In the year 1543, a Chinese cargo ship entered the bay of Tanegashima Island near Kyushu, at Japan’s southern tip. 1 On board were a number of Chinese trader-pirates, along with three Portuguese adventurers. The Portuguese brought along with them a technology new to Japan: the gun.
For the next half century, guns were an important part of Japanese weaponry. Firearms were used in battle by 1560, and Japanese trading vessels carried out Japanese-made guns, along with their justly famous swords.
But the gun was not to last. It gradually became clear that guns were undermining the social structure in which upper-class heroes triumphed through skill, not raw firepower. Growing antipathy towards outside ideas (including the gun) came to a head in 1616, when Christianity was declared illegal and movement of foreigners was restricted.
While firearms were never officially banned in Japan, gradually their use diminished. The Tokugawa shogunate took control of the arms industry in 1607, centralizing production of guns and powder in Nagahama. The number of orders for guns slowed to a trickle, as the demand for sword production rose. The last time in the seventeenth century that guns played a serious role in battle was 1637. It would be almost a century and a half before firearms were reintroduced to Japan, when Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy sailed into Tokyo Bay.
human beings are less passive victims of their own knowledge and skills than most men in the West suppose.
—Noel Perrin, Giving up the Gun2