In Japan, gun control is the norm and discipline is rigid


Staff Writer

The recent mass shootings in the United States have spurred the White House to pursue what many in the nation consider taboo: strict gun controls.

But momentum is growing even among some die-hard advocates of the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — including those who grew up using firearms to hunt, for sport or to protect their farms and homes. Many of them feel certain types of weapons, particularly military-style ones, are only designed for mass carnage.

In Japan, on the other hand, legal gun ownership is tightly controlled and allowed only for specific types of hunting or target shooting.

How does one get a hunting license in Japan?

The first step is to pass the test for hunting licenses administered by the governor of the prefecture where one resides. Hunting licenses, which are good for three years, basically fall into three categories: nets, traps and firearms.

The firearm licenses cover two categories: “explosive charge guns” (rifles and shotguns) and guns that use air pressure to fire projectiles.

Someone seeking a rifle or shotgun license must be at least 20 years old. Those who want to use air guns must be at least 18.

Applicants in either category must provide medical proof that they are sound of mind and not addicted to stimulants or other drugs. They must also demonstrate good judgment and physical ability.

Those with serious criminal records or a history of treatment for mental illness cannot qualify.

Any hunting law violator who has been penalized by more than a fine must wait three years from the day of their suspension to retake the licensing test.

The test covers hunting laws, the handling of traps, nets and firearms, and knowledge of different kinds of game. A score of 70 percent or above passes.

Applicants are also tested on their seeing and hearing abilities and physical fitness.

So is a hunting license all that is needed to own a gun?

No. A separate gun permit is required and the range of firearms is limited to shotguns or rifles.

While the Environment Ministry issues hunting licenses through prefectural governments, gun permits are issued by the National Police Agency through prefectural public safety commissions.

The vetting process is strict. Applicants must attend a lecture, pass a written test and practice with a police-provided 12-gauge shotgun. Once permission is granted, the gun must be purchased from a licensed dealer. The buyer must then take the weapon to the police to show them it is the one that was applied for.

Rick Sacca, a Shizuoka-based American and experienced hunter in both countries, notes there is a level of background checks the police conduct on gun applicants that would be considered a violation of privacy in the U.S. Employers, homeowners, families, neighbors, and even the head of the local ward association are among those police here would interview.

Anyone seeking to acquire a rifle in principle would have to have owned a shotgun for at least 10 years, and fulfill a separate set of requirements and paperwork.

Some prefectural police forces are quite strict and rarely issue rifle permits — even if the applicant is qualified. Pistols are not legally available to civilians.

For all gun permits, the police carry out thorough background checks on applicants, their families and their employment records. Any links to undesirable or dangerous elements of society results in disqualification.

What rules must gun owners follow?

Firearms must be stored in police-approved gun lockers, and ammunition must be stored separately. Separate police permission is meanwhile needed to buy ammunition.

Owners must inform police about the exact location where they are storing a firearm and ammunition, and they will conduct an annual inspection to ensure compliance.

Owners must retake the police gun permit exam every three years.

What are the costs involved?

Neither the hunting license nor the gun permit come cheap.

The Dai Nihon Hunters Friendship Association (Dainihon Ryoyukai), a public organization with branches nationwide, runs training programs that cost around ¥56,000 for sample tests and lectures. This includes training on how to use a firearm.

There is a further ¥14,000 commission that must be sent in with the gun permit application. Then there’s the firearm itself, which, the association estimates, could cost ¥45,000 minimum. Bullets for a rifle run about ¥80 each.

The police-approved gun locker costs ¥30,000 and the approved ammunition locker ¥10,000. Then there are the accessories needed to carry and clean the firearms, probably costing another ¥10,000.

So the minimum cost for becoming a gun-toting hunter is estimated at ¥115,000.

There is also an additional local government hunt-registration fee and a hunting tax. That costs around ¥19,000 and is only valid in the registered prefecture, though it covers hunting for birds and other animals.

The prefectural registration fee for basic bird hunting runs about ¥7,000.

What can be hunted in Japan?

The Environment Ministry lists 29 species of birds and 20 species of other animals that can be hunted nationwide.

