At the risk or seriously annoying this community, I want to revisit the topic of firearms use during the Edo period. My goal is to present some thoughts I have recently had as a result of a couple of recent acquisitions. This is a hobby, friends, and I happen to have gotten lucky recently in the arena of hinawa-ju. Anybody points me in the direction of some nice Sendai Shinto, and I will drop this topic like a hot rock!
So, . . . a common treatment of Edo period firearms is 1) that the Japanese stayed with “old” technology, 2) out of general rejection of foreign way, and 3) special samurai rejection of guns in favor of sword. All of which 4) was enforced by strong anti-gun policies of the military dictatorship.
Finding new evidence and insights that might bear on this topic is tough. But let me try.
Was matchlock technology all that bad? Western gunsels just assume that whatever was goin’ on in Europe was the “state of the art”, the “cutting edge” and therefore better than whatever precede it. In fact flintlock technology was NOT very good. It was as weather dependent as matchlock technology. A high failure rate was a normal part of Western military operation. And a whole lot of folks stayed with matchlocks well into the mid 19th century. In south, central, and northern Asia matchlocks survived and were viewed as serious armaments. We need to consider the possibility that matchlocks worked just fine for whatever the Japanese were doing with them.
Was there much firearms use throughout the Edo period? We know that there were lots of guns made during the Edo period. They were being carried, but were they being used? There truly was very little civil strife in Japan during the Edo period. There are manuals that document firearms training. I am impressed at how few Muromachi era guns are known to exist. There were tens of thousands of gun in Japan in1600, but we sure don’t see them today. We see lots of swords from those times. But where are the bangers? Where are the koto guns (yes, yes, I know that is confusing categories, but..)? One has to wonder if gunnery training, drills, and other maneuvers wore those old firearms out? Maybe they didn’t give up those guns, they just wore ‘em out!
Did the samurai class rejected foreign ideas and especially guns because they preferred swords? All those Namban tsuba indicate that Samurai were willing to consider foreign stuff. And when civil strife was developing during the late Edo period there was great interest in acquiring modern firearms. Military academies created at that time had firing ranges. And there are a fair number of photographs of Bakumatsu samurai proudly packing heat. Concealed carry was NOT on their agenda!
I think the bottom line – if there is one – is that we need to do a lot more research on Edo period gun usage