Nambu World: Japanese Early Kayaba Double Flare Pistol

    After using an English flare gun made by Vickers for a time, in the late 1920s the Imperial Japanese Navy began using a Japanese-designed and -produced model. It was manufactured by the Kayaba company, a descendant of which, KYB Corporation, still exists today as a manufacturer of shock absorbers. The calibre was reduced from the English 31mm to 28mm to reduce recoil. It is a double-barrel, double-trigger, exposed double-hammer design with a shape similar to English flare guns of the period. Today these flare guns are very rare. According to Japanese Military Cartridge Handguns 1893-1945 by Harry L. Derby III and James D. Brown, the "bible" on Japanese handguns (hereinafter JMCH), fewer than 700 were probably produced and only around a dozen are known to have survived. There are probably still some others hiding away in closets and attics that have not come to the attention of collectors, though. In fact I located this one after the publication of JMCH. It had a hard life before I got it. It showed evidence of having been in a fire and of then being crudely repaired. The original grips had been burned off and plain slab replacements crafted of what looked like oak. There were numerous vise marks in various areas, the finish had been spoiled by intense heat, and some small parts were missing or damaged (for example, the springs had been softened by the heat). I will show below why I think this work was probably done by a GI or other post-war "garage gunsmith" rather than the Japanese. Here is what it looked like when I bought it. Normally I do not like to mess with guns to "improve" them, but since this one had already been messed with by fire and subsequent crude repairs, I decided to send it to Don Schlickman, who is well known in the Japanese firearms collecting community for making high-quality reproduction parts. At first it was just going to be for a set of replacement grips, but I managed to convince him to take on the monumental task of a full restoration, including refinishing the whole gun and fixing or replacing the damaged parts. Below is a photo of what it looked like when Don got it.

    Below is the left side after restoration. The checkered oval button above the trigger is a safety, while the backward-hooked lever below the barrels is the break-open lever. I will show below how both of these work. Note the beautiful checkering on the grips, which Don patterned to match an original set. Along with many other small parts, the screws were also replaced with new ones that match the original design.

Below is a top view.

    And here is a bottom view. As you can see, some of the vise marks left by the first person who worked on it were just too deep to be completely polished out. Note the angle of the safety button, seen just above the trigger guard. More on this later.

    The markings are a little thin after polishing to prepare for rebluing, but still clearly visible. In the upper left of the photo below you can see in a small circle a Japanese katakana (phonetic symbol) to (pronounced "toe" as in "your big toe"). This is a naval inspection mark, and is found together with the anchor in the upper right on most Japanese naval equipment produced by private contractors. The large symbol in the middle is the logo of the Kayaba company. The serial number, 375, is at the bottom. These flare guns seem to have had a relatively brief production run, since it seems that production began around 1927 and probably ended soon after the more sophisticated Type 90 double and triple barrel models were designed in 1930-32. The Kayaba company made those, too. The Type 90 included spring-operated buffers to absorb some of the recoil (Kayaba also made shock absorbers for the Zero during the war, so they had lots of experience in such matters).

Now let's look at how it works. This first shot shows the left hammer cocked.

And here's one of both hammers cocked. Note the cone shape of the firing pins, which are integral to the hammers (i.e. not separate parts).

In this top view you can see that the hammer spurs are offset to the inside, probably to reduce snagging. Under the hammers is an access panel.

Right now it is held on by only one screw. The other three should come soon.

Here is the safety on the left side. It is in the forward, "fire" position.

This is in the rearward, "safe" position. Did you notice anything unusual about the change in position?

If you look at it from the bottom, you can see that it swings in an arc rather than just moving backwards and forwards. This is the side view from the bottom showing the forward, "fire" position.

And here is the side view from the bottom showing the rearward, "safe" position.

The lever that opens the breech and allows the gun to "break open" is serrated, as shown below.

When it is moved forward, the action breaks open and you can see down the barrels. Note the small circular stud in between the two barrels at the bottom.

When the action opens and the lever is released, this stud springs back into position and the small protruding area around it acts as an extractor, pushing the rims of the shells out so they can be removed.

If done smartly, this might actually eject the shells, but it seems to be a bit too sluggish to accomplish this.

Here is the breech face, You can see the hole the locking stud fits into at the bottom centre of the photo.

Looking down into the receiver, you can see the interior part of the safety with the serial number 375 on it.

    As noted above, one of the reasons I decided to have this gun restored was to undo the work done by some previous "gunsmith". I am pretty sure this was not done by the Japanese. For one thing, they would have had access to parts and proper repair facilities. But here is another clue: these characters scratched into the backstrap. They are pure gibberish, instantly recognizable as not Japanese to anyone with even the most basic familiarity with the language. It is actually fairly common to find Japanese artifacts with such nonsense markings. They seem to have been added by GIs seeking to enhance the value of their trophies with markings they could pass off as Japanese names or other information when they traded the items to other unsuspecting GIs (a high proportion of souvenirs were brought back by individuals other than those who originally found them: an active trade in souvenirs existed everywhere GIs gathered and had the time and security to do some horse-trading). .

Here's a view from the muzzle down the barrels. You can see the firing pin hole in the left barrel (right side of the photo). I couldn't get the lighting right to show both at the same time.

Like all Imperial Japanese Navy flare guns, this one uses 28mm flares. To read more about these flares, as well as the 35mm ones used by the Imperial Japanese Army, please click here:

Last updated: April 27, 2012. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.

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