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Not Giving Up The Gun


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Yes, a very good read, and the reasons given make sense. Manufacturing was limited and periodic round-ups of not only guns but of swords were carried out, yes, and firm controls were introduced, but each Han had one or more masters of gunnery, and there were hundreds of gunnery schools throughout Japan during the Edo Period. Under the auspices of the Daimyo, each Han maintained gunnery training to some extent, depending partly of course on their financial situation. There was always a consciousness of spies from Edo, and how to secretly disobey the edicts. Satsuma Han made a fortune evading the central government's rules.

 

The Tokugawa placed orders for their guns at Nagahama (Kunitomo), but the Lord of Okayama for example ordered guns from Sakai and later from Bizen. Jan's book shows how Yonezawa continued to produce guns partly in secret, in the knowledge that one day they might again be needed.

 

Each principal castle kept a list of their armoury inventory, from the few large-caliber cannons right down to the numbers of small arms. Perhaps the Tokugawa acknowledged that an accountable minimum defensive capability needed to be held in the provinces against enemies within and without..

 

A look at the lists of gunsmiths shows thousands of them, spread all over the country, passing their forges from father to sons/disciples, many active throughout the Tokugawa/Edo Period, although granted there was a new boom towards the Bakumatsu. Perhaps one of the reasons we find relatively few signed and even fewer dated guns was that it was often safer not to leave a record of what you might be doing.

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A well-written article and a very sound comment by Piers. I always had a slight problem with the notion that the samurai ”gave up” their guns. They never gave up the gun, they gave up the quest to develope more modern guns. And when I say ”they” I of course mean the Tokugawa shogunate. The single thing occupying the mind of the shogunate during the Edo period was to keep the status que that they thought was the way to keep them in power. They had no interests what so ever to invite new technology that might change this. However, the quest to develope the matchlock, was continued in many domains during this period. The main aim was to create long-range matchlocks.

I have a matchlock made in 1864. After a quick inspection, it doesn’t take long to realise that the Japanese pushed the envelope regarding the matchlock as far as they could. It’s the perfect matchlock in every way. That the rest of the modern world had moved on, was quite apparently of no concern to the local samurai that ordered this specific gun.

 

Jan

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As to the aesthetics being 'wrong' as Perrin states, perhaps that was true in the beginning when all and sundry were drafted in to join the ranks and actually fire the new-fangled iron tube, but the soon-to-be-established gunnery schools tamed these awkward objects, by teaching not only practicality but also fluidity and economy of movement. The guns themselves calmed down and took in many of the unconscious understandings of the sword artisans, and their usage came to blend in well with the other martial arts being practised during the Edo Period.

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All that has been said by Piers and Jan is true, but there were those who attempted to adopt, or possibly played with, more advanced weapon systems. I once examined, and regrettably failed to photograph, an attempt at a snaphaunce with three revolving barrels. Two of the 'steels' had broken off and had been replaced by old Japanese copies cast in brass - just to make it look complete. There were traces of Tokugawa mon on the barrels and since it turned up in Mexico, I have always suspected that it was considered a failure and thrown in with other items as a gift given during the Keicho mission to Europe that passed through Mexico City. 

There are also several Japanese wheel locks made which in one respect were superior to those made in Europe in having a hollow wheel with a steel periphery that was rotated by an internal spiral spring, rather than the clumsy leaf spring and chain arrangement used in Europe. Its weakness was that the wheel was separate from the pan, rather than being positioned in it like a European lock. I once tried to make a copy of one but never managed to get it to throw sparks into the priming. Had the Japanese version been configured so that the wheel operated in the European way, fitted in a slot in the base of the pan, I am sure it would have worked perfectly well.

Ian Bottomley

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