Can you say Juukisei <Gun control>? (Said in a Mr. Roger’s tone of voice)
How it feels to live in Japan without guns
The subject of gun control, at least when it reaches the mouths of Americans, becomes a heated and often out of control debate. Talk about it with Japanese people and you will find that it is kind of met with a sense of ‘Does this even need to be talked about?’. It is like, ‘Why are you even talking about regulating guns? Of course they need to be so. Why are you even bringing this up as a point of discussion?’ It is as if you were asking someone to talk about how they feel about the need for licensing and registration being a good idea for cars.
I grew up in the United States of America. And while I can not say that I thought about guns everyday, I will say without any sense of illusion that I wondered on a daily basis, ‘Does this guy have a gun? What if he/she is carrying?’ at least on an almost unconscious level. These were thoughts that I had on my mind on a more or less constant basis. And there is good basis for this mental state with the daily barrage of reports of people losing their lives due to either the deliberate or accidental use of guns. In fact you would be rather stupid not to have this attitude. I do not want to say out and out that gun control is the answer for the United States of America as there are good arguments for the opposite point of view. I can only say that after living in both first America and then in Japan for roughly equal lengths of time, I can say without hesitation that gun control seems to have worked wonderfully for Japan.
I often hear that it is not fair to compare Japan with America in the area of gun control because the Japanese are by nature docile and peaceful or because the Japanese have an inbuilt ethical or moral fabric that makes gun control easier. Both of these I feel are faulty arguments and I would like to look at these and the present state of gun control in Japan.
Guns in Japan before gun control
Apparently guns, or rifles to be specific, made their way to Japan on the southern island of Tanegashima which is located even farther south from Kyuushuu but northern to Okinawa in the middle 15 hundreds. There are historians in Japan at present saying that guns that came from Asia were actually in existence before this but for now we will go with the traditional viewpoint. The lord of Tanegashima, Tokitaka sequestered 2 rifles from a grounded Portuguese ship and demanded that his iron workers decipher and reproduce the rifles. From this very humble beginning Japan went on to be the world’s largest possessor and importer/exporter of rifles in the world. Let that sink in for a minute. In the span of less than a century, and more like a few decades Japan went from being a country with zero or very few rifles to the world’s largest gun possessing country. These rifles were not merely the tools of the warrior class but also of pure gun manufacturing groups, religious groups and the merchant and farming classes as well. So we have now a people armed with not only rifles but of course swords and numerous other forms of weaponry. It was from within this background that one of the great unifiers of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had unified Japan and became its sole leader, implemented what is called, ‘Katanagari’ <刀狩り> literally ‘sword hunting’ in 1588.
This order that forbade anyone not of the warrior class from possessing swords was not the first time to have come about in Japan and had happened previously on at least 3 other occasions. Toyotomi implemented this edict based on the largely, but not totally, fictional aim of rebuilding a new ‘Giant Buddha statue’ which required the metal of the nation’s swords and guns. It is obvious that this was more a way to disarm any rebellions than it was to build a Giant Buddha statue. Incidentally the temple, Houkou-ji was completed after about 10 years of work but was destroyed in 1596 by an earthquake for what that is worth.
While we at the present time may think this was a dishonest or even cowardly way to dispel your enemy, we can also credit Toyotomi with being at least clever and can perhaps praise him for slowly changing the war based mindset of the people into one a bit more practical and peace seeking.
Remember that the Japanese are not by nature peace-loving, docile imbeciles but are rather incredible fighters. We only have to look to the 140 years or more of constant civil war that was a daily phenomena for the whole country during the ‘Sengoku jidai’ <Warring states>.
And let us not forget the ‘Tameshigiri’, or, practice cut that was employed prior to the advent of the Edo period. This was a practice of cutting a carcass to see if the blade of a sword was truly battle ready or not. In Europe apparently this was used mostly using the bodies of dead animals. In Japan it was determined that animal bodies would not be a true determinant and that human corpses were to be used. In the early years of Edo there are records of contests amongst swordsmen who would cut through not one, not two but three or even up to seven torsos with one cut. Anyway, I am trying to make the point that the Japanese are not by nature a peace-loving, docile people for whom gun or weapon control would be an effective measure to countering violence while it would not be for the peoples of other countries.