But in reality, what you can hunt depends on the rules of the prefecture. Some species in certain prefectures are not allowed to be hunted or can only be taken in small numbers. Hunters must check with the prefecture upon registering.

In principle, hunting season runs from mid-November until mid-February, while in Hokkaido it runs from October until the end of January.

But once again, different prefectures may have shorter or longer hunting periods, and all hunters need to get confirmation on the dates.

Species often hunted include wild boar, deer and bear, as well as birds ranging from pheasants to turtle doves and quail.

What actual hunting restrictions are there?

The Environment Ministry has a list of basic restrictions and specifies what constitutes illegal hunting.

Hunting either before daybreak or after sunset is not allowed. Nor is hunting close to residential areas. Guns cannot be modified for hunting certain species.

Given the tough ownership rules, how many hunters and how many registered firearms are there throughout Japan?

As of 2010, there were about 190,000 people with hunting licenses (including those for using nets and traps), of which 122,000 were 60 years old or above. This is down from 518,000 in 1975.

As of 2011, according to police, permits were issued for about 220,000 hunting guns, of which 35,000 were rifles. This figure does not include nearly 27,000 air-powered guns like BB guns, which are also used by hunters.

Can hunters sell their game to restaurants or is it merely for personal consumption?

A licensed butcher at a licensed butcher shop can prepare and sell wild game on-site to restaurant customers, but there are numerous online sites that sell venison and wild boar.

Sacca notes that this differs from the U.S., where, due to concerns about health and a desire to ensure stable wildlife populations, the sale of wild game is largely prohibited.

How many gun-related accidents and deaths occur in Japan?

According to the National Policy Agency, licensed guns, including air rifles, were used to kill 11 people, including five suicides, in 2011. There also were 28 gun-related accidents, mostly involving hunters.

Illegal guns, mostly handguns, were used to kill seven people and injure 11 others that year. The vast majority of the incidents were related to yakuza or other gangs.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

  • This is nice and all but the second amendment in the U.S. is not about hunting! It was and is in place to keep the people armed so the government dose not over step their bounds.Then theirs the people who say they only had single shot black powder when it was written well the times have changed and out government posses nuclear weapons, so for an average american to own a sporting rifle that looks like a military assault riffle which is also already illegal is our right and nothing short of our government making things easier to move to a dictatorship. it will be much easier to fight people armed with one bullet than 30. and i suggest every one go buy a copy of the constitution and bill of rights so they know what they are talking about.

    • Masa Chekov

      Please note that this article is about Japan – this is the Japan Times! It’s not about the US, or the US second amendment, or the purposes for the second amendment (which is NOT about ‘keeping the government in check’ at all – taking up arms against even a tyrannical US government would be treason regardless of what rights the second amendment confers).

      • Riggs2500

        Sorry, If the government becomes tyrannican it is the duty of all Americans to restore our government. The treason is on the part of our government traitors. If they no longer follow the law we are the final judge, jury and executioners. That is why we have a 2nd Amendment. The politicians are supposed to be scared to death of the armed population and follow the Constitution to the letter. Not trample all over it and the citizens rights.

      • Masa Chekov

        I think you should have a conversation with a lawyer about that, because what you say is completely untrue.

      • Edohiguma

        I think you should read the constitution. It’s pretty clearly worded. In fact, the entire constitution of the US is very clearly worded, but thanks to lawyers and “constitutional scholars” it’s been twisted and turned and interpreted into the ground, even when there’s no room to interpret anything, like in the cases of the 1st and 2nd Amendments, which are 100% clearly worded. It seems the Founding Fathers were not only more eloquent, but also smarter than today’s lawyers and “constitutional scholars”.

        “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

      • DA

        That piece of paper was written hundreds of years ago, when the world looked COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. If you are so intent on living in that society, why are you using the Internet? Go lock yourself into the attic of some old Victorian manor (not that I don’t love old Victorian manors) and keep ignoring everything that has changed since that document was featherpenned.

      • Edohiguma

        Funny, you do realize that the American Revolution was treason as well, right? Under the definition of British law.

