A Millenia of Bloody Battles: Japanese Weapons

The Japanese have different weapons that they’ve used over the centuries. Once coming from humbler beginnings, they have risen to become the pinnacle of advanced weaponry. Through different segments of history, they used and developed different implements of war.

Weapons Used by the Japanese in WW1

World War I (other known names include the First World War, The War to End All Wars, and the Great War) was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and paved the ground for many political changes and revolutions (including the World War II that occurred 21 years later.) Japan, one of the major belligerents in the first World War, was a member of the Allied Powers here and fought bravely in the war, utilizing weapons of various styles and differing quality.

The Nambu Type 14 Semi-Automatic Service Pistol. Similar to the standard rifles of the Imperial Japanese Army during the years of World War 1, these pistols were just as outdated for their time. Bearing a design similar to the widely-known German Luger (though sporting a completely different set of internal components). One of the flaws of its design, particularly found in the 4th year Type of 1909, was found in its inherently weak striker recoil springs, which worsened over time and eventually lead to misfires. The trigger ring of the original Nambu Type 14 was also found to be too small for gloved hands (which Japanese soldiers found to their dismay when cold weather forced them to wear thick winter gloves). This issue led to the deaths of many Japanese officers in their many jungle campaigns during World War 2.

The Murata (Series) Bolt-Action Service Rifle. Making its debut on the battlefield as early as the 19th century, the Murata Bolt Action Service Rifle went on to become the standard issue infantry weapon well into World War II (1939 – 1945) before being replaced by Arisaka rifles. Features included bayonet support, iron sights for ranged fire, and single-handed full-length wood stock. This gun was commissioned by Major Murata Tsuneyoshi (hence the weapon's name) as the result of the Japanese Civil War has revealed the need for a standardized long gun in the army. Later models featured smokeless powder cartridges (which gave the weapon a somewhat modern quality) and several shorter “carbine” versions for manageability until the weapon form and function was eventually given up in favor of automatic rifles.

Examples of Notable Japanese Weapons used in World War II

World War II was a terrible time for humanity. It is understood as one of the largest wars in history, if not the most widespread. It was a time of death, destruction, and domination between the world's most powerful nations, and spurred the development of a slew of terrible weapons. Though Japan was one of the primary Axis forces and one of Germany's greatest allies at the time it is commonly acknowledged that Japan was one of the least well-equipped of the large combatants of World War II. The following are some examples of weapons that were used by the Japanese in the war.

The Type 99 Arisaka. The Type 99 Arisaka was the standard rifle of the Japanese infantry for most of the war. While not an inferior weapon altogether, the Type 99 Arisaka's size and the structure was not the best-suited for the Japanese soldiers who fought in the war, as the weapon itself was too large and unwieldy to run around with in combat. In addition, the weapon came equipped with a massive sword style bayonet, which created accuracy problems for soldiers who wanted to fire the weapon from anything other than a prone position. Lastly, the weapon came with many unnecessary features, such as an anti-aircraft sight and monopod, which is hailed today as a fairly poor design choice.

The Type 100 SMG. This weapon is infamous for being a copy of a gun of German design known as the MP18 from World War I. This gun, however, was introduced in 1939, and ultimately is a substandard gun in terms of performance and payload. The Type 100, being a sub-machine gun, was very rarely seen, due to the practice of issuing such weapons to paratroopers, naval landing troops, and other such special forces. During the battle of Iwo Jima, not one man out of the 21000 men there had one sub-machine gun.

The Type 96 15cm Howitzer. This cannon was regarded by Allied military intel to be one of the most effective and well-designed weapons in the arsenal of the Japanese. It was noted for its extreme elevation capability of 65 degrees, which could only be fully utilized when a deep loading pit was dug underneath the weapon breach. This weapon boasted a maximum range of 12,000 yards and was transportable by a team of six horses through a wagon. It was capable of firing several types of ammunition, including high-explosive shells, armor-piercing shells, shrapnel, smoke, and incendiary tracer shells.

