Japanese Rifles 1870 - 1945

   by Cliff Carlisle

Japanese model designations of firearms can be confusing.  The Japanese used 2 different calendars for model designations.  The Imperial (Jimmu) calendar started with the beginning of the Japanese Empire in 660BC.  In addition, each Emperor had his own calendar based upon his reign.  The Meiji era was from 1868 to 1912.  It was followed by the Taisho era from 1912 to 1926 and by the Showa era from 1926 to 1989.  Up until 1926 model designations were by the year adopted in the Emperors reign. Common examples are the Type 38 rifle & carbine adopted in the 38th year (1905) of the Meiji era & the Type 14 Nambu pistol adopted in the 14th year (1925) of the Taisho era.  From 1926 on model designations were by Jimmu era.  The most famous example is the Japanese Zero fighter.  Jimmu year 2600 was 1940.  Instead of using the last 2 digits of the year since both were 0 they only used one. The Zero fighter was adopted in the year 2600 and was the designated the Type 0. In the firearms field, the Type 99 rifle was adopted in the year 1599 (1939) hence the Type 99 designation.

Most people that have looked at Japanese rifles have noted that the mum on most of them has been defaced. For years collectors thought that General MacArthur had ordered their removal before the rifles could be shipped home. No documentation has ever been found to support this. After the interview of numerous WW2 Japanese veterans it is now known that the Japanese military ordered the defacing of the mum before the rifles were surrendered. The Chrysanthemum (mum) was the sign of ownership by the Emperor. To keep from surrendering the Emperor’’s property, they defaced the mum. But to confuse the issue, numerous WW2 US Vets have stated that the rifles they turned in for temporary storage had been ground when they were returned to them. So if you have a rifle with a full mum, you have a rifle that probably was captured during the war. If the mum has been ground it could be one that was either ground by the Japanese after the end of the war or was done by the US for an unknown reason. The Japanese still had over 6,000,000 men under arms when they surrendered so it’’s obvious that there are far more surrendered rifles than captured.

The first major Japanese government arsenal was the Tokyo Artillery Arsenal established at Koishikawa, Tokyo.  It was established in 1870 by the Meiji government.  They produced a copy of the Model 1855 British rifled musket between the years of 1870 & 1880.

In March, 1880, a single shot bolt action rifle designed by Tsuneyoshi Murata in 11mm Murata caliber was adopted by the government as the Type 13. By 1885 over 58,000 Type 13s had been produced.

In 1885 the Type 13 had several minor modifications made to it.  The modified rifle was adopted as the Type 18. Both a Rifle with a 32 3/16" barrel & a Cavalry Rifle with 27 ¾" barrel were produced.
 
 

In March, 1889, a new tubular magazine rifle with a 29 3/8" barrel that appears to be based on the Portugese Kropatschek of 1886 was adopted as the Type 22 rifle.  It was in 8mm Murata caliber and held 8 rounds.  A Type 22 carbine with a 19 ½" barrel length was also produced starting in 1894. Production of the Type 22 ended in October 1899.
 
 


 

Development of new rifle to replace the Type 22 was undertaken in December 1895 at the Koishikawa Arsenal under the direction of the Chief Superintendent of the arsenal, Col. Nariaki Arisaka.  A prototype was put into production on a trial basis in 1896 as the Type 29.  It was in 6.5mm caliber with a Mauser type box magazine, a non rotating bolt head like the M1888 German Commission rifle, a hook type safely & a 2 piece stock.  Japan did not have the natural resources that larger countries have. Consequently, to save wood, the bottom of the stock, when the rifle is horizontal, is made from a separate piece of wood dove tailed to the rest of the stock.  After testing & some modification it was adopted in 1897 as the Type 30 rifle & carbine.

The Imperial Navy also needed a more modern rifle but were not satisfied with the Type 30. They commissioned Tokyo Arsenal to improve the Type 30. Capt. Kijiro Nambu, later of Nambu pistol fame, an arms designer at Tokyo Arsenal was assigned the job.  The navy adopted this modified rifle in 1902 as the Type 35.  It differed from the Type 30 by having the hook safety replaced with a large knob cocking piece to protect the user from gases in case of a blown primer, larger bolt handle knob, improved bolt head, gas port in bolt body & shield on bolt, improved chamber configuration to improve cartridge feeding, addition of a sliding breech cover & improved tangent type rear sight.  The Type 35 was only standard from 1902 to 1905 when it was replaced by the Type 38.
 