      • Masa Chekov

        And the point is….? Are you saying that a group of armed citizens choosing to overthrow the elected government of the US would be OK now if they so chose because a) It was how the nation was formed and b) the feel they are under the yoke of “tyranny”? Who gets to decide this?

        There’s been a whole lot of progress in the past 230 years. Industrial revolution, medicine, electricity, cars, planes, etc. There’s much better ways now of dealing with a government you don’t like – vote them out!

    • DA

      Do you really think that the government, in 2013, would “overstep their bounds” in a way that all American citizens need to arm themselves? Pathetic paranoia is what it is, very sadly an all too common ailment in American society (a society I otherwise love).

      • Christian Kalafut

        Yes actually. The threat of tyranny is just as strong as in 1900, 1800 or 1700. Tyranny does not go away as delusional liberal lackeys think.

      • GIJ

        Uh, actually yes it does. Thriving liberal democracies like Japan, Australia, Britain, and South Korea are highly unlikely to turn tyrannical today, because of far greater interdependence today compared to 100 or 200 years ago. People like you seem to think that any government will “go Soviet” once gun ownership is restricted, but that’s ridiculous. Loss of foreign trade and investment and economic sanctions are very strong checks upon any democracy’s move to dictatorship.

      • $35222035

        “Loss of foreign trade and investment and economic sanctions are very strong checks upon any democracy’s move to dictatorship.”

        …all which did an absolutely *wonderful job* in forcing China, Cuba, North Korea, etc. to mend the error of their repressive ways… (face palm)

      • Edohiguma

        So, you’re perfectly fine with your rights being eroded piece by piece, eventually leading to a system like the EUSSR? Okay, enjoy it. I will have a good laugh when people like you finally realize that the Euro way is the way of failure.

      • DA

        May I ask then what you think of the Japanese way, far more controlled than the American in most areas, and what made you move here?

  • I believe this article is disappointingly misleading, as it doesn’t reflect on other potential violence in Japan not involving a firearm (blades, blunt objects, and other items which can be used to inflict injury or death). In addition, other countries which have an even higher firearm population per capita than even the U.S. (like Norway) boast significantly lower crime statistics. Does this mean that Norwegians are socially superior, or do criminals there have less opportunity to commit crimes in a well armed society, or a combination of both?

    • GIJ

      Japan is one of the most ridiculously safe countries on earth, and the virtual absence of privately owned firearms is a HUGE reason why. No two ways of getting around that, sorry.

      • Edohiguma

        Wrong. Austria has a massive amount of privately owned firearms and is extremely safe as well. The current rise in crime there stems solely from treaties like Schengen and not from readily available firearms.

        The reason why Japan is so safe is very simple: laws are being enforced and the police has a lot more rights than in other countries, plus they appear in force. Not to mention that punishments are still punishments and Japanese jails aren’t holiday resorts like in Europe.

        Most importantly, it’s a different culture and mentality.

        Historically you’re proven 100% wrong. Feudal Japan was extremely well armed and yet, when we look at the Edo period, mass murder and death weren’t common. They were, in fact, the exception. Duels between samurai resulting from events of “saya ate”, the touching of scabbards, attracted huge crowds, because such things were extremely rare. It was an extremely polite society, because, let’s face it, people didn’t want to lose their heads or risk injury over trivial things.

        Same, by the way, as the Old West in the US. Movies and TV shows sell us tales of how the shootout in main street was the way it was, but that’s complete nonsense. Certain gunfighters became legends simply because such escalations were the exception and not the rule. It sold papers, just like today.

    • Masa Chekov

      You are reading something that isn’t there. This article is discussing the requirements for owning a gun for hunting in Japan. The point of this article is not about gun violence. It doesn’t make the point that these regulations prevent gun violence.

      • PaulD

        You’re being disingenuous. The whole article is about drawing a comparison to the US. If the article were truly about Japan itself, the US wouldn’t be mentioned. And yes, it talks about gun violence in the last paragraph. Please read the article again.

        Further, Japanese citizens don’t have anywhere near the civil rights that people in the US do. The Japanese government may claim otherwise, but good luck getting a fair and speedy trial and due process.

