What is Japanese Tanegashima Gun (hinawajū)?


Contrary to popular belief, the samurai's armory extends beyond their renowned katana and traditional samurai armor; they are also skilled users of firearms, a testament to their adaptive combat abilities. Matchlock guns in Japan, also called Tanegashima Gun, hinawajū. It was arrived on Tanegashima during the Sengoku period and greatly influenced subsequent tactics. Famous anecdotes also tell of Oda Nobunaga using them in the Battle of Nagashino, defeating Takeda's cavalry. This article will explain how these weapons actually spread across Japan and discuss their mechanisms and how to use them. If you're interested in owning a matchlock gun, we will also cover that topic.

Tanegashima Gun is a type of antique firearm developed around the 15th century. It's one of the earliest firearms developed by mankind, equipped with a smoothbore barrel (a barrel without rifling) and a mechanism to fire metal bullets instantaneously by burning black powder. It was developed in Europe around the early 15th century and evolved in Austria and Germany. Typically, a matchlock gun with a barrel length of about 1 meter is said to have a maximum range of over 500 meters, and an effective range of about 100 meters for hitting a target the size of a human body. It is also said to be able to hit a target about the size of a baseball at a distance of about 30 meters.
Let's look at the history of the matchlock gun and when it was developed and brought to Japan. We will explain the reasons why it spread throughout Japan alongside its history.
The Tanegashima Gun was first introduced to Japan through Portuguese merchants, as described in historical records about the arrival of guns, "Teppoki". However, there's also a theory suggesting that matchlock guns, which had already spread to Southeast Asia, China, and Korea, were brought into various parts of Japan by Wokou (Japanese pirates). Either way, it is certain that they started flowing into Japan by the middle of the 16th century. At that time, Japan was in an era of civil war, which created a lot of demand for guns, and thanks to the prosperous mining of gold and silver, guns spread throughout Japan.
While Portugal had established a gun factory in India in the 16th century, not all of the matchlock guns that spread in Japan were produced there. The manufacturing method for the matchlock guns also made its way to Japan. Therefore, Japan was able to replicate and operate them independently. Matchlock guns had a complex mechanism that was not present in Japan at the time, requiring the creation of metal parts and refining gunpowder. Among them, screws were said to be particularly difficult to make. Tokitaka Tanegashima, the lord of Tanegashima, ordered the swordsmith Yasaka Kinbei to replicate a matchlock gun. At that time, the only tools available for metalworking were chisels and files. Yasaka Kinbei made various improvements and succeeded in creating intricate screws after a year, leading to mass production of Tanegashima Gun.
Tanegashima Gun became widespread, and the number of guns owned in Japan became the highest in the world. Of the two matchlock guns brought to Tanegashima, one was owned by Tokitaka Tanegashima, and the other was presented to Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru via the Satsuma domain. Yoshiteru Ashikaga ordered a swordsmith in Omi's Kunisada (now Shiga Prefecture) to replicate the matchlock gun, and successfully localized it. Under Oda Nobunaga, Kunisada transformed from a town of swordsmiths to a town of gunsmiths, becoming the largest gun production area in Japan. In addition to Kunisada, places like Sakai (Osaka Prefecture) and Saiga (Wakayama Prefecture) also actively produced matchlock guns.
Due to the high skill level of Japan's swordsmiths, they were able to make guns with higher accuracy than those made in Europe. Moreover, they succeeded in mass production in a short period of time. For example, 3,000 guns (some sources say 1,000) were used in the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, and it is said that the Tokugawa army prepared as many as 300,000 firearms, including matchlock guns, for the Siege of Osaka in 1614. By the end of the Sengoku period, there were probably as many as 500,000 guns in Japan, making it the country with the most guns in the world.

