Given its proximity to China and Korea, it is remarkable that gunpowder artillery played almost no part in the history of Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Japanese were certainly aware of such weapons, which were used for example to fend off Japanese pirates from the Korean coast, and they had seen a Chinese artillery piece in the early 16th century, but showed no interest in this technology at all. With the coming of the Europeans they saw their first Western guns in 1543 courtesy of the Portuguese, at which point some families did show a little interest, purchasing a number of barrels from European ships that visited their lands. Very occasional references to such guns being used, always during a siege, occur over the next few decades, but the exact nature of these guns is unknown and they may well have been light, breech-loading swivel guns rather than the artillery we would imagine today.
What is clear is that when the guns were used, it was against a castle or fortification, and not as an anti-personal weapon on a field of battle. When purchasing European guns they were mostly the ordnance to be found on board visiting ships, and generally just the barrels changed hands. This left the Japanese to mount the barrels as they wished, and it seems perfectly reasonable that some ended up like the example in this set. This one has been attached to a wooden bed and mounted on bales to give it the necessary elevation, but of course it is not mobile at all unless carried. This did not matter for a siege, and when the gun needed to be realigned, or returned after a particularly violent recoil, all that was required was an adjustment to the bales. A contemporary illustration of just this sort of arrangement confirms the practice, which makes sense anyway. The barrel has no trunions, and is about 19 mm (137cm) in length. It seems rather flattened to our eye, although as much of it is obscured by the wooden bed it is hard to see, so it was a fairly crude weapon but this seems a perfectly likely model of how one may have appeared at the time.
There are just the four crewmen, though it is likely there was no urgency about how rapidly the gun was fired since its task was to batter down defences, so a small crew may have sufficed. All are of course ashigaru, and all are in natural and useful poses. The first man is applying the match, the next seems to be pouring powder from a bag, the third holds a ball and the last is in charge of the ramrod. All the poses are good, and work well with the weapon. All the men wear typical ashigaru armour and clothing, including the ubiquitous jingasa headwear and the cuirass made up of wide bands rather than the fine lamellar of the samurai. All have standard swords and one man also has his rice ration hanging round his neck. The man with the match seems to have a length of match cord hanging from his belt, and everything here looks really good and authentic.
The quality of the sculpting is very good, which is just as well as the armour of these men requires a decent level of detail. However everywhere has good detail, not just the armour, and the figures themselves are well proportioned and natural in appearance. Figures one, three and four in our photo are immaculate in terms of having no flash, but the second figure and the gun are a different story. The figure has a good deal, particularly between the legs, as you can see, while the seam between the two moulds on the gun is thick with extra plastic. The gun is a simple one-piece model, but will need a lot of work to tidy up all the extra plastic.
The impact of the arquebus on Japanese warfare was profound in the 16th century, but the cannon never followed suit, so while there may well have been weapons such as this at several sieges it is unlikely they had much of an effect on the final result beyond frightening an enemy unused to them. Still it is good to see this being made, and for wargames it offers an unusual element to add interest to a battle. With no problems over accuracy or quality of sculpting it is only really the uneven level of flash, from perfect to awful, that is a blemish on this small but appealing and interesting set.