Matchlock Gun from Japan

Step 2 of 7

From Portugal to Japan

Related images

Matchlock guns came to Japan for the first time in the middle of the 16th century. Traditionally, their arrival is pinpointed to the island of Tanegashima, in southeast of Kyushu, in 1543 where records indicate the arrival of a Chinese sailing boat, known as a junk, which had become stranded on the island of Tanegashima due to storms. According to the records,two Portuguese men were among the members of the crew. The presence of the two Portuguese men is said to have raised great interest among the local population, and the two were invited to meet the local warrior lord, Tanegashima Tokitaka (種子島 時堯 1528-1579). During their meeting, Lord Tokitaka asked about the peculiar oblong objects that the Portuguese carried with them. In answer to that question, the Portuguese promptly organized a demonstration: the oblong objects were, as you have probably already guessed, matchlock guns, and the demonstration consisted of shooting targets. [cf]

The power of this type of gun was immediately understood and desired by the Japanese, and within months the production of matchlock guns on the island of Tanegashima had started, as well as the spread of guns throughout the entire Japanese territory.

This story is traditionally used to recount the arrival of matchlock guns in Japan. However, new hypotheses are being made regarding this event: some include the introduction of these guns in different areas of Japan at the same time, independently from one another, and others attribute a role to the introduction of guns to Japanese pirates.

Whichever way matchlock guns were introduced, it is true that their arrival caused the reinvention of samurai war strategies: in fact, by the 1550s muskets were already being used in battles as auxiliary weapons, and by the 1570s they had become the main weapons. We have to keep in mind that in order for the musket to become the main samurai weapon within 20 years of its introduction to Japan, the Japanese must have borrowed and bought some from the Portuguese, as well as learned how to produce them, how to produce gunpowder and how to source and transport the materials necessary to build them. This was no small feat!

Matchlock guns were named Tanegashima Teppō 種子島鉄砲: teppō was a word already used to indicate explosive weapons from China, and Tanegashima, of course, was a reminder of the island where they had first arrived, according to legend. [cf image of samurai battle with matchlock guns]