Nambu World: Murata Type 18 Rifle

    The Type 18 Murata rifle was a minor refinement of the Type 13, Japan's first domestically designed and produced modern military rifle. It gets its designation from the fact it was designed by Tsuneyoshi Murata (later made a major-general and a baron) and adopted in Meiji 18 (the 18th year of the reign of the Meiji Emperor, Hirohito's grandfather), i.e. 1885. It is a bolt action, single shot rifle that fired an 11mm black powder cartridge that was similar to others of the period like the 11mm Mauser, but not interchangeable with them. I obtained this one with the kind assistance of an advanced collector in the USA. It is in incredible condition when you think that it is 120 years old. It was not a first-line weapon in any major conflict, but I think it would have seen a fair bit of use in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 (see analysis below) and some sources indicate it was in second-line service as late as the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. After being retired from service, most either served as training rifles in Japan's schools or ended up on the civilian market where many were converted to shotguns in 32, 30 or 28 gauge. Because it meets the Canadian legal definition of an antique firearm, it is exempt from registration in Canada, so I can't be sure, but this might be the only one in Canada. Below is a shot of the left side. If you look closely you can just make out the fine line of markings along the top of the receiver above the trigger guard. These are shown in detail below. Note also that the stock is one piece, in contrast to the two-piece stocks used in the later Arisaka rifles. According to my crude scale, the weight of this rifle seems to be about 8.5 to 9 pounds. Using the method of measurement approved for registration purposes in Canada (i.e. close the bolt and drop a rod down the barrel), the barrel of 819mm (32-1/4 inches) gives an overall length of 1275mm(50-3/16 inches).

        This shot shows the two serial numbers. The main one is 86356, the original number. The Japanese made around 60,000-70,000 Type 13 rifles, the continued the same serial range when they shifted production to the Type 18, so the lowest Type 18 serial number known is just over 70,000. That makes this one fairly early. It is believed that the other number found on several of the parts, 30 or 130, indicates that the gun was overhauled at one point and this number was used to match parts that had other serial numbers but were mated to this gun as part of the overhaul. Here you can also see the relative placement of the mum and withdrawal from service marks shown below, as well as the two gas vent holes added as a safety feature (upper right of photo). In the event of a case rupture, the gases could vent up through these holes rather than into the fact of the firer. This feature became standard on later models of Japanese rifles. The serial range for Type 18s continues up to a high of just over 151,000, indicating that around 80,000 were made. An additional roughly 10,000 Type 18 cavalry rifles were produced with a separate serial range. These cavalry rifles had barrels about 4.5" shorter and no means of attaching a bayonet. Here is how I figure that a fair number of Type 18 rifles must still have been in service during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. The Type 18 was superseded by the Type 22 repeater starting around 1890, but since they only made 150,000 Type 22s between 1890 and 1899, it seems unlikely they could have had more than 100,000 ready by 1894, and possibly far fewer. The Sugawa book Japanese Military Small Arms and Equipment indicates that the Japanese military had 147,000 men in 1895, 130,000 in the army and the rest in the navy. Officers and many of the Navy men would not have needed rifles, but that still leaves about 20,000-30,000 men (or more) who probably would have had to be equipped with obsolete models. They would probably have been sentries and others working behind the front lines.

    Here is a closer shot of the markings on the top of the gun, which could be seen obliquely in the photo above. The chrysanthemum, the symbol of the Imperial family, is at the top of the photo. Collectors usually call this simply the "mum". This mark symbolized that the weapon was entrusted by the Emperor to the soldier to whom it was issued--a kind of constant reminder of the responsibility the nation had placed in him. Most military rifles had the mums ground off or defaced when they were surrendered in order to avoid the disgrace of surrendering the Emperor's symbol, but this one may have avoided this fate since it had probably not been in military service for several decades by the time the war ended. Below the mum is a rather faint, larger marking. This is the kanji character hai (an obsolete version of the character listed as #1526 in the Nelson kanji dictionary). Literally this character means "obsolete", or "discarded". In this case it can be interpreted as "withdrawn from service".

    The bolt is the only major part whose main serial number does not match the rest of the gun, but as you can see from the 30 stamped on it here, this mismatch likely occurred when the gun was overhauled and assigned this second number (30 or 130), so this is the bolt that is supposed to go with this gun.

    The upper tang also has this overhaul number.

