Biting the Bullet

A Reassessment of the Development, Use and Impact of Early Firearms in Japan

In: Vulcan
Stephen TurnbullRetired; Sometime Visiting Professor of Japanese Studies, Akita International University, Akita, Japan,

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The deployment and use of European harquebuses following their introduction to Japan in 1543 is conventionally regarded as having followed a straightforward path of enthusiastic adoption, wherein the Japanese adapted and improved the revolutionary new weapons. This paper demonstrates that the procedure was instead both haphazard and idiosyncratic. In many cases firearms were tried by Japan’s rival daimyo (lords) and then either neglected or used ineffectively, a hit-and-miss approach that can even be identified in the person of Oda Nobunaga, the man who is usually credited with Japan’s military revolution. The situation is however complicated by the nomenclature used for the guns themselves, the projectiles, and even the nature of the wounds they caused. As for their impact, until the battle of Nagashino in 1575 all the actions involving firearms took place at defended positions with almost no mention of guns being used during open battles.

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