Guns, rocket launches, sightseeing spots, and scrumptious food are things that can rarely be said together in one sentence and still make sense. For the Japanese, however, these four elements perfectly describe the wonderful island of Tanegashima.
Brief History of Tanegashima Island
Tanegashima is an island that belongs to the Kagoshima Prefecture. It has an approximate total area of 445 sq. km and stands as the second largest island of Kagoshima Prefecture’s Osumi Islands. According to studies, the island currently has an estimated population of 33,000 people.
The areas that make up the island of Tanegashima include the Kumage District and the Nishinoomote City. Two towns known as Minamitane and Nakatane belong to the district of Kumage.
According to historical records, it was only after the Meiji Restoration that Tanegashima became a part of the Kagoshima Prefecture. Many centuries before this period, the island found itself under the radar and rule of various clans who found interest in its gentle terrain and natural beauty.
The countless artifacts that have been excavated in Tanegashima, particularly in Hirota and Yokomine, attest to the beliefs and lifestyle the community observed during the Yayoi Period. Some of the things that can be seen at the island’s museums include various emblems that feature a form of writing and jewelry.
During the Nara Period, the imperial court of Japan initiated more active measures to make contact with the island. From as early as 677 to around 699, several missions were to Tanegashima to better understand their culture. Not long after, the island was regarded to be part of the Osumi Province.
It was then included to be part of the Shimazu Estate, the largest autonomous manor at the time, during the 1140s. Throughout the Kamakura Period, political and military issues among Japan’s warring clans led to the constant change of Tanegashima’s ruler.
The Hojo Clan then the Higo Clan made themselves autonomous on the island after the Shimazu Clan was overthrown. At some point in time, the Higo Clan decided to refer to them as the Tanegashima Clan and continued their rule until the Meiji Restoration.
The Tanegashima Gun/Pistol/Arquebus – History (Tokitaka), Parts, and Finding Real/Replicas for Sale
Throughout the Muromachi Period, the island of Tanegashima was among the many relay stations that contributed to the international trading transactions done by Japan. It particularly played an important role in the main trading route that connected Ningbo with Sakai.
Obviously, one of the things that make the island of Tanegashima stand out from Japan’s other islands is the significant role it played throughout history. So much so that the name of the island served as a synonymous term for firearms (shotgun, pistol, revolver, etc.) during ancient times.
According to several documents, Tanegashima also served as the place where European firearms were introduced to Japan by the Portuguese. The main goal of the foreign troops was to trade their own goods such as soap, tobacco, and guns with the equally distinct products of Japan.
The firearm introduced by the Portugues was a configured arquebus considered to be a type of matchlock. A pair of guns was bought by Tanegashima Tokitaka, the ruler of the island at the time, and given to a local swordsmith to better understand the foreign weapon.
Within a span of ten years since the gun first reached the shores of Tanegashima, more than three hundred thousand of it had already been manufactured. Given that the samurai warriors of Japan had been using weapons that could only be used within close ranges, the introduction of the tanegashima gun forever changed the dynamics of war in Japan.
The swordsmith that Tanegashima Tokitaka entrusted the guns he purchased did not have a hard time figuring out how the weapon worked. He was able to completely disassemble the firearms without destroying its mechanics.
Each part of the tanegashima gun is referred to using the following Japanese terms:
Shiba-hikigane – refers to the butt protector
Hikigane - refers to the trigger
Karakuri - refers to the lock
Jiita - refers to the plate
Yuojintetsu - refers to the trigger guard
Biyu - refers to the rivet
Hinawa Toushi Ana - refers to the hole for the match cord
Hajiki Gane - refers to the spring
Dugane - refers to the stock ring
Hibasami - refers to the hammer arm
Amaoi - refers to the barrel protector
Hibuta - refers to the pan cover
Hizara - refers to the pan tray
Dai - refers to the stock
Tsutsu - refers to the barrel
Moto Maete - refers to the rear sight
Udenuki - refers to the sling hole
Naka Maete - refers to the middle sight
Mekugi Ana - refers to the pin hole
Saki Maete - refers to the front sight
Karuka - refers to the ramrod
Suguchi - refers to the muzzle
Finding Real or Replica Tanegashima Guns for Sale
At present, tanegashima guns can be bought from sellers known to collect antique Japanese firearms and other samurai weapons. Some of these sellers exist outside of Japan and also offer model replicas of the gun.
The following sites below are among the best places for interested buyers to start their search:
Katanas for Sale (https://katanasforsale.com/)
Guns International (http://www.gunsinternational.com/)
Japanese Armor (http://shop.japanese-armor.com/)
Gun Broker (http://www.gunbroker.com/)
Places to Visit in Tanegashima – Space Center, Gun Museum, Etc.
Tanegashima Space Center
The Tanegashima Space Center, which is currently being operated by JAXA, is one of the best tourist attractions on the island that should not be missed out on. Rocket launches are held at the center several days of the year.
Furthermore, tourists can also get their fair share of information about Japanese astronauts, rockets, and other related matters at the center’s Space Museum. Guided tours are also offered at the Tanegashima Space Center which allows visitors to explore the whole complex including the launch pad via bus.
Address: Kagoshima, Kumage, Minami-tanecho, Kukinaga, Matsu
Teppokan Gun Museum
The Teppokan Gun Museum should be included in the Tanegashima itinerary of any history or gun buff. It houses a large collection of Western firearms, the majority of which came from Portugal and date back to the year 1543.
Everything about the firearms including their history and impact on Japan is showcased at the Toppkan Gun Museum, along with interesting information about Tanegashima.
