On this day in 1543 a group of Portuguese travelling on a Chinese Junk were blown off course and became the first Europeans to land in Japan. They anchored at the island of Tanegashima. While on the island they demonstrated their firearms to the local lord Tanegashima Tokitata who was clearly an astute and entrepreneurial individual.
Tokitata immediately purchased two matchlock arquebuses from the Portuguese and had his smith break them down and reverse engineer them. The smith was able to replicate all the parts except for the helical drill to create the hollow barrel. The technology did not exist in Japan and the Portuguese travellers did not bring that technology with them.
Tokitata arranged for a return visit and next time the Portuguese brought their own smith who demonstrated the technique to the Japanese. As a result the musket was introuced to Japan. It quickly revolutionised the Japanese battlefield. Tanegashima prospered on the manufacture and sale of muskets. Sales averaged 30,000 per year over the following 10 years.
The Japanese went on to customise and develop firearms on a track independent from other nations, and introduced innovations not found elsewhere. For instance a lacquer rain cover on the firing lock to allow firing in the rain.
The arrival of firearms changed Japanese society. A farmer could be trained to become a soldier in a few weeks, whereas traditional Samurai spent decades learning the craft of sword, bow and staff. The Sengoku period saw 35 years of internecine chaos fuelled in part by the arrival of firearms. This was brought to a conclusion in 1600 by the Battle of Sekigahara when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the dominant shogun and established the 250 years of stable peace of the Edo period of Japan.
The other great technology introduced by the Portuguese to Japan was fried food. The technique was unknown in Japan before the Europeans arrived. To this day Tempura is known in Japan as the “Portuguese Method”. As with the firearms the Japanese experimented using local ingredients and created something quite different from the original introduction.