The Type 97 Hand Grenade. The Type 97 Hand Grenade was the standard issue hand grenade of the Japanese during World War II. Its operation involved pulling the safety pin cord, followed by a strike against a hard surface such as a combat helmet or a rock to overcome a creep spring, which would allow the pin to hit the primer and initiate the grenade timer before throwing at the target. However, this type of grenade was found to be unreliable and dangerous to use because of its inaccurate fuse, and the explosive force of the grenade itself was found to be weaker than the standard Allied hand grenades of the time.

The Type 89 Grenade Discharger. The Type 89 Grenade Discharger was developed after the Japanese army began efforts to optimize weapons for close-in infantry fighting. These small mortars were suited to warfare in typical short-range combat environments such as trenches, urban, and jungle warfare. Some Allied infantrymen mistakenly assumed that the launcher's curve plate was designed to be propped on the leg to fire, and referred to the weapon as a “knee mortar”. However, any soldier who tried to fire the mortar in this fashion was likely to receive an injury from the strong recoil.

The Japanese Naginata: A Primer

The Japanese naginata is a variety of pole weapon traditionally made in Japan. Naginata were originally used during the feudal era of Japan, by the Japanese samurai, foot soldiers, and warrior monks. It is also the iconic weapon of an archetype of female warrior that belongs to the Japanese nobility, and special types of naginata existed for the use of women. The naginata men used were called ō-naginata, and the naginata women used were called ko-naginata. The blade of the ko-naginata was smaller than the ō-naginata used by the men, to compensate for the lesser upper body strength and height of a woman than that of an armored male samurai.

During the Edo period of Japan, as the naginata grew in popularity for its effectiveness in battle and for its efficacy in dismounting cavalry and disabling riders, it also became a mark of social status for women. A samurai daughter's dowry often traditionally included a combat-functional naginata. Though women did not normally fight as regular Japanese soldiers, women of the samurai class were expected to be able to defend their homes from intruders while their soldier husbands were fighting in the war.

The naginata was an excellent weapon for women because it allowed them to keep enemies at a suitable distance, mitigating any advantages their enemies might have overweight, height, and strength. One woman, Itagaki, who was famous for her ability to fight with the naginata, led 3000 warriors to defend an attack by 10000 warriors of the Hōjō clan and managed to take down a significant number of the attackers before suffering defeat. In 1912, naginata training became and remained a part of girl's physical education in Japan.

Today, naginata training is more primarily practiced as a sport with more emphasis on discipline and grace rather than as a form of combat training.

Weapons used by Japan during the attack on Pearl Harbor  

The weapons used primarily by Japan during the attack on Pearl Harbor are mainly composed of dangerous war machines. These include, but are not limited to, bombs, torpedoes, anti-aircraft guns, and machine guns. The torpedoes and bombs were dropped by numerous types of aircraft. Of the 89 bombers in the first wave, 49 carried Type 91 Model 5 bombs. These bombs, at an incredible weight of 1, 763 lbs, carried the ability to pierce through multiple layers of an enemy ship when dropped from a high altitude.

B5N2 bombers were also deployed. The B5N2 design was based on an earlier, original production model (labeled B5N1), but was given a much more powerful engine to compensate for its many weaknesses, such as the lack of protection given to the bomber's crew and fuel tank. (The Japanese feared additional armor and weight would reduce the high performance of the bomber.) While this powerful engine did not completely eradicate the bomber's weaknesses, the B5N series saw a lot of use by Japanese troops, especially during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the greatest successes seen by the B5N2 series in the battle at Pearl Harbor were the key roles it played in sinking two of the United States' aircraft carries, the Lexington and the Hornet, as well as the disabling of the Yorktown, which later contributed to its sinking by the Japanese submarine I-168.

A follow-on design based on the B5N, named the B6N, was soon developed and eventually used to replace the B5N series in front line service. B6N bombers were utilized for a variety of roles, from flight training, to target towing, to anti-submarine warfare, and were sometimes equipped with early radar and magnetic detectors to give their pilots more than one warning about the location of submarines. These bombers were even used for by Japan for their notorious kamikaze attacks.

Examples of Japanese Martial Arts Focused on Weapons

While many martial arts (such as Kung Fu, Hapkido, and Karate) feature the use of different kinds of martial arts weapons as part of their training, the following are Japanese-based martial arts that focus almost exclusively on training with weapons. These focus on weapons such as the Bo Staff, the Naginata, and the Yantok.