Address: Kagoshima, Nishino-omote, Nishino-omote 7585
The Gessoutei is a charming old building that was constructed during the Edo Period. Its architectural design is more than enough reason to pay it a visit. At present, it still continues to serve the public as one of the best tea houses in Tanegashima and offers visitors a pleasant space to drink some local tea while enjoying the view of a traditional Japanese garden.
Address: Kagoshima, Nishino-omote, Nishino-omote 7528
Chikura no Iwaya Cave
The Chikura no Iwaya Cave is a unique sight housed by the island of Tanegashima. For a long period of time, the area was exposed to a relentless amount of marine erosion, which basically formed the cave into what it is today.
Visitors who want to enter the cave should make sure to check tide forecasts beforehand, as the inside of the cave may only be accessed when the tides are low. In line with this, the view of the cave differs according to the waves.
Address: Kagoshima, Kumage, Minami-tanecho, Hirayama, Hirota
The Ota RIndo, which means “woodland path” in English, of Tanegashima houses a large colony of wild hego (tree ferns). These tree ferns are scattered throughout the area, some of which line up the nearby road.
With the tree ferns reaching up to four meters in height, the Ota Rindo looks more like a forest than a simple path.
Address: Kagoshima, Nishino-omote
Hirota Site Museum
The Hirota Site Museum can be located not that far away from the Tanaegashima Space Center. An ancient cemetery makes up the majority of the museum complex which is believed to date back to the Yayoi Period when rice cultivation was implemented in Japan.
More than a hundred sets of bones and artifacts have been excavated throughout the site. As such, the place has been designated as one of Japan’s National Historic Sites.
Several exhibits that inform visitors of the ancient lifestyle and beliefs of the local community are held by the museum every year.
Address: Kagoshima, Kumage, Minami-tanecho, Hirayama 2571
The Kishigazaki Lighthouse is one of Tanegashima Island’s most popular tourist destinations. It is situated up north and offers visitors stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from it northeastern section. On clear days, the Osumi Peninsula can also be seen from the Kishigazaki Lighthouse. Tourists can also spend their day playing and relaxing at the spacious beach located right below.
Address: Kagoshima, Nishino-omote, Kunigami
Must-Try Food Items and Dishes in Tanegashima
As with other regions of Japan, the island of Tanegashima offers a wide array of dishes unique to them alone. Some of the must-try items tourist should take note of include:
Anno Imo is basically a kind of sweet potato that is only produced on the island of Tanegashima. After World War II, the cultivation of potatoes became an integral part of the island’s agriculture thanks to the groups of soldiers who came back from Sumatra Island with potatoes in tow.
The district of Anno served as the first place where sweet potatoes were cultivated hence the name of the produce. Tanegashima also has its own version of the purple sweet potato known as the Murasaki Imo. Both types of sweet potato become incredibly soft and feature twice as more sugar content after being roasted.
Tourists can purchase these goods at just about every market scattered throughout Tanegashima. Interestingly, the island also produces an alcoholic beverage known as Shochu using anno imo.
Asahi Gani refers to a particular type of crab that lives in the waters of and near Tanegashima. The harvest season for these crabs starts during the month of November. As such, a lot of dishes offered by the establishments in Tanegashima make use of Asahi Gani during the winter season.
Nagarame is a term used by the community of Tanegashima to refer to abalone. The food item is often served raw in sashimi dishes but some restaurants also cook it in miso, a savory Japanese broth.
Niga-take, or better known as Japanese timber bamboo in English, is among the few things that naturally grown on the island of Tanegashima. The literal English translation of the term niga is "bitter taste", which, oddly enough, is not present in niga-take. In fact, the timber bamboo actually features a relatively sweet taste.
Given its crisp texture, niga-take is often served in restaurants as a tempura dish or simply as a garnish that gives the dish a unique crunchiness. Those planning to visit Tanegashima sometime between June and November should make it a point to try dishes with niga-take, as this period serves as the best season for the produce.
Ingee chicken or ingee dori refers to a particular breed of chicken that is only raised on the island of Tanegashima.
According to an old legend, the ancestor of the ingee dori was given to the island by English people who were saved by local residents. The name of the chicken is said to have been derived from how the community referred to the English as “Ingee”.
The texture of ingee dori is significantly firmer than the regular chicken many people are used to but actually makes any dish more interesting and enjoyable.
Kurobuta or black pig is one of the many things that the Kagoshima Prefecture is known for. This type of meat is considered to be a high-quality product in terms of taste and texture.
In line with the sweet potatoes (anno imo) cultivated by Tanegashima, the black pigs raised on the island are referred to as anno kurobuta. Interestingly, these pigs are also fed with anno imo, which is believed to be the reason behind the distinctly sweet taste of their meat.
Tanegashima Burgers is actually a restaurant in Tanegashima which has become quite popular among locals and foreign travelers for its use of local ingredients and scrumptious dishes. Furthermore, all of their dishes are made upon order to ensure that everything tastes as fresh as possible.
The owner of the charming establishment is one of the many surfers who love visiting the island for its wonderful surfing spots. At present, it stands as the only burger shop in the entire island.
Address: Kagoshima, Nishino-omote, Nishino-omote 16035
Access to Tanegashima – New Tanegashima Airport / Tanegashima Nishino-omote Port
The island of Tanegashima can be accessed by taking a plane ride to the New Tanegashima Airport. From the Kagoshima Airport, tourists can reach the island in less than an hour. In line with this, flights from the Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Osaka’s Kansai International Airport offer various flights to Kagoshima Airport.
Alternatively, tourists can also reach Tanegashima by taking a ferry from the port of Kagoshima to the port of Tanegashima Nishino-omote. This option usually takes an hour and a half of travel time.