      • Masa Chekov

        The whole article is not about comparing Japan to the US. It uses the recent gun control debates in the US as a frame to discuss gun laws in Japan. There’s no implicit criticism at all of the US here – if you see that, you should consider your biases.

        Regarding civil rights – I would argue that Japanese citizens (and residents) have far stronger civil rights than in the US. The right to free speech is sacrosanct – in the US it has been continually eroded for decades. You can see the fruits of this in the diversity of political parties that actually elected candidates in December. The right to privacy is also much stronger in Japan than the US, government surveillance culture does not exist. You don’t see “traffic enforcement as a revenue generator” in Japan. I could go on.

      • Edohiguma

        That is exactly the point. Why else would they bring this up right now? They could write about it at any day, but no, these articles always pop up in the wake of American mass killings. How odd is that!

        The first sentence is a dead giveaway.

      • Masa Chekov

        Amazing that people want to talk about guns when guns are in the news, right? I suspect many people don’t know that guns are available at all in Japan, or if they do know they likely don’t know what the laws are.

        There’s certainly nothing in the article to say “We do it better in Japan”, other than the only 11 gun-related murders in Japan mentioned at the end. But then again, that’s not surprising given the low number of gun owners and the general lack of violence in Japan.

  • So what. We live in America not a conquered nation. We are born in America with the right to bear arms which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. What the rest of the world doe is of no concern to us. If that’s the way you want to live move there.

    • Shadow

      Erm, wasn’t America conquered by the British, then a few generations later the British that were living there rebelled?

  • Japan has an alarming drug crime rate that’s over 25%

    26,477 per 100,000 people

    • This is a lie, I have never met a drug dealer or user in Japan. In America its harder to find someone who has not used drugs. Its almost impossible to get a drug unless you know Yakuza members.

    • 乃亜 印場

      25 % of what? the population? maybe if you count alcohol and tabacco. seriously? what is your source? its not even 2%

  • Bellamy Moore

    I travel from Australia to the United States and Japan every year, and with an outsider’s perspective, I would have to say that Japan is far more stable, peaceful and civilised. The respective approaches to gun ownership and use are just one example of why this is so. The point here is not so much that restrictive gun laws force the Japanese people to behave peacefully, but rather that they make these laws because they respect authority and want to live peacefully.

  • ricktrick123@hotmail.com

    The small group of American expats who live and hunt in Japan go through this process and are VERY STRICTLY scrutinized, yet we willfully cooperate so that we can participate in the hobby/lifestyle we are passionate about: Hunting.
    Please don’t confuse this with a discussion of gun violence, or second ammendment, as those are important subjects for another day, or another article.

    • Masa Chekov

      Yes, exactly. Thank you. This discussion isn’t and shouldn’t be about the US constitution.

  • The difference is no one has fear of a dictatorship happening in Japan as long as its a democratic nation. People rather lead a safer life here then worry about some possible government take over which if the military went along with it doesn’t matter how many hand guns you own or rifles. The actual murder rate (knifes and bombs and all) in this country is far far lower than america per capita. Its not only due to gun laws but a general respect for authority and police. The reason gun laws work here is you are breaking a law your neighbor is likely to report you unlike America. Same with drugs etc. If you do those things its not going be ignored by your neighbors. Amazingly also it has nothing to do with God as Christianity is not a popular religion here. Amazing huh.

    • Edohiguma

      Exactly. And when police appears on the scene, they usually come in force. I once saw how cops in Tokyo dealt with a night time disturbance. A couple was quarreling and a flower pot was broken. Four patrol cars and eight officers were sent to deal with it.

      But in general LEOs in Japan have significantly more authority and rights than in the US or Europe. Personally, having dealt with them several times, I have no issues with that. It shows the LEOs are doing their duty.

    • Masa Chekov

      Wait, how is that a difference? Are you saying that people DO have a fear of turning into a dictatorship in the US? If so, that is just sad.

      The US has very strong democratic institutions and the rule of law to prevent such a thing from happening.

      • I said that in reference to people trying to defend second amendment rights based on a fear of government take over not the reality of it happening.

