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JAPANESE MATCHLOCKS [Tanegashima]



Descriptive Characteristics
The Japanese kept the general configuration and the ignition system of the smooth bore muskets that the Europeans brought to Japan in 1543 for nearly three hundred years, until the mid-nineteenth century. They adopted the matchlock ignition system and did not proceed to adopt flintlocks; percussion locks were imported form Western countries in the middle of the nineteenth century and this ignition system was the first departure from the matchlock. Japanese matchlocks vary a great deal in caliber, size, length, and styles. All of them are hand made and seldom do any of them have interchangeable parts. Their stocks have no shoulder supports with a butt plate as do European muskets, but rather they terminate at the rear with a cheek piece; hence the Tanegashima stocks are referred to as "cheek stocks."

The styles of the matchlocks are classified by the shooting schools in which gun makers were taught and by the districts of the ruling lords. It is said that there were about two hundred fifty shooting schools in Japan in the late eighteenth century; shooting was one of the martial arts, called "Houjyutu." The country was divided among almost one hundred lords and each had his own characteristic ideas or policies about the manufacture of every kind of product, including weapons. The Tanegashima is sometimes called "Tetsupou," which means "iron gun," or just "Tsutsu," which means "barrel."