Following upon the precedent established by Toyotomi at the end of the Sengoku era the Tokugawa family of Shoguns took the regulation of guns and weapons to the next level. In 1687 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi enacted a nationwide edict that forbade anyone outside of the Bushi class from possessing weapons with some exceptions for hunting and to scare off wild animals from agricultural areas. Even these tight regulations were further constricted toward the later years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, or the Edo period.
Now, let us remember that the 250 plus years of the Edo period are considered by world historians to be an unprecedented and unique period of world history where there was relative peace within a country and has never been replicated to any degree any where else in the world.
When we enter the Meiji period in the later part of the 19th century if anything the laws regarding the possession of guns became even stricter and was heavily regulated by the Meiji government.
Now, we can skip over the horrendous years of World War 1 and 2 and pass into the post WW2 era regarding gun control. In 1958 a law was passed that for all intents and purposes forbade Japanese citizens from owning guns, swords or similar weapons. And if anything in the years following to the present day, if anything these laws became even stricter and extended greatly into the use of guns even by the legitimate police forces.
Modern day gun control in Japan
Before I get into the current state of affairs of gun control in Japan I would like to make the reader aware that in present day Japan even the thought of wanting to buy a gun is something that is so far from the consciousness of the average Japanese as to be akin to the thought of, ‘Gee, I should consider buying a Barbie doll that could fly me to the moon’. It is just something that is not considered or even thought about by the vast majority of Japanese.
How to buy a gun in present day Japan.
First of all, you are have never been convicted of gun or sword or weapon related crimes in the past.
You are not a member of, or have an immediate relative who is a member of, an organized crime organization. (And believe me these groups are well known and documented)
You have no history of mental illness or anything similar to mental illness. (Pretty vague and probably for a purpose)
You have never gone out of business or filed a Chapter 10 (10?, please forgive my ignorance of legal vocab)
You are a Japanese citizen.
You have no history of committing a crime (excluding light crimes like exceeding the speed limit by 15km/h)
You are of age (air rifle 18, hunting rifle 20)
You are not addicted to drugs or alcohol.
These are the first steps to clear.
Next, if you have cleared these criteria (and believe me they will all be thoroughly checked and researched over several months or even years)
You will attend an all day class which includes a written test on guns and which are held somewhat seldomly. You must take an of course pass a shooting test. You will be checked for whether you have properly paid taxes or not. If you pass all of these conditions you will then have to provide the police with a map to where you store your gun including the bullets which must be locked and stored in a place that is sufficiently outside of the reach of children. And the ammo and the gun must be stored sufficiently away from each other to satisfy the conditions of the police standards. Also, all of this including the tests for shooting and storage will all be repeated once every 3 years with an inspection once per year.
Sounds strict? Well lets take a comparison between what has been gained from the 4 centuries of gun restriction and current strict gun controls in Japan with the almost totally absent and ‘I love the fucking 2nd amendment over all else’ reality that exists in the US of A.
Actual figures between Japan and America
These are current figures for both countries
Average number of deaths by guns in Japan is right around a shocking-OK, drum roll please—-10!
Average number of deaths by guns in America—-33,000!
I have not separated suicides and accidents from either number because I am only talking about the impact and influence of guns and so feel their totals need to be included. If we weed out the accidents and suicides (which are basically zero in Japan) we see around 11,000 in America.
So, I am not preaching to the Americans who read this blog. In fact I am not totally opposed to the idea of Americans arming themselves in the current state of affairs in the US of A. I am saying that looking at the violent past of the Japanese and their subsequent attitude and actions towards violence and especially violence carried out by guns, I think there is something of deep importance that can be learned.