In approximately 1543, a ship carrying Portuguese sailors was forced to anchor off the Japanese island of Tanegashima. The Japanese lord purchased two Portuguese arquebus muskets from the sailors. Within a decade, Japan copied the Portuguese design and began manufacturing hundreds of thousands of tanegashima muskets and hinawaju muskets. Japanese gunsmiths were able to learn to use these weapons faster than the combat archers.
In 1543, Portugal began introducing firearms and gunpowder to Japan. The Portuguese guns were very lightweight and had a matchlock mechanism, making them very easy to aim. Japan’s first guns were called Tanegashima, after the town of Tanegashima where the Portuguese first used them. The Japanese also experimented with these weapons, resulting in improved sights and cord protection. Ultimately, these weapons helped Japan unify its country and conquer Korea.
The introduction of firearms in Japan was a significant achievement. Japanese lord Oda Nobunaga used a sophisticated pattern of gunfire to defeat the cavalry of Takeda Katsuyori in 1575. This victory, and the ensuing engagements, proved the effectiveness of the gun and positioned Japan as a world leader in advanced gun warfare.
The Portuguese also traded with Japan. A few Portuguese missionaries and explorers opened Japan’s trade routes. In addition, the Dutch also introduced European firearms and gunpowder. In the early Edo period, they introduced matchlock firearms and European ships. The Dutch were also responsible for suppressing the Shimabara uprising, a Christian Japanese rebellion against the Tokugawa shogunate. Portugal also had a trading post in Nagasaki harbor on an artificial island called Dejima.
As the world gained access to firearms, Japan became increasingly sophisticated and advanced. Daimyo and clans studied various firearms and developed new tactics. A single rifling groove in the barrel was a technical challenge that could not be easily replicated. After about 100 years, Japan banned Christianity. As the country grew in sophistication, guns were eventually abandoned.
Although the Japanese adopted the firearms and gunpowder from Europe, the gun didn’t become a major part of their battles until the late 19th century. However, the Japanese quickly recognized the importance of firearms and soon followed the American and European weapons in battle. The Satsuma Rebellion, however, was the last stand of the samurai against modernism.
Portuguese traders brought their culture and language to Japan. In 1573, Francis Xavier, a Jesuit from Portugal, arrived in Kagoshima. The Portuguese establish a trading post at Nagasaki and dispatch annual trading ships to Japan. Japan’s first missionaries, Jesuits, and Catholics stayed in the country, and the Portuguese eventually built an embassy in both Lisbon and Tokyo.
Portuguese ships first reached Japan in 1543. The Portuguese monopoly over trade with Japan was challenged by Spanish ships from Manila, the Dutch and the English, which arrived in 1613. After the 15th century, Portuguese ships were also competing with the English for the Chinese market in Macau and by smuggling priests into Japan. The Portuguese’s monopoly on trade with Japan was challenged when the English began diplomatic relations with the country.