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Matchlock Pistol

Matchlock pistol (bajozutsu).

Matchlock pistol (bajozutsu). Japan. Edo period (1615–1868). Iron, wood, lacquer, gold, and silver. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. William Wedemyer, 2004.39.

Matchlock pistol (detail; 2004.39).

Matchlock pistol (bajozutsu). Japan. Edo period (1615–1868). Iron, wood, lacquer, gold, and silver. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. William Wedemyer, 2004.39.

Matchlock pistol (bajozutsu).
Matchlock pistol (detail; 2004.39).

How were firearms introduced to Japan?
Guns were introduced to Japan by Portuguese adventurers who were shipwrecked near the shore of Tanegashima, a small island south of Kyushu, in 1543. Matchlock pistols and guns modeled on the imported weapons began to be made in Japan and were an important feature of battles during the 1570s and 1580s.

How did they transform warfare in Japan?
Technically the matchlock is a kind of musket, fired by mechanically touching a lighted fuse to a charge of shot and gunpowder. The matchlock’s effective range was about two hundred meters, and a well-trained soldier would be able to fire four shots per minute at most. But in Japan, where bows and arrows and stone catapults had been the only projectile weapons, firearms revolutionized battle strategy. Long-range fighting came to replace close combat, and infantry superseded cavalry in importance. Oda Nobunaga’s 1575 victory over Takeda Katsuyori in the Battle of Nagashino is said to have depended on firearms fired in volleys by infantrymen against a charging cavalry force.

What do the symbols on the matchlock pistol represent?
Samurai could order their family crests (mon) inlaid into or painted on the barrel of a new gun. The pistol’s barrel bears a family crest of golden stars consisting of a large, central circle surrounded by eight smaller circles. Some twenty-four samurai families used the star crest, a symbol of hope and good luck. The pistol’s stock is further embellished with floral scrolls in gold and silver against a black-lacquered background.

Who might have used this weapon?
The matchlock pistol was intended for use by mounted samurai, but pistols proved impractical because the rider had to ignite a piece of cord in the lock, or firing chamber, while at the same time controlling his moving horse. Nonetheless, owning a pistol remained popular as a symbol of a samurai’s power, rank, and wealth.

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