    The parts on this gun are profusely serialized. Here you can see that even the barrel band has the gun's full original serial number.

    But if you were really observant when you looked at that photo of the upper tang shown above, you would have noticed what to me was the most striking thing about this gun: all the main screws bear full, five digit serial numbers! If you go back two photos and look at the screws in the upper tang, you can see that they, too, have five-digit numbers on them. This one is the one that retains the bolt (shown in more detail below). It is the only one I have noticed that does not match, probably due to the fact it is the only one that would routinely be removed, thereby exposing it to greater risk of loss. The numbers on the screws start in the lower left and read clockwise: this one is 86263, surprisingly close to the original number.

    These are the first of the markings that run along the left side of the receiver. They are sideways; to read them properly you have to hold the gun muzzle up (equivalent to rotating this photo a quarter turn clockwise). They read Dai nip-pon tei-koku mura-ta ju, or "Empire of Greater Japan, Murata rifle". Murata was lucky: the much better known subsequent series of rifles, the Arisakas, did not bear their designer's name.

    Here is the continuation of those markings, again shown as they appear on the gun, sideways. They are very faint, but read To-kyo ho-hei ko-sho sho-ju sei-zo-sho, "Tokyo Artillery Arsenal Rifle Factory".

    The model designation is on the right side of the receiver to the rear of the bolt handle. Here I have rotated it for you so you can see how it would be read (it is stamped on sideways so you have to turn the gun muzzle up to orient them properly). The characters read Mei-ji ju-hachi nen, Meiji 18, or 1885. This refers to the model, not the year the gun was made.

    The main other marking on the gun is the cartouche on the right side of the butt of the stock. It is a bit faint, but as far as I can make out, the outer ring says the same as the markings on the left side, i.e. To-kyo ho-hei ko-sho sho-ju sei-zo-sho, "Tokyo Artillery Arsenal Rifle Factory". The inside says the same as on the right side of the receiver, i.e.Mei-ji ju-hachi nen, Meiji 18, or 1885. Again, this refers to the model, not the year this specific specimen was made.

    In this close-up of the right side of the action you can see the faint markings just behind the bolt handle. You can also see the big screw in the end of the very large bolt handle. Just how large that bolt handle is can be seen in the next photo.

    Now, is that a hefty bolt handle or what? The reason it is so large is that the Type 13 and 18 Muratas used a V-shaped flat spring to drive the firing pin rather than the coil springs we are more accustomed to seeing. This feature is thought to have been borrowed from the Dutch Beaumont rifle, to which the designer was exposed during a study trip to Europe. It is a weak feature since flat springs provide less motive force, but it may have appealed to Murata since Japanese gunsmiths had used pretty much only this type of spring in the highly refined matchlocks they were making well into the 19th century. Besides the Beaumont, other rifles often identified as having had an influence on the design are the French Gras and Chassepot, the Portuguese Kropatchek and the

Here is an oblique view of the action.

A close-up of the rear sight. The top of the sight is shown in detail in the next shot.

    This shot of the very top of the sight shows it is graduated out to 1500 meters. Many writers disparage the very long ranges shown on the sights of early rifles as "optimistic", but the idea was never that individual soldiers were going to pick off the enemy with head shots at this kind of range. Rather, the idea was that a large number of soldiers (a platoon or even a whole company) firing at this range could subject an enemy grouping to enough fire literally "falling from the sky" to disrupt them.

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    At the opposite extreme, you may have noticed that the graduations on the sight start at 500 meters. What about shorter distances? For that, the numbers are on the left side. Here it is set to 300 meters.

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Here is the muzzle showing the  front sight, cleaning rod and bayonet lug (with serial number).

Here is the rear of the bolt in uncocked position,

    Here it is cocked. The Type 18 bolt can be closed without cocking if you just keep the trigger depressed while closing the bolt. This is a lot handier than on the later Arisaka rifles, which do not allow you to do this. The Muratas do not have a safety, though.

Here is the bolt in its rearward position.

You can see here that unlike the Type 13, there is no bolt stop to retain the bolt, yet the bolt does not fall out. So what's holding it in?

    Well, let's look at how you get the bolt out. The key is the upper of these two screws on the left side of the gun. It retains the bolt, so to get the bolt out, you have to remove this screw.

