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Description of the mechanism of a breech-loading swivel gun in Japanese. 16th century.

Artillery in Japan was first used during the Sengoku period in the 16th century; and its use has continued to develop.

13th to 17th century

A 16th-century swivel breech-loading Japanese cannon, called an Ōzutsu (大筒, "Big tube").

Due to its proximity with China, Japan had long been familiar with gunpowder. Primitive cannons seem to have appeared in Japan around 1270, as simple metal tubes invented in China and called Tetsuhō (鉄砲 Lit. "Iron cannon"). They don't seem to have been used extensively however, and cannon usage would only become major after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543.[1]

A few light cannon pieces were used at the Battle of Nagashino in 1575, but the first cannons entirely made by the Japanese were cast a few months after the battle. They were bronze two-pounders, about 9 feet long, and were delivered to the warlord Oda Nobunaga.[2]

Most of the first Japanese guns were provided by the "Nanban" Portuguese, the Dutch also supplying the Japanese with cannons after 1600. Nineteen bronze cannons of the Dutch ship Liefde, piloted by William Adams were unloaded and according to Spanish accounts later employed at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600.

Quick-firing breech-loading swivel guns, were also used and manufactured by Japan. Such guns were in use in Western warships, and mounted at the bow and sterns to devastating effect, but the Japanese used them also in fortifications.[3]

After 1601 and the reunification of Japan under Tokugawa Ieyasu and the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a policy of seclusion was progressively enforced, leading to the expulsion of foreigner and the interdiction of trade with Western countries other than the Dutch from 1631. Afterwards and for about 200 years, weapon development remained at a standstill, and only a minimal amount of antiquated artillery pieces were maintained in coastal areas.

Meiji restoration and modern era

The French-built Matsushima, flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Yalu River (1894), used a 320 mm (13 in) Canet gun.

Following the Meiji Restoration, Japan would pursue a policy of "Rich country, strong army" (富国強兵), which led to a general rearmament of the country. During the 1877 Satsuma rebellion artillery was widely deployed, and an average of 1,000 artillery shells were fired everyday.[4] Makeshift wooden cannons were again seen on the "rebel" side of this conflict,[4] and during popular upheavals in 1884.[5]

Japanese artillery would then be used effectively during the Sino-Japanese war (1894–1895), and the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.

The Imperial Japanese Navy enjoyed a spectacular development, allowing for the implementation of ever-larger artillery pieces. The Imperial Navy was the world's first to mount 356 mm (14 in) guns (in Kongō), 406 mm (16 in) guns (in Nagato), and only the second Navy ever to mount 460 mm (18 in) guns (in the Yamato class).[6]

Before and during World War II, Japan deployed a variety of artillery pieces, such as the heavy Type 89 15 cm Cannon or the Type 96 15 cm Howitzer (1936) .


See also


  1. Perrin p.93
  2. Perrin, p.19
  3. Perrin, p.29
  4. 4.0 4.1 Perrin, p.76
  5. The making of modern Japan by Marius B. Jansen p.386
  6. In Evans, Kaigun


  • Evans, David C & Peattie, Mark R. (1997). Kaigun: strategy, tactics, and technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887–1941 Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland ISBN 0-87021-192-7
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0674003349/13-ISBN 9780674003347; OCLC 44090600
  • Perrin, Noel. (1979). Giving up the Gun, Japan's reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879. Boston: David R. Godine. ISBN 0-87923-773-2
  • Totman, Conrad. (1980). Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862-1868 Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-0614-X

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