 

During the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1939, Russia supplied the Republican Forces with Japanese rifles in both 6.5X50Sr & 7.92X57. The photo shows a Type 30 (top) & a Type 35 (bottom) that are in the Toledo, Spain Military Museum. Both have been converted to 7.92mm. Who or when these rifles were converted is not known. Note that the Type 35 has been left in the original configuration but that the Type 30 has been converted into a short rifle.
 
 

           Magazine and receiver cut out for the               Chinese 792 receiver markings.
                  Longer 7.92X57 round.
 

China had a large number of Type 38 rifles and carbines after WW2 ended.  As ammunition became scarce for the 6.5X50Sr some of these weapons were converted to 7.92X57, at that time Chinas primary military cartridge.   The front of the magazine had to be modified & the receiver ring cut out to allow the longer 7.92 round to function through the action.  The Japanese Mum was removed & the Chinese characters for 792 were stamped in it’s place on most of these converted rifles.
 


 
 

                 Magazine filler block.                                       Laminated stock.

In the 1950s, after China had adopted the Russian designed SKS carbine in 7.62X39, a program was implemented to convert the Japanese Type 38 rifles & carbines to this new caliber.  The total number converted is unknown.  The carbine shown above has a Chinese made laminated stock.  A Chinese American that was involved with the importation of Chinese weapons into the USA in the 1980s stated that it was known as the Type 38/56.  Whether this is an official designation or not is not known for sure.

At an unknown time after WW2 the Thailand government had some of their Type 38 rifles & carbines re-chambered to the US 30-06 caliber.  These required an even larger cut in the receiver ring along with lengthening the magazine than the 7.92X57 conversions.
 

In 1905 a commission, again headed by Col. Nariake Arisaka, developed a rifle to replace the Type 30 & 35 rifles.  This was the Type 38. The Type 38 is based on the Mauser design with the front mounted locking lugs, the one piece extractor and the staggered row integral box magazine, however that's where the similarity stops.  The rifle contains a hollow firing pin with a coil spring, a large safety knob on the rear of the bolt that also serves as a gas shield, a sliding breech cover that works with the bolt (the Type 35 cover was manually operated to the front) and a bolt that cocks on closing.
 
 

The Type 38 was produced from 1905 through 1943 in rifle and/or carbine versions in Japanese arsenals.  The Hoten (Mukden, China) arsenal produced them until 1944 or early 1945.
 
 


 
 

 
 

 
 

One variation of the Type 38 carbine was the Test Type 1 Rifle.  Carbines were removed from stores & modified at Nagoya Arsenal for Paratroop use.  The stock was cut in two just behind the action & a hinge was fitted to one side & a latch to the other.  It is estimated that less than 300 carbines were modified this way.  They are referred to by collectors as the folding stock carbine.
 
 


 
 

A modification of the Type 38 carbine with a folding bayonet was adopted in 1911 as the Type 44.
 
 

Due to a problem of weakness in the bayonet housing, 3 variations of the bayonet housing exist on these carbines.  They are the early short, transition long & final long variations.  The top carbine in the photo is a 1st variation.  Note that the metal attaching the assembly to the carbine is short, has the 2 screws close together & does not extend over the hand guard.  The second carbine is a 2nd variation.  Note that the metal is longer, has a wider spacing between the screws & goes over the hand guard.   The third carbine is a 3rd variation.  Note that the metal is the same length as the 2nd variation but has a half round extension added to the metal to allow the screw to be moved farther to the rear.  This was the final design.
 
 


 
 

 
 

In 1937 a sniper rifle with a turned down bolt & a 2.5 power telescopic sight was adopted. This was designated the Type 97. The illustrated rifle is complete with the scope carrying case, brush, cleaning cloth & muzzle cover.

After the war the Arisaka receiver was subjected to tests to determine it's strength. Barrel after barrel was used to try to over pressure it but the only thing over pressured were the barrels. As a result it was determined that the Arisaka was the strongest action built during W.W.II.  They were also chambered in 8X52R Siamese, for the Siamese Government, and in 7X57 Mauser for the Mexican Government. The Arisaka for the Mexican Government was made to take the Mexican bayonet and there was a Mexican Crest on the receiver. England purchased about 150,000 in W.W.I, Czarist Russia purchased 620,000 between 1914 and 1916 and many of the guns were left in Finland when it gained its independence from Russia in 1917. Finland refurbished these with barrels purchased from SIG of Switzerland and so you will find them with SIG and Finnish Guard markings.