Kendo. Kendo is a popular Japanese martial arts style that focuses mainly on sword fighting. Students of Kendo usually practice with wooden swords (Bokken) or swords made of bamboo (Shinai). Kendo, which translates to “sword way” is a modern Japanese martial art that is widely practiced within Japan and several other nations around the world. Practitioners of Kendo are called kendōka  (which means “someone who practices kendo”), or Kenshi, which means “swordsman”.

It is common belief that Kobudo evolved restrictions placed upon the peasants of Okinawa by the Satsuma samurai clan when the island was made a part of Japan. These restrictions forbade the peasants from carrying arms, and so were rendered defenseless, which resulted in the development of a new martial art centered around farming tools and implements. However, modern scholars of martial arts have been unsuccessful in finding historical backing and evidence for this belief.

Kyudo. Kyudo, which translates literally into “The Way of the Bow”, is said by many to be the purest of all the martial ways. The bow was used for a large variety of purposes in Japanese history, such as hunting, games, contests of skill, and court ceremonies. The original word for Japanese archery was called Kyujutsu (which translates directly to “Bow Technique”) and was more focused on the warrior aspects of archery. Modern Kyudo is practiced more as a means of physical, spiritual, and moral development, but some of the older schools of Japanese archery training still survive to this day.

The essence of modern Kyudo is heavily correlated with the pursuit of three concepts: goodness, truth, and beauty. The truth is manifested in a shooting that involves a state of harmony of attitude, movement, and technique in order to make a shot that hits the center of the target. Goodness is found in the proper display of attitude and behavior in all situations; a good archer is a person who can maintain his composure and grace even when stressed or in times of great conflict. Beauty is represented by the etiquette of Japanese ceremony, the elegance of the Japanese bow and archer's attire, and the presence of common courtesy and respect for others.

Popular Japanese Weapons For Sale Online

The most popular Japanese weapons for sale online are Japanese blades. With prices ranging from very affordable (at around $49.99) to absurdly expensive ($1,900.00), one would be hard-pressed to encounter any difficulty acquiring Japanese blades from online stores. A wide variety of blades is available to the casual customer, featuring popular blades such as Japanese Musashi Katana, Thaitsuki Katana, Folded Tanto knives, and much more. It should be noted that Japanese blades are not recommended for use without special training, and the inexperienced welder is liable to hurt himself or herself if not careful. Here are some examples of readily-available, battle-ready Japanese blades that can easily be found for sale:

Musashi Katanas are a popular choice for quality and affordability. Economical yet functional, these swords are excellent picks for artistic display as well as for cutting purposes. Purchasers of such blades want to keep an eye out for blade weight and length, as any blades weighing over 2 pounds may be unwieldy to the average user.

The tanto knife has a high point with a flat grind that excels at piercing tough materials. Its front edge meets the unsharpened back edge at an angle instead of a curvature. Because of this, it lacks a belly, which makes it less useful for general utility purposes. This design, however, gives the tanto knife a stronger tip, tailoring it to piercing tough materials.

A List of Secret Weapons Developed and Used By Japan During WW2

Japan was known for its unconventional war methods, such as its specialized suicide attack weapons, and its weapons of biological and chemical warfare. If anything, they assumed that banned weapons were more effective. The Japanese had several varieties of conceptual weapons, some of which even made it to the battlefield. Here is a list of examples of deadly, unusual weapons that were developed during World War II.

Fu-Go Balloon Bombs. These balloon bombs were designed to carry sets of incendiary bombs 5,000 miles into U.S. Territory and were intended to explode over the forest regions of the Pacific Northwest. The goal was to start large forest fires that would divert the United States' attention and manpower.  These were successfully launched during World War II, and around 285 confirmed landings and/or sightings were made. On March 5, 1945, a minister and five children were killed while attempting to pull one of the grounded balloons back to their camp.

