The Japanese Firearms Industry by Jim Torres
That there actually is a Japanese firearms industry may come as a surprise to many shooters. Another surprise is the fact that Japanese citizens can actually legally possess rifles and shotguns for hunting and target shooting. Japanese gun ownership does require an annual license, yearly testing and inspections but owners can keep their weapons and ammunition at home in a locked container.
The Japanese firearms industry is respected worldwide for its ability to produce superior quality products. Those Browning BAR hunting rifles you saw on the rack at your local hunting emporium? They are made in Japan. Their barrels might have a sporting contour, but those barrels are all made to match grade tolerances from the finest high grade ordnance steel.
Excellent accuracy is not just achieved from a match grade barrel, you also need precision concentricity; the perfect alignment of action, bolt face, chamber and barrel bore. Custom gunmiths charge major money to properly “blueprint” bolt action Remington 700’s. Practically any Japanese rifle made by Howa or a Howa sold as a Weatherby Vanguard will shoot outstanding groups right out of the box. Why? Because precision concentricity is achieved gun to gun because of their high quality manufacturing standards that include rigorous quality control throughout the entire manufacturing process, usage of high grade steels and excellent design engineering.
Today, Miroku is the largest commercial firearms manufacturer in Japan. For Browning’s worldwide market Miroku builds the Citori, Cynergy, BLR Lightweight, BLR Lightweight ’81, A-Bolt II, X-Bolt, BT-99, BL-22 Rifle, Auto-22 Rifle, T-Bolt, BPS (all), and Gold 10ga. Miroku also makes Winchesters historic “retro rifles” such as the 1885, 1895s, and other limited series rifles.
Japan has had some unique success in military weapons design. Their Type 96 and 99 Light Machineguns of WW2 were the first issue ever of a LMG to come with a telescopic sight. The Japanese were also the first to issue “Designated Marksman” rifles. In rifle platoons quantities of Arisaka bolt action infantry rifles were issued with compact telescopic sights, while “select” grade versions were issued to trained snipers. These weapons were also the only ones issued by any military of that war that came with chrome lined barrels and hard chromed bolt faces. Both had excellent reputations for reliability and accuracy.
For military use the Japanese make their own original design 5.56MM rifle, the Howa Type 89. They also make a FN MAG clone, the 7.62X51mm Type 62, and also license build the 5.56MM FN M249. Some of their special units use the Colt M4 for interoperability with US forces.
For handguns the Japanese military is equipped with SIG 9x19MM models of the P220, P225 and P226 pistols. The Japanese police are usually found armed with Miroku made .38spec revolvers that were also sold in the USA in the 1960’s.
The only assault rifle made in Japan and ever commercially exported were some 5.56MM Armalite AR-180’s made by Howa in the middle 1970’s. Back in the day when you compared an original British built Sterling AR-180 with a Japanese Howa made one, the Howa seemed like it was made on another planet. There was that much difference quality wise.
As AR15’s and variants are now made and sold globally in heavy barrel “match” and “hunting” models, let us hope that one day we will see a super high quality Japanese made version of a Colt AR15. Currently Japanese weapons export laws prohibit military small arms sales, but with the right design maybe Howa could justify its export as a firearm obviously intended solely for the commercial target/hunting market.