Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"who gave them their first lesson in the use of firearms..."

How the Japs Learned to Shoot.

   That the Japanese know how to shoot has been made apparent to all nations, but it would puzzle most people to say who gave them their first lesson in the use of firearms. It might possibly be supposed that they borrowed the art, as they have borrowed other things, from their Chinese neighbors, who were certainly acquainted with the virtues of villainous saltpetre long before gunpowder was introduced into Europe. But it was no Chinese musketry instructor who taught the Jap to handle a gun. The lesson came from a Portuguese traveler and soldier of fortune, one of the companions of the renowned Fernand Mendez Pinto, who tells the story. Pinto had been called the prince of liars, but the libel is quite without justification. He was an accomplished traveler. Among other things, he went to Lhassa, and took down a sermon preached by the Dalai Lama; but that is another story. His adventures in Japan were not the least Interesting part of his experiences. He tells us that when sailing the Eastern seas he and his comrades were wrecked and left stranded on a desert Island. There they were picked up by a Chinese pirate. From his craft, after a series of mishaps, they landed on the island of Tanixuma, which may be identified with Tanega Shima, Just to the south of the southernmost of the four great islands of Japan. Here they were well received by the governor, who asked many questions about Portugal, "whereunto," says Pinto, "we rendered him such answers as might rather fit his humor than agree with the truth."

   Invited on shore by the Japanese governor of Tanega Shima, the Portuguese employed themselves in fishing, hunting or visiting the temples of these Gentiles, as Pinto calls them. It happened that the governor, when out riding, saw one of them Diego Zeimoto shooting with an arquebus, "wherein he was very expert." The governor had never set eyes on a gun before, and was so mightily taken with this manner of shooting that he desired to be informed of the secret of the powder, which he concluded must be some source of sorcery. Proud of the sensation he had created, Diego "made three shoots" for the governor's benefit, bringing down a kite and two turtle doves. The governor was so delighted that he told Diego to get on his horse, and so rode with him to the palace, accompanied by a great crowd. Diego gave his arquebus to the governor, who declared that he valued it more than all the treasures of China, and then persuaded his guest to teach him how to make gunpowder. Clever Japanese craftsmen were employed to make guns of the same pattern; and before Pinto and his companions left the island--that is, within five or six months--six hundred muskets had been turned out. The fame of the new weapon was soon carried across what we now call the Van Dieman Straits to the island of Kiu-Kiu, Pinto's kingdom of Bungo. The king, who was possibly no more than a Daimlo of high degree subject to the ruler of all Japan, having heard of the arrival of the Portuguese at Tanega Shima, and of the wonders
of their discourse, wrote to the governor asking that they might be forwarded to his capital; "for I have heard of a truth," he wrote, "that these same men have entertained you at large with all matters of the wide universe, and have affirmed unto you on their faith that there is another world greater than ours, inhabited by black and tawny people."

   The governor was unwilling to part Diego Zeimoto until that marks man had taught him to shoot as straight as he could himself; but he sent Pinto and another Portuguese. These two were rowed across the Straits, and, after a long journey by land, came to "Fuchea," the capital, this doubtless being the Fukuoka of our maps, on the northwest coast. The "King" was suffering at the time from gout; but Pinto, according to his own version, cured him in a month, by means of "a certain wood infused in water." While the King was laid up, the Portuguese traveler enlightened him and the grandees of the court on the subject of the universe in general and the kingdom of Portugal in particular, devoting his leisure time to sport. He shot a great store of turtles and quails with his arquebus; and this new manner, of shooting, he writes, seemed no less marvellous to the inhabitants of this land than it had been to those of Tanega Shima.

   But the first introduction of fire-arms into the kingdom of Bungo threatened at one time to have tragic consequences for the Portuguese. The King's son wanted to learn to shoot, and begged Pinto to teach him. Pinto did his best to put oft the young prince; but one day, when the Portuguese was asleep, the prince, seeing the arquebus hanging on the wall, took it down, charged it about two spans deep with powder, and then stole off with his prize. Selecting an orange tree as a mark, he aimed carefully, and then fired, the result being that the barrel burst, and the young gentleman's right thumb was all but blown off. Two Japanese boys who came with him ran away, and raised the cry that the prince had been shot by the stranger's gun, and Pinto was roused by an angry mob, who put him in irons, while the priests--"servants of the devil" he styles them--loudly required that he should be tortured to death. Fortunately the "King," carried in a chair, appeared on the scene, and, on hearing Pinto's explanations, ordered him to be set at liberty. Pinto at the same time undertook to heal the prince's wound, and, though no "chirurgion," managed to do it in the space of a month, for which he received a fee of fifteen hundred ducats. The Portuguese then returned to Tanega Shima, whence they sailed for Liampo, "which, is a seaport of the kingdom ot China, where at that time the Portugals traded," Liampo being the modern Ning-po.

   Some time later--namely, In 1556--when Pinto was sent by the Portuguese viceroy, Don Alfonso de Noronha, on a mission to the King of Bungo, he found that there were about thirty thousand arquebuses in the city of Fuchea alone. He was also informed by certain merchants of good credit that in "the whole island of Jappon" there were above three hundred thousand firearms, and that the Japanese were exporting them, by way of trade, to the Liu-Kiu Islands. "There is not so small an hamlet," Pinto writes, "but hath a hundred at least; as for cities and great towns, they have them by thousands, whereby one may perceive what the inclination of this people is, and how much they are naturally, addicted to the wars, wherein they, take more delight than any other nation that we know." St. James' Gazette.

[The Star, Reynoldsville, Penn'a., Wednesday, December 09, 1908. Volume 17. Number 30. Pg. 6]

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