Outline of Exhibition

Special Program: "The Introduction of Guns in Japanese History - From Tanegashima to the Boshin War-"
Period Oct 3 (Tue) - Nov 26 (Sun), 2006
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries, National Museum of Japanese History

Adults ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students: ¥450 (¥250)
Elementary & junior high school students: ¥250 (¥130)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
* Admission to permanent collection included

Hours 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
(no entrance after 4:00 p.m.)

Oct 10 (Tue), 16 (Mon), 23 (Mon), and 30 (Mon), Nov 6 (Mon), 13 (Mon) and 20 (Mon)

Sponsor National Museum of Japanese History

Drawing showing steps for firing gun

The history of guns in Early Modern Japan begins with their arrival in 1543 and ends with the Boshin War in 1868. This exhibition looks at the influence that guns had on Japanese politics, society, military and technology over this period of three centuries, as well the unique development of this foreign culture and the process of change that took place while Japan was obtaining military techniques from Europe and the United States at the time of transition from the shogunate to a modern nation state. An enormous number of materials, approximately 300, including new discoveries, form this exhibition arranged in three parts.

Since the National Museum of Japanese History first opened its doors, the Museum has conducted research on the history of guns and acquired more materials, mainly due to the efforts of Professor UDAGAWA Takehisa, the Museum's curator responsible for this exhibition. As a result of acquiring the three most renowned gun collections in Japan - the YOSHIOKA Shin'ichi Gun Collection, ANZAI Minoru Gunnery Materials and part of the TOKORO Sokichi Gun Collection - our collection of guns, related items and documents is the finest in Japan in terms of both quality and quantity. This exhibition is the culmination of many years spent acquiring guns and the findings of research conducted over that time.

1) The Acceptance and Establishment of Guns (From their arrival through to the Modern period)

Around the middle of the 16th century, a large number of guns had been introduced to western Japan, which includes Tanegashima-island. The construction of extant examples of these old guns tells us that they came from Southeast Asia and not Europe, and the wako who were armed foreign-trade merchant groups and active around the seas of Southeast Asia at that time were responsible for their introduction.

Guns , newly arrived goods from overseas, were initially used as gifts or for hunting. Not long after their introduction, gunsmiths who taught how to make gunpowder and how to fire a gun appeared in various parts of the country. These gunsmiths spread gun technology throughout Japan in the course of their travels around the provinces where they plied their trade. Guns did not become a major weapon in wars until more than a decade after their arrival when Sengoku feudal lords established their own battalions of soldiers armed with guns.

2) The Development of Gun Technology and Gunsmiths (Society and the Technology of Gunsmiths)

There are several kinds of firing mechanisms for matchlock guns. In the exhibition, we use disassembled examples and computer graphics to illustrate their construction and how ignition works using matchholder. We also use documents and tools used by gunsmiths - tools from Kunitomo village in Omi which are the only such tools surviving today - to show manufacturing techniques. Kunitomo village began making guns in the Sengoku period and once war escalated at the beginning of the Early Modern period the village was inundated with orders from all over the country. We show how a gunsmiths' guild was formed to handle this situation and how it grew to cover the whole of Japan. Here we also use exhibits to illustrate the differences in materials and manufacturing techniques between guns and swords, which have come to light through the application of natural science, and other aspects including bullet speed and force obtained from firing tests using guns made in Edo period.

3) Upheaval at the End of the Shogunate and Reforms to Military Technology (Acquisition of western military techniques during the period of transition from the shogunate to nation state)

Japanese studied military techniques from the West first as a means of naval defense and later as a means of assuring victory in civil wars. However, it was an enormous struggle to overcome the huge gap between traditional fighting techniques and these foreign techniques. For example, it was very difficult to make a single rifling groove in the bore. It was as a result of surmounting this gap that the "warriors" of the Early Modern period disbanded and the "soldiers" of the modern nation state came into being. This is illustrated using many manuals on military techniques and guns that were imported from the West during this period of transition.

Explanatory pamphlet (PDF 207KB)

1. Early secret books on the art of gunnery Late 16th century - late 17th century   2. Flatlocks Reproductions
1. Early secret books on the art of gunnery Late 16th century - late 17th century,
Museum collection
2. Flatlocks Reproductions
Museum collection
3. Inatomi-School secret books   4. Inatomi-School secret books
3. Inatomi-School secret books
Museum collection
4. Inatomi-School secret books
Museum collection
5. 50 medama fire arrow barrel & rod fire arrow Edo period   6. Seki-School cannon (large barrel) 17th century
5. 50 medama fire arrow barrel & rod fire arrow Edo period
Museum collection
6.Seki-School cannon (large barrel) 17th century
Museum collection
7. Air rifle made by Kunitomo Tobei 1819   8. "Nakajima-ryu hojutsu kankiroku" 1843
7. Air rifle made by Kunitomo Tobei 1819
Museum collection
8. "Nakajima-ryu hojutsu kankiroku" 1843
Museum collection
7. Nishiki-e of firing practice 1866    
7.Nishiki-e of firing practice 1866
Museum collection

Note: Please note that items in the exhibition are subject to change.