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A distorted view of firearms in Edo period Japan?

 
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FuRinKaZan
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:18 am    Post subject: A distorted view of firearms in Edo period Japan? Reply with quote
Today my cousin sent me an email about a new book called "Technology: A World History," by Daniel R. Headrick. In the blurb he sent me from a review, the author makes a series of statements regarding the history of use of guns in Japan. Now, after having been a lurker and infrequent poster on these forums for the last decade, I have become quite enlightened on the use of firearms in Sengoku era and Edo Japan. So, it was of great surprise to me see the author rehashing the same old account of the Battle of Nagashino which Samurai Archives has done an excellent job of disproving. Furthermore, based on listening to podcasts from this site in the past, and reading threads from long ago, I was certain that the fabled "giving up the gun" attributed to the Edo period was in much part a myth. Before I write back to my cousin, I wanted to hear what your informed views were on the status of firearms in Edo Japan, and whether or not the statements the author of the book makes in the below quotes are substantiated by fact or distorted by reliance on shaky facts.

Begin Quote---

"Warfare ensured that once states had acquired guns, they could not give them up. To this rule, there is one glaring exception: Japan. The Japanese first encountered firearms when Portuguese adventurers arrived in 1453 with two matchlocks, guns in which the powder was ignited with a match. Japanese blacksmiths quickly learned to produce such weapons in large quantities. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are known as the Age of the Country at War, when powerful lords bat­tled for control of the country. At the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, an army of 38,000 men, of whom 10,000 carried guns, defeated an army of sword-wielding samurai (or Japanese knights). Japan soon had more guns than any European country."

"Warfare and the proliferation of guns had serious social conse­quences, however. The battles showed that even a poorly trained peas­ant with a gun could kill a samurai, no matter how courageous, well trained, or expensively armored he might be. This threatened the posi­tion of the warrior class, who numbered half a million and were jealous of their status and their privileges, such as the right to carry swords.

"In the early seventeenth century, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descen­dants defeated their rivals and established a military dictatorship. In the 1630s, they began restricting the manufacture and sale of firearms. Only in two towns could gunmakers practice their trade. Civilians were forbidden to buy guns. Gradually, the government cut back its orders of fire­arms; by 1673, it was buying 53 large matchlocks or 334 small ones on alternate years. It also expelled all foreigners and forbade Japanese people from traveling abroad under penalty of death. For the next two cen­turies, no foreign power threatened Japan. The country was practically cut off from contact with the outside world and saw no reason to keep up with technological changes occurring elsewhere. Guns were forgotten until 1853, when American warships arrived in Tokyo Bay and, by firing their cannon, awoke Japan to the power of modern technology."

-- end of quote


Thank you for sharing your opinions!
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行く川の流れは絶えずしてしかも元の水にあらず。淀みに浮かぶうたかたはかつ消えかつ結びて、久しからず留まりたる例なし。この世の中にある人とすみかとまたかくの如し。
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FuRinKaZan
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Just as a side, the author wrote that Portuguese merchants arrived in 1453 in Japan.... There are a lot of factual errors in this piece.

Additionally, the phrase "army of sword wielding samurai" really gets under my skin. It's too bad that this historian does not realize that Japanese Sengoku and pre Sengoku era armies were primarily spear, naginata, and bow based. Perhaps it's asking too much for a non-Japan specialist to get these details straight, but it really comes of as sounding like the author does not know what he is talking about.
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行く川の流れは絶えずしてしかも元の水にあらず。淀みに浮かぶうたかたはかつ消えかつ結びて、久しからず留まりたる例なし。この世の中にある人とすみかとまたかくの如し。
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Thunberg
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Sounds a bit like Noel Perrin's Giving up the Gun was used as source. That one mentioned 10 000 guns at Nagashino and 3 000 of those as some kind of elite shooters IIRC (and also said that matchlock guns converted to bolt-action where used in the Russo-Japanese War Exclamation ). I have no idea where Perrin got those numbers, I don't remember that version of tyhe battle from the podcast, nor seen it anywhere else until now.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
FuRinKaZan wrote:
Perhaps it's asking too much for a non-Japan specialist to get these details straight,


No, it's not too much to ask at all. There is plenty out there that contradicts this. Perrin is absolute lunacy, and delusional. That anyone would use that as a source for anything is beyond comprehension to me. Of course "civilians" were forbidden from buying guns during the Edo period--they were also "forbidden" from having most types of arms. As with Perrin, he ignores the largest reason guns were not used in Japan--there wasn't any warfare after Shimabara. Why bother to advance your weaponry? They had minimal outside contact and no sustained warfare. They didn't "give up the gun", they didn't have a use for them. I can assure you that had there been warfare, the guns would have been used.
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FuRinKaZan
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thank you for both of your replies. I was thinking along a similar track, but I was not as confident since I had never bothered to read Perrin's book. By the way, is Perrin actually a historian who focuses on Japan?

As for the the other book, well, it's just embarrassing to see these kinds of fallacies continued to be included in Western scholarship. Although I focus mostly on Japanese history between the Meiji and early Showa period, I have always been personally interested in reading as much as I can about pre modern Japan. I cannot understand how Western scholars keep on perpetuating these kinds of myths when there is a good deal of quality scholarship in English out there that even a lay person like myself can find quite easily.
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行く川の流れは絶えずしてしかも元の水にあらず。淀みに浮かぶうたかたはかつ消えかつ結びて、久しからず留まりたる例なし。この世の中にある人とすみかとまたかくの如し。
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ltdomer98
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
FuRinKaZan wrote:
By the way, is Perrin actually a historian who focuses on Japan?


