parallel to the main road to Heiwado Ishibe. About a 10 to 15-min. walk. See the map below.

Website: https://www.assist-archery.jp

philbert

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