In response to my post on The Last Samurai, one reader
asked a question I should have expected: didn’t the Tokugawa Shogunate
successfully suppress firearms in Japan?
No. Actually, they didn’t. Many American believe they did because
they’ve vaguely heard the argument of Noel Perrin’s book Giving
Up The Gun, explaining that the Tokugawa Shogunate successfully
suppressed firearms in Japan, partly by promoting the cult of the
But the book was wrong. Arthur Tiedemann, an eminent historian of
Japan, once explained this to me personally. It seems that if you
study the actual weapons inventories of daimyo houses, it turns out
they maintained firearms and firearms-wielding troops from the
Battle of Sekigahara clear through to the Meiji Restoration.
This was especially true of the so-called ‘outside
lords’, the descendants of the survivors of the losing side at
Sekigahara. Their domains were far from the capitol at Edo and the
shogunate’s control over them was often little more than nominal.
But to significant degree it was true everywhere. The shogunate
banned firearms, the daimyos pretended to obey the ban, and the
shogunate pretended to believe them. A very Japanese, face-saving
Perrin, alas, was taken in, perhaps because he wanted to be.
Hoplophobes have been citing his book with approval ever since. But
while it doesn’t seem to have been a deliberate fraud like Michael
Bellesisles’s Arming America, it’s just as false to