  • Edohiguma

    It’s another thinly veiled attempt of comparing Japan with the US, which simply doesn’t work. Japan has a long history of weapons control, dating back into the Sengoku period, something the US has not. Yet during the (overall peaceful, except for peasant rebellions) Edo period Japan was better armed than the American Old West. Interesting that there’s no mention of how many rifles are around legally in Japan: the last number I saw was way above 750,000.

    It’s a dead giveaway when such articles only focus on mass killings, because it shows the political agenda behind it. No word of spree killing attempts that have been stopped by armed citizens (of course not, only successful mass murderers sell papers.) No word of 500+ homicides in Chicago just last year. Ironically, such articles always pop up in the wake of such mass killings.

    Once someone pulls off such a vicious attack, the media is all over him. The guy gets hyped into a super star, the entire world knows his name, thus inspiring the next loser to do it as well, because, hey, 15 minutes of fame are 15 minutes of fame.

    Speaking of Chicago. That city has the strictest anti-gun laws in the US and yet most gun related homicides and crime. How does that work? The current count (from Jan 27) for Chicago is horrifying:

    Homicides: 43
    Shooting incidents: 122
    Non-fatality shooting victims: 136

    That is Chicago, the city with the toughest anti-gun laws in the US. Why does it happen? Because the black market isn’t controlled by laws.

    And since we’re at it, let’s take Austria as well. In Austria getting firearms is relatively easy. All you need is a hunting permit, which is simple enough to get. With that permit you can arm yourself quite decently. Since the 1990s the number of permits has more than doubled in Austria. Today more than 25% of the Austria population owns a gun. The number is actually closer to one third.

    And yet Austria has no spree killings, no mass shootings.

    Why is that? Because of the laws?

    No. Do you really think a strict gun law can prevent someone from killing 20 people? So yes, a permit to own a weapon in Austria prevents me from carrying a loaded gun in that country. That is true. But if I wanted to kill 20 people, how would that lack of carrying permit stop me from doing so with a gun? The legally owned firearm is the least used tool for crime in Austria, despite the number of permits going through the roof in recent years. Everything else is more popular, and easier to get: knives, clubs, axes, your bare hands, etc. An actual AK47 goes for around 300 Euro on European black markets and it’s no surprise that organized crime in Europe is armed to the teeth with such hardware (including hand grenades and RPGs.)

    So what is the reason?

    It’s not the laws, it’s not the readily available guns, it’s not even the gun culture (which does exist in some parts of Austria even bigger than in the US; let me introduce: the Tyrolean Riflemen, who are effectively an armed and uniformed militia; some people dismiss them as reenactors, but unlike reenactors their rifles can fire real ammo, many are members in shooting clubs and are active hunters and, most importantly, having served in the military is usually a requirement to join.)

    It’s simply because Austrian society isn’t as broken yet as American society. In Austria being a gang-banger isn’t cool. In Austria being a criminal doesn’t net you a record contract, it doesn’t net you the ability to play in the NBA or NFL (which a friend of mine calls National Felons League.) In Austria it nets you jail time.

    Same in Japan.

    People are then quick to say that it’s connected to poverty, which is ridiculous. Try “greed” instead and “jealousy” and “envy”. Try going for the easy way instead of attempting to achieve something with honest hard work.

    Also: in Austria AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles are perfectly legal. Why is that? Because the Austrian gun laws are based around how a weapon works and not how it looks like.

    I’ve talked with American anti-gun “advocates” who really believe that a semi-automatic weapon can fire bursts, which, given how a semi-automatic firearm works, is 100% impossible. These people don’t even know how the tool they’re crying about works and have no clue about the differences, but they comment anyway!

    Oh and by the way, if you believe that mass murder like that doesn’t happen with strict anti-gun laws…

    Osaka school massacre

    Akihabara massacre

    Sarin gas attack

    In China just recently similar scale knife attacks have happened, but that’s usually ignored by the media, because the media has a political agenda. The media once was the fourth pillar. It no longer is, it now has skin in the game for power and influence.

