Original Japanese Edo Period Matchlock Tanegashima Musket with Ball Trigger & Cherry Blossom Inlays

Item Description

Original Item: One of a Kind. This is an extremely interesting weapon, especially considering the historical impact of firearm development in Japanese history. It was crafted probably in the late 1700s or early 1800s as a matchlock firearm using black powder and a very primitive ignition system, far behind the rest of the world. This type of gun is often referred to as a Tanegashima (種子島), after the island where a Chinese junk with Portuguese adventurers on board was driven to anchor by a storm in 1543. The local lord purchased two matchlocks from the Portuguese, and then had his swordsmith copy the weapon. Some parts of the process were problematic, so a Portuguese blacksmith was brought over to assist, and the guns were completed, with much success.

These were also often called in Japanese and sometimes in English hinawajū (火縄銃), or "matchlock gun", and they were used by the samurai class and their foot soldiers (ashigaru). Within a few years the introduction of the Tanegashima in battle changed the way war was fought in Japan forever. They were used extensively in the wars leading to the formation of the Tokugawa shogunate 1603, which began the Edo period (江戸時代, Edo jidai) or Tokugawa period (徳川時代, Tokugawa jidai) of Japanese history. This is the period between 1603 and 1867, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional daimyo.

During this time, Japan returned to being essentially a closed society, essentially blocking contact with the outside world. There was also a general lack of the large scale field battles where firearms were most effective. Due to this, advances in metallurgy and firearms ignition systems never reached the artisans in Japan. In a country that venerated tradition, the use of the Tanegashima continued for over 300 years, until the 1870s and early 1880s with the coming of the MEIJI era in 1868. This was the beginning of the modernization of Japan, however the old Shogun War Lords wishing to maintain the old way rebelled in the SATSUMA REBELLION of 1878.

This Tanegashima is a very utilitarian example with minimal ornamentation dating very probably to around 1750-1850, and it is a weapon of beauty. It has a smooth bore barrel of 44" and an overall length of 55 1/2". It has a simple wood stock, which has a seam on the bottom terminating in a small bone inlay by muzzle, and a small brass fitting at the breech band. We have seen this feature on other tanegashima muskets, and it seems to be part of the crafting process. It is all brass mounted, with brass "cherry blossom" barrel escutcheons, and cherry blossom fittings on the lock pin channels, with the pins themselves having cherry blossom heads.

The matchlock action on this example has internal springs behind a brass lock plate, with the iron wick holder held on by a brass cherry blossom fitting. The barrel pan is fitted with a brass flash guard as well as a hinged pan cover, which served as a safety as well as kept the priming powder from falling out. The brass ball trigger is protected by a brass trigger guard. We tested the match lock action, and it looks to be fully functional. The lock cocks and dry fires correctly as well. There is a rear sight fitted on the top of the barrel, but it looks to possibly be incomplete.

A handsome Japanese Tanegashima Musket, worthy of any collection. Ready to display.


Years of Manufacture: circa 1750-1850
Bore Diameter: 0.55"
Ammunition Type: Lead Ball & Powder
Barrel Length: 44 inches
Overall Length: 55 1/2 inches
Action: Matchlock
Feed System: Muzzle-Loaded

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