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Here is the same spot with the screw out. Note that only a portion of the screw is threaded, so it is not that time-consuming to unscrew it. Note that the lower screw is matched to the number on the plate it screws into, 5.

    Here is a picture of the bolt with the extractor attached. Well, maybe "attached" is not the right word. "In place" might be better. There is nothing holding the extractor onto the bolt, so it easily falls off when the bolt is removed. This may be the reason why the extractors are usually missing from these rifles.

    Here is the same shot with the extractor off. You can see the little guide towards the right end of the extractor that slides into the groove on the bolt just above it.

Here is the bolt flipped over

And the received with the bolt out.

    If you would like to see a detailed comparison of the Type 13 and Type 18 Murata rifles, please click here: Nambu World: Murata Type 13 vs. Type 18 Rifle Comparison

References on the Type 18 Murata Rifle:

    Information on the Murata series of rifles is much harder to come by than on the later Arisakas. Here are the best published sources I have found:

Military Rifles of Japan, Fifth Revised Edition, by Fred L. Honeycutt, Jr. and F. Patt Anthony (Julin Books, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, 1996), pp. 16-17, 20-21 (Type 13 pp. 18-19).

Japanese Military Small Arms and Equipment by Shigeo Sugawa (Kokusho Kanko: Tokyo, 1995), pp. 13-17 (bayonet p. 22). Japanese text, but photos have English captions

"Murata Types 13 and 18: They founded an arsenal system, part of the beginnings of empire", by Charles S. Small. Gun Digest, 1983, pp. 196-199. Has instructions on disassembly of bolt.

"Murata: The Japanese Gun", Sports Gun Guidebook 2005, pp. 039-041 (entirely in Japanese except for the titles of the publication and article)

Links on the Type 18 Murata Rifle:

Here are a few links to other sites with photos of the Type 18 Murata:

Japanese Murata 18

MURATA TYPE 18 RIFLE

Murata Type 18

Japanese Rifles (this one also shows the Type 13).

Bayonets for the Type 18 Murata:

    The Type 18 bayonet fits on the right side of the barrel, not underneath in the way we are more familiar with nowadays.  The standard Type 18 bayonet is covered by the 1988 Larry Johnson book Japanese Bayonets on pages 28-29, where it is given the number JB-6. The newer, 2007 book by Raymond LaBar, Bayonets of Japan, covers it on page 46, where it is assigned the number LB-44. It is also discussed on pages 22-23 of the Jerry Price book Japanese Military Bayonets & Machetes. I have created a separate page that shows the bayonet in detail, and provided a link to it below. Here I will just give a quick overview. Here is the right side.

        The left side is shown below. The scabbard is leather with metal tip and mouth.

    Unfortunately this one won't fit on my Type 18 rifle, so I can't show them together.

    Please click here to see more photos and details on the Type 18 bayonet: Nambu World: Murata Type 18 Rifle Bayonet

   

Murata 11mm Ammunition (for Type 13 and Type 18 rifles):

    Both the Type 13 and Type 18 Murata rifles fired the 11mm Murata round, technically known as 11X60mm Murata. The best references on 11mm Murata ammunition, all of which is scarce if not rare, are the following:

Japanese Ammunition 1880-1945, Part 1: Pistol, Rifle and Machine Gun Ammunition up to 20mm,  by Ken Elks (Solo Publications, Canterbury, UK, 2007). 11mm: pp. 14-20.

Early Made Japanese Military Small Arms Ammunition by Teruaki Isomura (Tokyo, 1984; US reprint). Pages 1-7, 17-18 and 20-21 cover 11mm Murata ammo. 

    The cartridge is listed on page 227 of Cartridges of the World, 5th Edition, by Frank C. Barnes, edited by Ken Warner. This publication listed the muzzle velocity as 1487 fps, for a muzzle energy of 2,063 foot-pounds.

    If you want real details, check out these books, but for now, here is a quick intro.

    I got this first piece of 11mm Murata brass at a flea market in Japan for 3,000 yen (about $30) several years before I got the rifle. It is pretty rough, but not cracked. It is 59.5mm (2.342 inches) long and weighs 194.9 grains.