No. He's an English lit professor with an gun control agenda who can't read Japanese. The academic reaction to his book by both English-speaking and Japanese historians was along these lines:




Quote:
I cannot understand how Western scholars keep on perpetuating these kinds of myths when there is a good deal of quality scholarship in English out there that even a lay person like myself can find quite easily.


Tell me about it.
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Tatsunoshi
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 7:20 am    Post subject: Re: A distorted view of firearms in Edo period Japan? Reply with quote
FuRinKaZan wrote:
"In the early seventeenth century, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descen­dants defeated their rivals and established a military dictatorship.


And the Tokugawa regime wasn't the military dictatorship it's often presented as being. The daimyo domains under the bakuhan system were largely self-governing and the Tokugawa set up a legal system that did its best (for the time) to treat its people fairly.

FuRinKaZan wrote:
In the 1630s, they began restricting the manufacture and sale of firearms. Only in two towns could gunmakers practice their trade. Civilians were forbidden to buy guns. Gradually, the government cut back its orders of fire­arms; by 1673, it was buying 53 large matchlocks or 334 small ones on alternate years.


This part at least is true. As Domer's already pointed out, why would they need to be buying huge amounts of firearms? Japan already had more firearms than any European nation possessed (at the beginning of the Edo period), and with warfare being largely non-existent, there wasn't a need to add more. Those guns sat stocked and ready in castle armories for over two hundred years. And when the need to use them arrived in the Bakumatsu, there were tons of guns ready to meet any foreign aggression. The problems arose from the fact that many of them hadn't been well maintained (some of these guns would be close to 300 years old) and were dangerous to shoot or quickly rendered inoperative, and also that matchlocks no longer compared favorably to newer percussion cap rifles and the increasing numbers of breech loaders and repeaters. Still, the quantity of guns the Japanese had on hand would have been ample to fight the Westerners if it was a question of a rifle-on-rifle fight. The problem was that the Japanese had never embraced artillery (particularly making it mobile with cassions and limbers and using them with trunnions) and that was where the huge Western advantage came into play-that and the even more pronounced technological disparity in naval forces (also with associated artillery).


FuRinKaZan wrote:
It also expelled all foreigners and forbade Japanese people from traveling abroad under penalty of death. For the next two cen­turies, no foreign power threatened Japan. The country was practically cut off from contact with the outside world


It certainly didn't expel all foreigners-there was a decent sized Korean population spread over Japan along with Chinese traders and the Dutch in Nagasaki. There was informal contact with the Russians in Ezo and also contact with the Chinese and other SE Asian people in the Ryukyus. Japan did have to deal with very minor attacks from England and Russia (the Phaeton incident of 1808 and Russian 'pirate' raids in the early 19th century). When Tokugawa Yoshimune became Shogun in 1716, he stressed the need to be better informed about the West and the Japanese actually were very well informed about the outside world, learning not only from the Dutch but also from the aforementioned Chinese traders.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
As I suspected, it seems like Noel Perrin is to blame:
http://books.google.se/books?hl=sv&id=qG2tPzkN6HUC&q=noel+perrin#v=snippet&q=giving%20up%20the%20gun&f=false
FuRinKaZan wrote:
I cannot understand how Western scholars keep on perpetuating these kinds of myths when there is a good deal of quality scholarship in English out there that even a lay person like myself can find quite easily.


Yeah it's quite strange. You could think that a history professor would know better. My guess is that he was under impression of that Japan banned guns and searched up a source about that, found Perrin's book and stopped there, since he was writing a popular history book on development of technology over the whole world. And now he will continue to help to spread the myth.

EDIT: Just look here: http://www.delanceyplace.com/view_archives.php?2125

ltdomer98 wrote:
No. He's an English lit professor with an gun control agenda who can't read Japanese. The academic reaction to his book by both English-speaking and Japanese historians was along these lines


If I understand it correctly (I have not read the whole book), his point with the book that the world could get rid of nuclear weapons because the samurai got rid of guns, put the genie back in the bottle. Even if that was true it seems like a huge stretch to compare on nation during the 17th century and the whole world in the 20th century.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 1:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thunberg wrote:

Yeah it's quite strange. You could think that a history professor would know better. My guess is that he was under impression of that Japan banned guns and searched up a source about that, found Perrin's book and stopped there, since he was writing a popular history book on development of technology over the whole world. And now he will continue to help to spread the myth.


It's not strange, and that's probably exactly what happened. The scholar who gets in the door first, and gets cited a few times before people really figure out what's up will continue to be cited for decades by anyone who needs the info, but doesn't have the background knowledge to know that the info is no good, outdated, or just plain false. Basically, if you get a paper or book published as a "doctor", you are considered an authority, and only people deep in the field will know any better. Perrin will continue to be cited well into the 21st century by anyone in a non-japan-specific field, writing about Japanese history who is looking at guns in Edo-period Japan. For most people not focusing specifically on Japan, getting that level of detail correct really doesn't matter, they just want a source to cite.
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