How the Japanese gave up the Gun

Tweet MeIn 1543 firearms were introduced to Japanese society. Japan at the time was in turmoil and the various feudal lords quickly did what Japanese do best; steal a new technology and make it better. In Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies he talks about how innovative additions to muskets like lacquer boxes to protect from the rain, made Japanese guns the best in the world. Not only did the Japanese produce the best guns in the world but they also produced the most. In Japan’s invasion of Korea in 1592 40,000 gunmen made up a quarter of the army.

Yet the presence of the weapons tore apart the Japanese. Their feudal society was based around the samurai as the ruling class.  The samurai ruled and fought to the death over the smallest insult to their honour. They prized their skill with their giant “so sharp it slice you two” swords. But the development of fire arms turned society on its head as now a peasant with no honor could own a weapon that could take out a samurai who had studied his whole life to perfect the art of sword fighting.

The samurai didn’t want to end up like this guy

Not wanting their ass to be capped by some dirty peasant Japanese leaders first outlawed the weapons for regional armies only allowing it to be used by the national forces then they outlawed it all together setting back the development of firearms for decades to come. They were able to complete this task in a typical Japanese way. The regent set about building a huge statue of Buddha but they needed more Iron to complete it so he called upon all guns to be melted down to complete the statue. Thus all fire arms were taken out of the hands of common folk and then as Japan withdrew from the world it became impossible to import firearms and the Japanese soon forgot about fire arm technology.   Japan’s isolation as an island allowed it to survive its aggressive neighbors until Mathew Perry opened the country in 1858 and the Japanese realized hey we need some big guns … and soon.

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