    Here is the headstamp. In the 12 o'clock position is the kanji character ho. At 3 o'clock is the kanji mei, short for Meiji, the name of the Emperor's reign. The nine o'clock position has two characters that combine to mean 15, indicating the 15th year of the Emperor's reign. That means this round was produced in Meiji 15, or 1882. To get the Western equivalent of a Meiji date, called A.D. (anno domini, "in the year of Our Lord") or, if you are politically correct, C.E..(Common Era), just add the Meiji number to 1867. In this case 1867+15=1882.AD or CE. The character at the bottom 6 o'clock position is a bit of a mystery. I will discuss it further below where I show a clearer headstamp. This round has obviously "been around". Note that even the flash hole is worn oblong. Yes, this ammo, unlike later Japanese made fodder for the Arisakas, was Boxer primed. Note how the base has a raised inner rim.

    In 2007 I finally got a more complete specimen. It has no primer or powder, but at least the bullet is present and the brass case is in better shape. You can see that the bullet was paper-patched. It is loose in this specimen, but for the photo I adjusted it to make the round the proper length as listed in the Isomura book, i.e.78.0mm. The brass case itself is 59.76mm (2.355 inches) long and weighs 201.6 grains.

Here's why the bullet is loose: the case mouth has a crack in it. At least that makes it loose enough for the bullet to be easily removed to show the paper patching, or what's left of it, without further damage to the paper.

    And here it is, showing the side with the most patching left. This bullet weighs 416.4 grains and is 29.83mm (1.174 inches) long. The hollow is 2.05mm (.08 inches) deep. The diameter of this bullet without the paper patching is 11.05mm (.435 inches).

The base is hollow. This view shows the side with the least paper patching left.

    Here is the headstamp on this round. You can see it is in much better shape. The 12 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions are as explained above. The 9 o'clock on this one has the characters for 19, indicating manufacture in 1886. The character in the 6 o'clock position remains, as noted above, something of a mystery. The Elks book indicates it is an obsolete character ifu, but nobody I have read so far seems to know why it is there or what it is supposed to signify.

    Here is that round in the middle, shown for comparison with a .577 Snider on the left ("D.C.Co. 57 SNIDER"  headstamp) and a Type 38 6.5mm Arisaka round on the right. The 11mm Murata round is still at its proper length in this shot, but here shows the cracked side with little paper patching.

    The rest of these photos of 11mm Murata cartridges were kindly supplied by the editor of the newsletter of the International Ammunition Association (IAA) and are shown here courtesy of that organization (if you are into cartridges you should join the IAA; I am a member). I do not have these cartridges in my collection, just the photos the IAA supplied. This first one shows a sectioned round on the right, with the paper patching intact. Note the wad between the powder and bullet. The headstamp on the left indicates the round was made in Meiji 17 (1884). The information on the back gives the bullet weight as 420 grains, with no weight data on the powder charge. (photo courtesy of IAA)

    Here is a round with a wooden bullet. The info on this one indicates it is a dummy with wooden bullet and wooden primer. The date on the headstamp is Meiji 16, i.e. 1883. (photo courtesy of IAA)

    Below is a post-war round reportedly made by Asahi-Okuma using 30 gauge brass shotgun shell cases. No data regarding bullet weight or powder charge was recorded. (photo courtesy of IAA). According to the article by Small listed above and Cartridges of the World, 5th Edition, p.227, 11mm Murata (11X60R) can be made from .348 Winchester. The Handloader's Manual of Cartridge Conversions by John J. Donnelly, p. 963, suggests BELL .450 N.E. as the raw material if you want to "roll your own".

This photo was labelled "Standard case with non-crimped nickel primer. Right: Extended neck loaded with #6 shot. Also has non crimped nickel primer. Post-WWII mfg. Producer unknown." (photo courtesy of IAA).

    Below is an original period photo I found in a period photo album in my collection (please see copyright notice below!). It shows three young men, probably students, during what was probably some form of military training, possible rifle target practice. The young man in the foreground has a Type 18 Murata: note the bolt shape and the plate on the left side of the stock for the bolt retaining screw. The young man in the middle also seems to have a Type 18 Murata, although the distance makes a positive ID difficult. Note the length of the bayonet worn by the young man in the middle, and the details of the frog worn by the young man in the foreground. The young man in the background may be holding a signal flag indicating when the line is "hot" and when a cease-fire has been declared (to use modern terms).

    To finish up, here is another photo from an album in my collection (please see copyright notice below). It looks to me like the man on skis with the gun on the bipod in the foreground may be holding a reworked 11mm Murata.

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  Last updated: September 1, 2009. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.

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