Introduction of Firearms into Japan (鉄砲伝来)

The term "Teppo Denrai" (introduction of firearms) generally refers to the introduction of matchlock guns from Europe into East Asia in the 15th century, and in a more limited sense it means the introduction of matchlock guns into Tanegashima Island, Japan. Not only were actual guns introduced, but also manufacturing technology and shooting skills.

In Japan, while the term "teppo" was first used only for matchlock guns, the term later referred to general firearms including rifles and cannons.

Before the introduction into Tanegashima Island

Because the Ming Dynasty in China strictly controlled overseas trade in East and South East Asia during the 15th century and the tally trade between the Muromachi shogunate and the Ming Dynasty had been disrupted, wako (koki wako, or 16th-century wako pirate-traders) actively engaged in private and illicit trades. Primitive firearms were already in use in Japan and the Kingdom of Ryukyu around this time, and it is thought that wako was one of the major players who brought these firearms into Japan.

Based on the facts that the mechanism of early matchlock guns is similar to that of the choju (guns for bird hunting) of Southeast Asia with a pressurized serpentine arm and the use of matchlock guns in Southeast Asia preceded to use in Japan, some researchers (such as Takehisa UDAGAWA) argue that matchlock guns were introduced into Japan not via Europe, as typified by the introduction of firearms to Tanegashima Island, but through illicit trades with Southeast Asia by wako. On the other hand, other researchers in Japan, Europe and America doubt UDAGAWA's theory, pointing out that the instantaneous mechanism of European guns was first introduced to and improved in Japan and then Dutch purchased and exported Japanese guns to Southeast Asia, resulting in the spread of the Japanese-style mechanism in Southeast Asia.

The Introduction of firearms into Tanegashima Island, Japan

According to "Teppoki" (a history book on the introduction of guns), firearms were first brought to Tanegashima Island on October 3, 1543 by a Chinese ship tossed ashore on Nishinoura Bay of Tanegashima Island, Osumi Province (Kagoshima Prefecture) and a Confucian scholar from Ming onboard, who identified himself as Goho, worked as a translator for Oribe NISHIMURA by using written messages. Two Portuguese onboard (probably Francisco Zeimot and Antonio da Motta) had matchlock guns and gave a demonstration for Masatoki TANEGASHIMA and his son Tokitaka TANEGASHIMA, who purchased two of them and ordered Kinbei YAITA, a swordsmith, to investigate and replicate them. Matasaburo TACHIBANAYA of Sakai and Kazunaga TSUDA, a priest of Negoroji Temple, Kishu Province, who were at the island around this time, took the guns home. A matchlock gun was also presented to the Ashikaga shogunate around the same time, indicating that the technology of gun manufacturing was introduced into the mainland through several routes in a short period.

The gunsmith industry was then established and guns started to be used in the battlefield as a new weapon, even affecting the unification of Japan. Japanese manufacturing technology of firearms continued to improve after the Muromachi period, and Ottoman Turks were a major importer of Japanese firearms.
(After the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, export of arms was prohibited in Japan.)

Although right after the introduction the guns were used for hunting, soon they started to be used in battle. The guns of this time were matchlock type and called hinawaju (matchlock gun). A technology called hayago (cartridge) was then invented in which a bullet and gunpowder were set together to be loaded quickly. It is said that the first use of guns in battle was seen in the attack on Kajiki-jo Castle in Osumi Province by Tadaaki IJUIN, a vassal of the Shimazu clan from Satsuma Province. The use of guns spread from the Kyushu and Chugoku regions to the eastern part of Japan, and Nobunaga ODA of Owari Province, who was promoting the unification of Japan, strategically used guns in battles including the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, opening the new era of military technology in which firearms became the main weapon in battle.


Although "Teppoki" is the only historical material recording the introduction of firearms into Japan, we should be careful of reading it as a historical record because it was compiled by the Tanegashima clan in Keicho era (1606) to commemorate the introduction of firearms into Tanegashima Island.

While "Teppoki" records firearms that were introduced into Japan in 1543, several theories about the date exist including some materials from the Portuguese side do not even cover the event and "Nihon Kyokai Shi" (História Da Igreja Do Japão) compiled by the Society of Jesus mentions that it was in 1542 and the "Toyo Henreki Ki" (Peregrinacao) by Fernão Mendes Pinto states that it was in 1545. The man called 'Goho' in "Teppoki" is considered to be the same person as Ochoku who was the leader of wako based on today's Hirado City and the Goto Islands, because Goho coincides with the byname of Ochoku and the record in Portugal shows the ship was a junk one.

According to a record of the Tanegashima clan, the guns brought by the Portuguese were lost during the Seinan War in the Meiji period. They also have a gun handed down as the first domestic gun.

Historical Description of Guns
"Hojo Godaiki" states that the production of guns started from the Kanto region. It also mentions that guns were introduced from China in 1510.

A long time ago there was an old yamabushi (mountain priest) named Gyokuryubo in Odawara, Soshu Province. When I was young, the yamabushi said to me "I used to visit Mount Omine from Kanto every year". "During my visit to Sakai, Izumi Province around the beginning of the Kyoroku era, surprised by a huge sound, I asked a person what happened and he said this was "teppo" (gun) which was first introduced from China in 1510. He then showed me how to shoot it." "I was so surprised and impressed by the "teppo" that I purchased one, and then took it back to the Kanto region and presented it to our lord, Ujitsuna HOJO." (Omission) "During the reign of Ujiyasu, he invited a master gunsmith named Kuniyasu from Sakai." "Priests of Negoro-ji Temple such as Sugibo, Niobo, and Kishiwada traveled around the Kanto region to teach gun manufacturing but today everyone has a gun."

Tadataka OKUBO says in "Mikawa Monogatari" that Kiyoyasu MATSUDAIRA shot guns from all directions when Sanenaga KUMAGAI's force surged the castle. It is thought to be in 1530. It also mentions that Soun HOJO shot guns from all directions when he invaded Matsudaira's Iwazu-jo Castle in West Mikawa Province as a representative of Imagawa clan. The publisher comments that this battle was in 1506 and guns could not have been used at this time, supporting "Teppoki".

Various Theories on the Introduction of Firearms into Japan
"Chuko Chiranki" mentions that guns were introduced into Japan in 1501 from Western Europe.

According to "Hojo Godaiki", "Koyo Gunkan" and "Juhen Oninki", guns were first brought to Japan in 1510.

"Kunitomo Teppoki" states that guns were introduced three times, in 1501, 1510 and 1539 from Western Europe.

"Kunitomo Teppo Kaji Yuishosho" and "Kunitomo Kiko" mention that the introduction of guns into Japan was in 1544.

As mentioned above, there are various theories about the time of the introduction of guns into Japan such as some records saying it was before the introduction into Tanegashima Island, thus the precise time is not clear.

[Original Japanese]