Nambu World: Japanese Military Firearms in Canada

            Ever wonder how many Japanese guns survived the war? I canft answer that, but I can estimate of how many of them are legally in Canada. How? Well, every cloud has a silver lining. While we have absurdly restrictive gun laws up here, one side-effect is that there is a database on what guns are legally registered in Canada. The database has recently become publicly accessible, with some constraints.

            There are two caveats about relying on these data. First, Canada has had compulsory handgun registration since the 1930s, with a second requirement for re-registration around five years ago, so the records for handguns are reasonably complete (if not accurate) as far as LEGAL handguns go (of course, drug gangs and the like donft usually register). But long gun registration was only introduced in 2002 and has not been well-received. While compliance among serious gun owners (collectors, hunters and target shooters) seems high, it is widely believed that many casual gun owners have not registered their rifles and shotguns, so the records on their guns (mostly low-value commercial or sporterized rifles and shotguns) are less likely to be complete. Second, the registration system is full of errors and unreliable information. It is often not possible from a registration record to determine exactly what type of gun the owner has. The records also frequently fail to uniquely identify a firearm due to deficiencies in the way serial numbers are recorded. One obvious shortcoming in this area is that it does not include any non-Roman letters used in serial numbers, such as the katakana series markers on Japanese guns or the Cyrillic letters on Russian ones.

            Given these reservations, what do the data tell us? Basically, there are very few Japanese handguns in Canada, rather more rifles, and almost no machine guns. There are two main reasons for the small number of Japanese guns in Canada. First, almost all of Canadafs troops served in Europe, not Asia, so they had little opportunity to pick up Japanese souvenirs, and were generally discouraged from bringing back firearms wherever they had served. Second, a few years ago the Canadian dollar dropped dramatically in value and American buyers bought up large quantities of collectible firearms of all types at prices depressed by new firearms laws and made even cheaper by the favourable exchange rate. Thus a large part of the small stock that was here migrated southwards.

            Now, on to the data!

            A basic search of the data as of November, 2006 (the latest available) finds that there are 178 Type 14s, 50 Type 94s, 27 Type 26s, 5 Papas, 4 Babys and one Grandpa. However, there are another 18 Japanese handguns with ambiguous model designations. Examining the individual records on each of these and attributing them to their most likely type leads to these revised figures: 193 Type 14s (30 of them mine), 50 Type 94s (8 of them mine), 30 Type 26s (5 of them mine), 5 Papas (3 of them mine), 4 Babys (2 of them mine), one Grandpa (not mine—yet!) and one post-war New Nambu M57A (not mine), a total of 284 specimens. However, it is possible some Papas or Grandpas may be misregistered as Type 14s or vice versa. These data suggest that my collection, while quite modest by US standards, accounts for about one-sixth of all the Japanese handguns in Canada. Another indicator of the scarcity of Japanese handguns in Canada is that the number of Lugers in my province of Alberta alone exceeds 1,200, or four times as many as the number of Japanese handguns in all of Canada (Albertafs population of about 3 million is only about 10% of Canadafs total).

            While more Papas, Type 26s and Type 14s can be imported (at considerable cost!), there can be no further imports of Type 94s or Babys. They are prohibited due to barrel length, so only those already here and legally registered are available.  Most people cannot even own the ones that are here, as only those who were grandfathered when the guns were prohibited can do so. In fact, it is likely that the number of such pistols will decline as those who are not grandfathered to legally own live specimens have pistols from the tiny existing stock deactivated so they can legally acquire them.

            Of these Japanese handguns, nine are in museums: 6 Type 14s, 2 Type 94s and one Type 26.

