By the second half of the sixteenth century, Japan had become the world_s biggest producer and user of firearms, and by the end of the Sengoku period (1467_1568) it had become a greater military power than any European country, possessing military techniques that were at least the equal of those of Europe. Yet the attitudes of Europe and Japan to firearms came to be almost diametrically opposed as Europe forged ahead with the use, improvement and enlargement of guns, while Japan moved in the direction of restriction and reduction of armaments. By 1800 Japan was no longer a military power. Japan_s national policy during the Meiji era (1868_1912) was encapsulated in the slogan fukoku ky_ei (_enrich the country and strengthen the military_), and of course firearms were the material basis for strengthening the military.
Both China and Japan could have become military powers in the early modern era if they had so inclined, but both pursued a path of disarmament that can only be described as the abandonment of the gun. Why did they choose this path?
The Dramatic Change of Course from Expansion to Reduction of Armaments
The first encounter of the Japanese with guns was their first encounter with Europeans. According to most textbooks, guns were first brought to Japan in 1543 by Portuguese whose ship was washed ashore on the island of Tanegashima. However, there is some room for doubt about this version of events and in the academic world a fierce debate continues. The primary source in Japan concerning the introduction of firearms is Tepp_i (History of firearms) written by the Buddhist priest Nanpo Bunshi of Satsuma Province (now Kagoshima Prefecture). Since Tepp_i states that _more than 60 years have passed since the introduction of firearms,_ its contents have naturally been subjected to considerable debate. Tepp_ denrai to sono eiky_(Firearms: their introduction and influence, Shibunkaku, 1974) by Hora Tomio provides a balanced and comprehensive account of the many points of contention.
The account of the introduction of firearms given in Tepp_i is basically as follows. On August 25, 1543, a large foreign ship of uncertain provenance arrived in the bay of Nishimura on Tanegashima island. One of the crew was a man called Goh_ with whom the Japanese could communicate in writing. The crew included foreign merchants, one of whom was named Murashukusha and another Kirishitadamota (Christopher or Antonio da Mota). They had with them fearsome objects called guns, which the Lord Tokitaka, the feudal master of Tanegashima, purchased for a high price without complaint.
Tokitaka ordered his retainers to learn from the foreigners how to prepare gunpowder and had them replicate the gun barrel. But the breech of the gun was fastened with a bolt with a screw attached, and the Japanese at that time did not know how to make screws. A man named Yaita (Yatsuita??) Kinbei learned this screw-making technique from foreigners who came the following year, and the Japanese at last succeeded in making a prototype gun. Thus, nearly one year after the introduction of firearms, the Japanese were able to manufacture firearms in large numbers. Soon afterwards, Suginob_ a priest from Negoro Temple in Kii Province (now Wakayama Prefecture) came to Tanegashima seeking firearms. Tokitaka gave him one gun and taught him how to use it. Tachibanaya Matasabur_ a merchant from Sakai, later stayed on Tanegashima for one or two years to learn how to make firearms and was nicknamed _Gun Mata_ upon his return. The use of firearms subsequently spread not only to the Capital Provinces (the five provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara) and Kansai in west Japan but also to Kanto in the east. The explanation concludes by praising Tokitaka_s achievement: _Tokitaka acquired firearms from the European visitors, learned about them, and spread this knowledge throughout the five home provinces and seven circuits._
It is also known that the ship washed ashore on the coast of Tanegashima island was a junk captained by _hoku, and that the name Goh_ mentioned in the account in Tepp_i was the pen name of this _hoku, who came from Anhui province in China and was the chief of a band of Japanese pirates based in the Got_islands in Hizen Province.