    If someone wants to kill, he will kill. If he can’t use a gun he’ll use a knife as both the Osaka and Akihabara attacks prove. All someone has to do is bring a knife onto a full subway train in the morning and start stabbing and slashing. The carnage would be unprecedented. I’m also pretty sure sarin gas is illegal in Japan, but that didn’t stop Asahara from producing his own stock of it and trying to kill tens of thousands of people. Luckily he failed.

    The Japanese law works in Japan, it wouldn’t work in the US or even in Austria. The reason is simply: different culture and different mentality. You can’t compare them.

    Besides, a law is words printed on paper and that never has protected anyone. A law must be enforced so that it can work.

    By the way, the US already has existing gun laws. The problem is that Washington doesn’t like enforcing existing laws (as seen most famously with illegal immigration) and writing new ones is much easier (even if they’re as stupid as the “assault weapons ban”, which was primarily focused on how a weapon looks like rather than how it works and was effectively useless, not to mention that there is no such thing as an “assault weapon”, an assault rifle is an automatic and/or select-fire weapon of intermediate bullet size -weaker than a battle rifle- and a certain magazine size and automatic weapons have been banned in the US since the 1930s, but “assault weapons” don’t exist.) Plus, writing new ones and beating the drum for “gun control” nets you votes and sells papers. Whether you have a clue of the topic at hand or not (the latter applies for politicians and journalists alike all the time) doesn’t matter. Just scream loud enough until you get what you want.

    Here’s another way of looking at the gun control issue.

    Imagine, if you will, a grade school classroom with 30 kids and one teacher.

    Now, let’s say the teacher creates three rules for the classroom, rules the kids
    must follow, rules that keep the classroom orderly and conducive to learning.

    The three rules are

    1. No talking during lessons

    2. Stay in your seats during lessons.

    3. Respect your fellow classmates.

    Now, suppose that despite those rules, ten out of the thirty kids repeatedly do not follow them and continually disrupt class. In addition, they push the other
    kids around.

    Okay–now suppose that in order to punish the ten kids for not following the rules, the teacher decides to create more rules of conduct.

    The ten kids still don’t follow.

    So the teacher creates even more rules.

    In every instance, the twenty kids who actually follow the rules are finding
    themselves saddled with more and sometimes stricter rules.

    They’ll follow them, of course. They’re good students.

    But those ten kids repeatedly do not.

    And the teacher creates even more rules.

    Think about this for a moment.

    As a solution, does it make sense?

    Go ahead. Think about it.

    No. It doesn’t make sense.

    Here’s the thing: this is exactly what gun control is doing.

    The ten kids (criminals) are breaking the three rules (established gun laws) so in
    response, the teacher (gun control advocates) create more rules to make sure
    the three rules are being followed.

    Now let me ask you: if you thought the classroom example didn’t work, what makes you think gun control efforts will?

    • It wont’t work because people don’t follow laws and punishment for breaking laws isn’t as certain. In your kindergarden example if all 10 kids were punished effectively (though what that is a difficult topic) and immediately they would listen to the rules in the first place. Another reason Japans laws are enforced is because lack of effective defense lawyers. The prosecutors have all powers and are effectively judge and jury. You have to convince the prosecutor you are not guilty or in 99 out of 100 cases you are. Which is why breaking big laws are terrifying to people in Japan.

  • Antony

    Being a UK shotgun license holder, I really miss the satisfying experience of hunting (and cooking and eating) small game with a trusted gundog and practising my fieldcraft honed over many years. Now that I am a Hokkaido resident and seeing the vast open areas of dense flora that are, in many regions, experiencing a dwindling population, I can’t help wondering how fantastic it would be to march off into the hills with a shotgun, gundog, and a game bag to see what would be in store for dinner. It is a pity that shotgun ownership numbers are on the decline in Japan for in many parts of rural Britain, shooting game is an integral component to the rural economy and way of life.

  • proscriptus

    ¥115,000 is about US$1,158. If you’re figuring in the cost of a rifle around the price point of a Ruger American plus accessories (and any American hunter would be thrilled to pay 80¢/round), that’s really not substantially more than the USA.

    I’d be interested in hearing how actual registration, etc., compares to the theoretical described here.