The History Of Japanese Muskets

Key Point: Japanese muskets, known as “tanegashima” after the island where they were first introduced in the 16th century, were early firearms featuring matchlock mechanisms. These muskets played a pivotal role in Japanese warfare.

Japanese muskets, known as tanegashima, were a crucial part of the country’s military and cultural history. In this article, we will see the history of Japanese muskets, how they were made, and how they were used.

Here are the main facts about Japanese muskets you should be aware of.

The main facts about Japanese muskets:

  • Muskets were introduced to Japan in 1543
  • They were eventually manufactured with a mixture of Japanese and European technology
  • Japanese muskets were used by the samurai and commoners alike
  • It could take up to a few years to make a proper Japanese musket
  • The Japanese musket became commonly used in the Edo period (1603-1868)

To put it into more words:

Japanese muskets, known as tanegashima, were introduced to Japan in 1543 when a Portuguese ship landed on Tanegashima island in southern Japan. The muskets were quickly adopted by the Japanese, who incorporated a mixture of Japanese and European technology into their production. As a result, Japanese muskets were unique in their design and capabilities.

Now that we have an overview of Japanese muskets, let’s delve deeper into their history, production, and use.

The History Of Japanese Muskets

The introduction of muskets to Japan in 1543 was a significant event in the country’s history. The Portuguese ship that landed on Tanegashima island was carrying a number of matchlock muskets, which were quickly acquired by the Japanese.

Samurai firing a firearm

Japanese muskets were henceforth named after the island where they were first introduced. The Tanegashima. The name tanegashima became synonymous with muskets in Japan, and the production of muskets became an important industry on the island.

The muskets were a new and advanced technology. Remember, up until this point when it came to ranged weapons they relied on bows and arrows. As you can see here their bows were one of the best bows of the era. But even so, they quickly recognized the usefulness of the musket and they set about studying them and developing their own production techniques.

The Production Of Japanese Muskets

Japanese muskets were produced using a mixture of Japanese and European technology. The barrels of the muskets were made using a process called “lost-wax casting,” which was a technique borrowed from Europe. The barrels were made by casting molten brass into a mold made of wax, which was then melted away to leave a hollow brass barrel.

A Japanese musket

The rest of the musket was made using traditional Japanese techniques, such as the use of wooden stocks and lacquered finish. The muskets were also fitted with Japanese-style sights and triggers, which were easier to use for the Japanese.

The production of Japanese muskets was a complex and time-consuming process, and it took years to make a single musket. The muskets were made by skilled craftsmen, who worked in small workshops on Tanegashima island and in other parts of Japan.

The Use Of Japanese Muskets

Japanese muskets were used by both samurai and commoners alike and they played a significant role in the country’s military and cultural history. Samurai, who were the warrior class in Japan, was the first to adopt muskets as a weapon. They used muskets in battle and also for hunting. It was around this time that a samurai aside from being proficient with a sword and bow were also required to know how to fire a musket properly.

Here is a short video demonstrating the steps needed to fire a matchlock musket, like the one the Japanese used.

Commoners also began to use muskets, which makes sense. Training a peasant to fire a musket properly was far easier than having them go through years-long training to learn how to effectively fire a bow and arrow. If you put a trained peasant with a musket in front of a samurai they can be evenly matched.

Halfway across the world the Ottomans, another culture fond of their bows also, came to the same conclusion with their “musket adoption” at roughly the same time.

Muskets were cheaper to make and training a soldier to make use of them was far faster and cheaper as well.

In addition to their military and practical uses, Japanese muskets also had a cultural significance. They were often considered a symbol of power and sophistication and were even depicted in art and literature. Which ties in perfectly with our next segment.

Muskets In Japanese Culture

During the Edo period (1603-1868), when muskets were widely used in Japan. Japanese cultural works obviously depicted the use of muskets for example:

Ukiyo-e prints – Ukiyo-e prints, were a popular form of art in Japan during the Edo period. The muskets were often shown in the hands of samurai, who were depicted as powerful and sophisticated figures.

Drawing depicting muskets

Kabuki plays – Kabuki plays were a popular form of theater in Japan during the Edo period. The muskets there were often used as props in the plays and were shown being used by samurai and other characters.

Literary works – Japanese muskets were also depicted in literature from the Edo period, such as in the works of writers like Chikamatsu Monzaemon and Matsuo Basho. The muskets were often depicted as symbols of power and sophistication and were often used as props in the literature.

Given how militarized the Japanese culture was back then it should come as no surprise that the weapons they used came through in their cultural works. Now, let’s take a look at what eventually replaced the Japanese musket.

What Replaced The Japanese Musket?

As with every musket-wielding nation, a great change came about in the 19th century. The rifle. The rifle has been in use for a very long time but it became increasingly popular in the 19th century. The difference was immense. It was simply more accurate and can be fired at a longer range. The musket simply could not compete. The Japanese realized that hence why they became invested in replacing their muskets in the second half of the 19th century.

They wanted to be able to keep up with the European powers. And for that, they needed newer and better firearms.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Hopefully, you learned something new. That is all for today, feel free to check out my other articles on the history of gunpowder weapons. I recommend this article where I discuss American musketeers and how they were used on the battlefield.

Take care!

Sources: Samurai: The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior