- Signal arrow
Kabura-ya (鏑矢), also called kōshi (嚆矢), were Japanese arrows which whistled when fired and were used in ritual archery exchanges prior to formal medieval battles. The sound was created by a specially carved or perforated bulb of deer horn or wood attached to the tip. In English, these are often called "whistling-bulb arrows", "messenger arrows", or "signal arrows." "Kabura" literally translates to "
turnip", and thus the Japanese term technically means "turnip-shaped arrows." The Chinese "mingdi" was quite similar.
In battle, particularly around the time of the
Heian period, "kabura-ya" would be fired before a battle, to alert the enemy. The whistling sound was also believed to chase away evil spirits, and to alert friendly " kami" to lend their support. It was not uncommon for archery exchanges to be performed for quite some time, and in the 1183 battle of Kurikara, for example, fifteen arrows were fired by each side, then thirty, then fifty, then one hundred, before these hundred samurai on each side actually engaged one another in battle. [Turnbull, Stephen (1987). 'Battles of the Samurai'. London: Arms and Armour Press.] It was also not uncommon for messages to be tied to these arrows, which could be fired into fortresses, battle camps or the like. This practice of the formal archery exchange likely died out gradually following the end of the Heian period, as war became less and less ritualized.
The arrows would also be sold at
Shintō shrines as good luck charms, particularly around New Year's Day; simply carrying a "kabura-ya" is meant serve as a ward against evil spirits.
*Frederic, Louis (2002). "Japan Encyclopedia." Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
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