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Recently, after years of collecting Japanese matchlock and percussion firearms many conceivable sizes and types a Japanese Cannon has come my way. How exciting is this? Not in my wildest dreams had I believed a cannon would become part of my collection.

Like many of the items we obtain, this cannon was brought from Tokyo, Japan to the United States after World War Two by a returning soldier. He was fluent in the Japanese language and worked as an interpreter during the Allied occupation. He saved this weapon along with several Matchlocks from a group destined for destruction at the end of the war. This gentleman was a collector and treasured the gun. The successive family owners continued to care for it with great attention and respect. Unlike so many artifacts we encounter this gun was maintained in its original unaltered condition.

Cannons of this type were originally produced to fire flaming arrows primarily in naval warfare. Later these weapons often saw use in signaling purposes and for launching fireworks during festivals and at auspicious occasions. This example has a beautifully cast, heavy bronze smooth bore barrel. It has complex multi-stepped front and rear aiming sights and a flared octagonal shaped muzzle. Decorative additions to the barrel casting include cloud and boars eye borders and round boss ornamentation surrounding the barrel and muzzle. The bore size is hyaku monme tama (approximately 1 9/16”) with a solid ball size of 100- monme or (approximately 0.82 lbs.). On either side of the barrel integrally cast lug-rings in the form of Shi Shi dog heads are for the attachment of recoil ropes. This small-scale cannon was discharged by lighting a gun powder primer charge at an opened mechanism situated on the top of the barrel rather than by a trigger. The firing pan is mokko shaped and has a meticulously crafted hinged cover. The bottom edge of the barrel also has two cast attaching lugs for retaining pins to hold the stock in place.

Exquisitely formed, the tailpiece of the sock has a snail-like curved ending while the top edge and forward section incorporates a compound curved outline carved to repeat the cloud design on the barrel. Decorative brass embellishments in the form of cherry blossoms were carefully inlaid into the oak stock to add strength at the pin apertures. Other brass components include a reinforcing strap at the back end of the stock and a fabricated brass collar with ornamental bosses used to support the stock at its juncture with the base of the barrel. A large brass lined oval opening passes through the stock at its midpoint. This aperture was intended for the use of a portable-firing stand. In normal use the underside of the stock was designed to rest flat on its firing platform. A friend stated the gun looks like a pregnant guppy. What can I say? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

After I completed this purchase and was awaiting the arrival of my cannon, I was looking through my library and found a book that pictured a gun, exactly like this example. The book “The Tokugawa Collection, THE JAPAN OF THE SHOGUNS” is the catalog from an exhibition of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1989, page 119- Item 73. All of the items that are included in this book are in the collection of the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya, Japan

Both guns have an overall length of 49.4cm. - 19 7/16” and the same barrel inscription: Tsujiya Heie Yukitane. In addition, both oak stocks are signed in ink: Oda Shinsuke. My cannon has the addition of a matching antique oak stand, and it’s original oak ramrod and forged iron and bronze ball mold. This mold is also maker inscribed. The exhibition book states that the illustrated cannon is from the Eighteenth century. I am told that my cannon was probably from a small group commissioned by the Tokugawa to be used or possibly gifted to specific Japanese shrines. Over the past 30 plus years, I have occasionally encountered similar Japanese cannon barrels at auction. However, this particular style barrel, mounted as a complete gun with beautifully carved oak stock and accoutrements is a first in my collecting experience.


Copyright 2008
Brian G. Quinn
Brian is owner and operator of Quinn Studios in Scottsdale, AZ

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