In 1938 guidelines were established for the development of a 7.7mm rifle.  Experience gained in China indicated that a larger caliber than the 6.5mm was needed.  Initially, about 300 Type 38 rifles were converted to 7.7mm.  After testing these rifles, the decision was made to design a new rifle instead of just converting the Type 38 to 7.7mm.

The resulting rifle was adopted as the Type 99 in 1939.  Initial production was a long rifle but this was quickly changed to a short rifle design. As the war continued the Type 99 went through a series of modifications to make it easier to produce & conserve materials.  This ended with the so called Last Ditch rifles that are extremely crude with wooden butt plates.
 
 

First production Type 99 no series rifle with aircraft sights, monopod, front sight protector ears & excellent workmanship.
 
 

Mid war production. It has an adjustable rear sight without aircraft arms, no monopod or front sight protector.
 
 

Late war production.  Fixed rear sight, welded safety knob, cylindrical bolt handle & wooden butt plate.  This version was adopted by the Japanese as the “Substitute Type 99”.
 


 
 

 
 

The Japanese never officially adopted a sniper rifle based on the Type 99.  They did equip the Type 99 with a telescopic sight, both 2.5 power & 4 power.  These rifles are identified only as Type 99 sniper’s rifles.
 
 


 
 

There were 2 paratroop rifle versions of the Type 99 produced.  The first was the Type 100.  It had an interrupted screw barrel thread.  Very few were produced. The second was the Type 2.  It had a sliding wedge system to lock the barrel in place.  The wedge slides in front of the lug on the rear of the barrel & is threaded into the side of the receiver.  It has a wire bail to hand tighten it.
 
 


 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

The Japanese Navy manufactured a version of the Type 99 with a cast iron receiver.  This was the Naval Special Type 99 Rifle. A 26 9/16" barreled rifle & 21 5/8" carbine were produced.  Not only the receiver but all the bands were cast iron.  The chamber of the barrel was enlarged & the locking recess for the bolt was machined into the barrel.  This kept the receiver from carrying any of the stresses of firing.  Even though this is sound in theory & is used on some modern rifles, these cast iron receiver rifles & carbines should not be fired!

The Japanese military experimented with over 25 semi auto rifles from the 1920s through 1945. In 1944 the Navy adopted a copy of the US M1 Garand as the Type 4.  It had a leaf rear sight & a Mauser type magazine holding 10 rounds.  Before the Type 4 could be put into production, it was modified further & the revised rifle was adopted in 1945 as the Type 5. Only 125 Type 5 rifles were produced before the end of the war.
 
 


 
 

The Japanese used a wide variety of training rifles.  Most of these were crudely made in small shops.  Stocks were generally made of one piece of wood instead of the normal dove tailed 2.  Barrels were smoothbore (no rifling) as they were designed to only fire blanks.  The majority were styled after the Type 38 long rifle.  The navy had one with a cast iron receiver that was styled after the Type 99 short rifle.  In addition, obsolete Japanese & captured enemy rifles were converted into trainers.  Shown are a Naval Type 99 trainer & one made from a captured Chinese M1888 rifle.
 
 

One additional Japanese rifle that is fairly common is the so-called Type I, (I think for Italy).  In 1937 the 3 Axis Powers (Germany, Italy & Japan) signed an agreement for the exchange of industrial help.  Japan needed additional rifles to equip her growing military, so she placed an order with the Italian Government for 60,000 rifles.  These all used the Italian Carcano action but with all components copied from the Japanese Type 38 rifle, including the Mauser style magazine & 2 piece stock.  Production started in 1938 & was completed in 1939.  It is reported that the entire production was delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy.
 
 


 
 

 
 

Japan got a late start on adopting a rifle grenade launcher.  In the late 1930s they adopted a spigot type launcher that used the Type 91 hand grenade with a special hollow finned shaft in stead of the booster assembly used in the Type 89 Grenade Launcher (so called Knee Mortar).  In 1940 they adopted the Type 100 cup type launcher that fired the Type 99 Kiska grenade.  In 1942 2 German officers went to Japan with examples of the German cup type hollow charge grenade launcher.  After a short evaluation & some changes, the German design was adopted as the Type 2.  The photos show both the Japanese & German versions of this launcher.

I’d like to thank John Ziorbo for supplying the pictures of the Type 1 Test carbine, Type 44 3rd variation carbine, Type 97 & 99 sniper rifles, grenade launcher, and the Type 99 Naval Special rifle and carbine.

copyright 2004
Carbines for Collectors
Cliff Carlisle