Unit 731. From 1937 until the end of World War II, the Japanese experimented with a large variety of biological weapons, which included (but were not limited to) a bubonic plague bomb, and a toxic defoliation bacilli bomb that was capable of launching devastating biological attacks boasting a wide range of diseases and bacteria over a wide area. Unit 731 was a covert chemical and biological R&D unit that performed live experiments on human subjects, infecting them with various diseases and performing live dissection without anesthesia. According to historian Sheldon H. Harris from California State University in Northridge, more than 200,000 Chinese were killed in germ warfare experiments.

Fukuryi Suicide Attack Units. These were special diving suits armed with a mine containing 33 pounds of explosives attached to a 5-meter bamboo pole. The diving suits would be piloted live by a kamikaze unit, were to walk across the ocean floor for as much as 6 hours up to 7 meters underwater, then would detonate themselves on the hull of enemy ships, killing themselves in the process. It is unknown if this weapon ever made it to the battlefield, but accounts exist of U.S. landing craft and surveyor ships being attacked by “suicide swimmers”.

O-I Super- and Ultra-heavy Tanks. Late in the war, the Japanese had very ambitious plans to build hypermassive tanks – ultra heavy behemoths - capable of carrying huge crews in a 100 to 120-ton body. It's unknown if this tank model ever made it combat, but records show that the tanks were designed to sport 3 turrets, one main cannon, and two smaller guns, with an advanced experimental prototype featuring four turrets. An uncorroborated report claims one of these tanks was seen in Manchuria but was never seen in combat.

The Best Medieval Japanese Weapons

Many weapons were invented over the centuries of growth of the country of Japan. But which medieval weapons were the most effective at doing their job? Which weapons were the most popular, were the most useful, were the easiest to control, conceal, and manage? Here is a list of the best weapons from the olden times of the land of the Rising Sun.

Katana. There is a reason why this blade has retained popularity even into the modern age. Katana was incredibly strong and were one of the, if not the most effective form of self-defense when attacked in ancient medieval Japan. It should be noted that, while effective, Katana was not the choice of weapon against an opponent clad in heavy armor; special swords, Tekken and hachiwari swords, were better suited for dealing with armored foes. They were not as sharp as their katana counterparts but were much heavier in order to deliver a more powerful impact when striking the opponent.

Shuriken. While known to most people nowadays as the primary ranged tool of Japanese ninja, shuriken was also employed by the more casual populace – in the form of throwing knives. However, shuriken was the most effective, requiring less skill to throw, having multiple sharp points, and being easy to conceal. In addition, their size made it possible to carry more of them, and they were just as effective against unarmored opponents as any blade.

Kubotan. Kubotan were metal rods, often blunt, that could be held in a clenched fist. These rods held a variety of uses and could be used for striking, adding strength to punches, or for protection and blocking purposes. These rods were sometimes sharpened on one end for striking and was very effective when used in combination with pressure point striking techniques, which were often taught in Japanese martial arts of old.

Fukiya. Fukiya is essentially Japanese blow-darts. Another tool preferred by ninjas and those who wish to kill without being noticed, these could be used to assassinate an enemy from several meters away. In fact, these practices still exist today, and people have been recorded to hit distances of up to 90 meters away. In medieval Japan, these weapons were very quiet and convenient; the darts make little to no noise, and could easily be poisoned in a variety of ways, allowing the user of the weapon to dictate the terms of the target's death. The blow-dart pipes could even double as an underwater breathing pipe for use in an escape and could be fashioned from all sorts of materials, from paper to bamboo, to reeds. These effective silent weapons could be used to send messages to allies many meters away, and could even be used to hunt animals.

Yumi. Essentially a Japanese bow, these were one of the original weapons of the traditional Japanese samurai. The earliest Japanese bows were used to hunt game as early as 12 thousand years ago. Instead of altering the design of the bow, Japanese bow makers over the centuries elected to strengthen their bows by simply elongating the bow, which led to the creation of enormous, 2-meter bows. Before the invention of guns, bows were still the most effective means of dispatching a target at long range and aged gracefully into the modern age as a symbol of grace and discipline. Archery still exists today as a modern sport worldwide.

Weapons are both a utility, and can also be considered an art form and collectible in how they are so meticulously made. Now, you can add all this information to your arsenal of knowledge about Japanese weapons.