Most Americans (and even Canadians!) are not aware that there are legally-owned machine guns in Canada. However, a tiny number of collectors who owned fully automatic firearms in 1978, when they were prohibited, were grandfathered and retained the right to own them. A slightly larger group of collectors were grandfathered in 1992 if they owned so-called gconverted automaticsh. These are fully automatic firearms that have had minor modifications to remove their full-auto capability, typically welding selectors in place and removing auto sears (these are not replicas; they have the original full auto receivers). Unfortunately, very few of the small number of legal machine guns in Canada are Japanese. The records show only seven: 2 Type 92 HMGs, 2 Type 96 LMGs and 3 Type 99 LMGs. Five of these are in museums (2 Type 99s, 1 Type 96 and both Type 92s). Fortunately one of the Type 96s and one of the Type 99s is a converted auto, the class in which I am grandfathered, so there is some faint hope I may one day be able to legally own one (I am one of the lucky ones: if you were not grandfathered when the converted auto prohibition came in, you can never acquire this status).

Not surprisingly, the most gcommonh Japanese firearms in Canada are rifles. Muratas are very scarce: only four are registered. One of these appears to be a mis-registered Type 30, and one is a Type 13 that is an antique that does not require registration. One is a Type 22 and one is a 28 gauge shotgun (many Muratas were so converted in Japan after they became obsolete).

The 20th century Japanese rifles are more common: after a week of searching the database under every conceivable way these rifles could be registered or misregistered, I identified 1,800 rifles that appeared to be Japanese military rifles. Many of these may have been sporterized, but there is in general no way to tell that from the information in the publicly available records (or, in most cases, even in the complete, government-held records). In many cases it was not possible to differentiate between, for example, a Type 38 rifle and a Type 38 carbine, so I have created categories in the table below for gunspecified Type 38h, gunspecified Type 99h, etc. Some 199 rifles could not even be identified as to general model/series (e.g. Type 38 vs. Type 99), leaving 1,601 that could be identified in some partial way. The three main series, Type 30, 38 and 99 account for 1,507 of these, broken down as follows:

Model

Variant

Variant

Other

Unspecified

Total

Type 30

19 rifles

9 carbines

1 blank-firing trainer

12

41

Type 38

199 rifles

97 carbines

28 cavalry rifles

651

970

Type 99

44 long rifles

107 short rifles

8 sniper rifles

337

496

            The remaining 94 identifiable service rifles are comprised of the following: 33 Siamese Mausers; 23 Model 44 carbines; 12 Type 2 paratrooper rifles; 12 Type 97 sniper rifles; 4 Type 1 paratrooper rifles; 4 Type I (Carcano) rifles; 2 Type 35 rifles; 2 training rifles; and a single specimen each of the Type 100 paratrooper rifle and Type 5 semi-automatic. Hopefully the large unknown and poorly specified categories contain more of the scarcer variants than these raw data suggest!

            Of these Japanese military rifles, 49 are in museums and one is in a public agency (probably a police department). Canadian museums had 4 Type 30 rifles, 18 Type 38 rifles, 3 Type 38 Carbines, 1 Type 38 Cavalry Rifle, 2 Type 44s, 1 Type 97 sniper, 3 Type 2 Paratrooper rifles, 3 Type 99 Longs and 14 Type 99 shorts. The largest number of museum rifles was in the area with the two-digit postal code K1, which had 20. The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa is located in that postal code area. The Canadian Armed Forces museums have some guns that are registered in a separate, military registry, also of dubious accuracy. It is unknown how many of these are Japanese, but from reports of those who work in such museums, the number is believed to be very low.

            Anecdotally, from my observation probably over half (perhap up to 90%?) of the Type 38 rifles in Canada were imported from Thailand a number of years ago and bear clear, if little understood, markings indicating Thai origins.

            It is noteworthy that of the 1,800 Japanese modern military rifles located, 1,199 could not even be identified as to their specific model (e.g. rifle vs. carbine, or long vs. short rifle). Thus only about one-third of all the registered Japanese rifles have information that could possibly identify what they are. Given that a large number of even these rifles also have inadequate serial number data due to the absence of the katakana or hiragana series identifiers, it is clear that a long gun registration system such as that adopted in Canada cannot meet its immediate goal of uniquely identifying firearms, let alone the crime control objectives that are supposed to flow from achievement of that goal. Yet, the registry has cost Canadian taxpayers over $1 billion, several hundred times the original estimate. Keep that in mind next time someone proposes something similar in your jurisdiction!

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Last modified: October 7, 2007.

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