View Full Version : Text: The Introduction of Firearms into Japan by Nampo Bunshi

John Lindsey
12th August 2000, 18:25
The Introduction of Firearms into Japan by Nampo Bunshi, written in the Teppo-ki for Lord Tanegashima Hisatoki.
The source for this translation is the Volume 1 of the Sources of Japanese Tradition (1958)

To the south of Osumi 18 ri off the shore, there is an island called Tanegashima.
My forbears had lived there for generations. According to an ancient legend,
the name Tane is derived from the fact that despite the
smallness of the island,the number of inhabitants has continued to grow and to prosper,
like a seed planted in season.

During the Temmon Era [1532-1554], on the 25th of the eighth month of the
year of the Water and the Hare [1543], there appeared off our western
shore a big ship. No one knew whence it had come. It carried a crew
of over a hundred whose physical features differed from ours, and whose
language was unintelligible, causing all who saw them to regard them
suspiciously. Among them was a Chinese scholar of whose family or
given name no one was certain, but whose pen name was Goho. There
was at the time a man called Oribe, the chieftain of a village on the west
coast, who was quite well-versed in Chinese. Thus, upon meeting Goho
he conversed with him by writing Chinese words on the sand with his
cane. He wrote: "Those passengers on the ship—of what country are
they? Why do they appear so different?" Goho wrote in answer: "They
are traders from among the south-western barbarians. They know some-
thing of the etiquette of monarchs and ministers, but they do not know
that polite attitudes are part of etiquette. Thus, when they drink, they
do not exchange cups. When they eat they use their hands, not chop-
sticks. They know how to gratify their appetites but they cannot state
their reasons in writing. These traders visit the same places in the hope
of exchanging what they have for what they do not have. There is
nothing suspicious about them."
Then Oribe wrote: "About 13 ri from here there is a seaport called
Akaogi where the family to whom I owe allegiance has lived for genera-
dons. The population of the seaport is several tens of thousands of house-
holds. The people are rich and prosperous, and merchants from the south
and traders from the north come and go continuously. Now this ship is
anchored here, but it is far better there as the port is deep and calm."
When the report of the foreign ship was made to my grandfather and
to my aged father, the latter sent several tens of junks to fetch the ship
at Akaogi, where it arrived on the 27th.

At that time there lived at the port a certain Zen student of senior
grade who had once been a disciple of Ryogen of Hyuga. Desirous of
attending the lectures on the Lotus Gospel of Universal Enlightenment,
he remained in the port, and, in the end, he became a convert to the
Lotus Sect at a monastery called Jujo-in. Well-versed in the scriptures
and the classics, he was capable of writing fast and intelligently. He met
Goho with whom he carried on conversation through the written word.
Goho regarded him as a true friend in an alien land—a case of like ,
attracting like.

He reported:
"There are two leaders among the traders, the one called Murashusa,
and the other Christian Mota. In their hands they carried something two
or three feet long, straight on the outside with a passage inside, and made
of a heavy substance. The inner passage runs through it although it is
closed at the end. At its side there is an aperture which is the passageway
for fire. Its shape defies comparison with anything I know. To use it,
fill it with powder and small lead pellets. Set up a small white target on
a bank. Grip the object in your hand, compose your body, and closing
one eye, apply fire to the aperture. Then the pellet hits the target
squarely. The explosion is like lightning and the report like thunder,
Bystanders must cover their ears. . . . This thing with one blow can
smash a mountain of silver and a wall of iron. If one sought to do mis-
chief in another man's domain and he was touched by it, he would lose
his life instantly. Needless to say this is also true for the deer and stag
that ravage the plants in the fields."

Lord Tokitaka saw it and thought it was the wonder of wonders. He
did not know its name at first nor the details of its use. Then someone
called it "iron-arms," although it was not known whether the Chinese
called it so, or whether it was so called only on our island. Thus, one
day, Tokitaka spoke to the two alien leaders through an interpreter:
"Incapable though I am, I should like to learn about it." Whereupon, the
chiefs answered, also through an interpreter: "If you wish to learn about
it, we shall teach you its mysteries." Tokitaka then asked, "What is its
secret?" The chief replied: "The secret is to put your mind aright and
close one eye." Tokitaka said: "The ancient sages have often taught how
to set one's mind aright, and I have learned something of it. If the mind
is not set aright, there will be no logic for what we say or do. Thus, I
understand what you say about setting our minds aright. However, will
it not impair our vision for objects at a distance if we close an eye? Why
should we close an eye?" To which the chiefs replied: "That is because
concentration is important in everything. When one concentrates, a broad
vision is not necessary. To close an eye is not to dim one's eyesight but
rather to project one's concentration farther. You should know this." De-
lighted, Tokitaka said: "That corresponds to what Lao Tzu has said,
“Good sight means seeing what is very small.”
That year the festival day of the Ninth Month fell on the day of the
Metal and the Boar. Thus, one fine morning the weapon was filled with
powder and lead pellets, a target was set up more than a hundred paces
away, and fire was applied to the weapon. At first the people were
astonished; then they became frightened. But in the end they all said
in unison: "We should like to learn!" Disregarding the high price of the
arms, Tokitaka purchased from the aliens two pieces of the firearms for
his family treasure. As for the art of grinding, sifting, and mixing of the
powder, Tokitaka let his retainer, Shinokawa Shoshiro, learn it. Tokitaka
occupied himself, morning and night, and without rest in handling the
arms. As a result, he was able to convert the misses of his early experiments into
hits—a hundred hits in a hundred attempts. . . .

So interested was Tokitaka in the weapon that he had a number of
iron-workers examine and study it for months and from season to season
in order to manufacture some. His product resembled the foreign weapon
in outward appearance, but he did not know how to close the end of
the barrel. The following year foreign traders came again to a bay in
Kumano, one of our islands. . . . Fortunately, there was among the
traders an iron-worker whom Tokitaka regarded as a godsend. He
ordered the Commandant Kimbei Kiyosada to learn from the iron-worker
how to close the end of the barrel. He learned that there was a spring
within the barrel, which discovery led to the production of several tens
of firearms in a period of a little more than a year. Then the wooden
stock and the ornament resembling a key were manufactured. Tokitaka's
interest lay not in the stock or the ornament but in their use in warfare.
Thus, his retainers, far and near, all practiced the use of the new arms
with the result that soon there were many who could score a hundred
hits in a hundred attempts. Later, a man named Tachibana-ya Matasaburo,
a merchant, who stayed on our island for one or two years, learned the
art of the firearm. He became quite skilled in it, and upon his return
home everyone called him, not by his name, but as Teppo-mata.
Following this the provinces in the Inner Circuit learned the art, and in time
not only the Inner Circuit but also the provinces in the West as well as
those in the East learned the art.

It is more than sixty years since the introduction of this weapon into
our country. There are some gray-haired men who still remember the
event clearly. The fact is that Tokitaka procured two pieces of the weapon
and studied them, and with one' volley of the weapon startled sixty
provinces of our country. Moreover, it was he who made the iron-workers
learn the method of their manufacture and made it possible for that
knowledge to spread over the entire length and breadth of the country.
The ancients have said that if the achievements of our forbears are
obscure, the fault lies with posterity; so, here is the record.

John Lindsey
31st August 2003, 02:43
a post bumped from the past...