The matchlock gun, a weapon that captivated the warlords of the Sengoku period, had an intricate structure with various parts. Here, I will explain the structure and the names of each part, as well as the principle of bullet firing.
Names of the parts of the Matchlock Gun
Matchcord: This is the cord that is ignited to light the gunpowder, and it's from this cord that the matchlock gun gets its name.
Serpentine: This is the clamp that holds the matchcord. Before the bullet is fired, it ensures the matchcord does not touch the pan, but when the trigger is pulled, it springs into action, striking the matchcord onto the pan.
Pan: This is the section where the priming powder is placed to ignite the powder inside the barrel of the gun.
Pan cover: This is the lid that covers the pan. The action of opening it, often referred to as "cutting", led to the phrase "cutting the pan cover", which meant the start of combat.
Ramrod: A long, slender rod made of wood or metal, used to push down the gunpowder and bullet into the barrel. It can also be used to clean the barrel and can usually be stored beneath the barrel.
Front sight, rear sight: These are the sights set up to aim at the target.
Trigger: This is the metal device that is pulled with the finger to fire the gun. In the case of the matchlock gun, it is necessary to operate the serpentine.
Principle of Bullet Firing
The principle behind the matchlock gun and modern guns is the same: they fire metal bullets using the explosive force of gunpowder. In the barrel, a screw called a breech plug is fitted at the bottom, and the gunpowder and bullet are set inside. The part where the gunpowder is filled is called the chamber, which is connected to the pan outside the barrel. Priming powder is placed in the pan, and the fire on the matchcord is introduced, igniting the priming powder, which in turn ignites the gunpowder in the chamber. The gunpowder explodes in the chamber, and this force propels the bullet.
How to Use the Matchlock Gun
To use a matchlock gun, several steps are required. Because it takes more effort than modern guns, innovative methods were needed when using it on the actual battlefield. I'll introduce the usage along with an example.
Firing Procedure
Ignite the matchcord: Light the matchcord so that it can be fired at any time. In some cases, multiple cords would be lit.
Load gunpowder and the bullet into the barrel: Insert gunpowder and a bullet from the muzzle, and push them in using the ramrod.
Put priming powder into the pan and close the pan cover: Pile finely-grained priming powder in the pan, which is more granular than the gunpowder put into the barrel, and close the pan cover to protect it.
Attach the matchcord to the serpentine: Fix the matchcord to the serpentine and prepare to fire.
Cut the pan cover (open it), pull the trigger, and fire: When the trigger is pulled, the lit matchcord strikes the pan, igniting the gunpowder in the chamber, and the bullet is fired.
Use of Matchlock Guns in Battle
When the matchlock gun first arrived, it was an expensive weapon used by top-level generals. As mass production increased and the weapon became more widespread, it became the primary weapon of Ashigaru, the foot soldiers. A gun, once you learn how to fire it, can inflict damage on an enemy much further away than a spear, so there is no doubt it became a formidable threat in battle.
One of the most famous battles involving the use of matchlock guns was the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, where the combined forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu fought against the Takeda Army. According to popular theory, Nobunaga used 3,000 guns and performed a three-step firing procedure using horse barricades, defeating the Takeda cavalry. There are recent debates about the number of guns used and the three-step firing procedure, and there are opinions that these may be creative interpretations. However, it is generally agreed that matchlock guns were used.
Moreover, there were famous matchlock gun experts like Akechi Mitsuhide and a group of mercenary riflemen called the Saika-shu, who were touted as the strongest in the Sengoku period. There is no doubt that the presence of matchlock guns became a necessary element in shaping history during the Sengoku period.
Types of Matchlock Guns
The matchlock gun, brought by Portuguese merchants who arrived in Tanegashima or by the Wokou pirates, was manufactured all over Japan, and various types were developed. I'll introduce some types of matchlock guns.
Types by Production Area or Gunsmith
Matchlock guns are also referred to as "barrels" and distinguished by place names, such as "Kunitomo barrel," "Sakai barrel," "Satsuma barrel," "Sendai barrel," and "Bizen barrel."
Moreover, with the spread of matchlock guns, gunsmiths emerged who established firing techniques. Among them, the Inatomi School of Gunmanship, founded by Inatomi Yuna, is famous, and the "Inatomi barrel" was made based on their specifications.
Types by Matchlock Gun Specifications
The weight of the bullet used in the matchlock gun can determine whether it is a "small barrel", "medium barrel", or "Samurai barrel". The small barrel could be referred to as a standard model and was used as a hunting rifle or supplied to foot soldiers. As defensive gear against matchlock guns became more common, the small barrel became less effective, and the medium barrel became more mainstream.
In addition, there were "Mounted barrels" for use while riding, "short barrels" that were essentially handguns, and "narrow-gap barrels" with barrels longer than the average matchlock gun, exceeding 1.4 meters.

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