Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Much Maligned Japanese Type 94

Ask someone about Japanese Sidearms of World War II and anyone with a passing knowledge is going to come up with the “Nambu”. The next tidbit that many people will come up with is “isn’t that the gun that fires if its dropped?” During World War II and during the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, Japanese goods had a (frequently deserved, especially in the late war and early post war years) reputation for poor quality. However, only some of that criticism is deserved.

Kijiro Nambu was a military officer responsible for the development of Imperial Japan’s semi-automatic handguns from the early “Grandpa”, “Papa”, and “Baby” Nambu pistols all the way through the Type 94 (which he designed and produced). While the fit and finish on these his early pistols (including the Type 14 and Type 94) was excellent, as the war progressed, the pressed Japanese armaments industry had to cut corners on finish and simplify components where possible with late war examples receiving very little in the way of final polishing, simple slab grips, and a very rough blue.

The particular design features which lead to the perception that the Type 94 will fire if dropped or landed on, etc. is the long external sear on the left side of the weapon. Because the sear is exposed, there is at least a mathematical possibility of firing the weapon by striking that sear perfectly. However the actual force required would be fairly strong and stories of the Type 94 frequently suffering this failure are exaggerations, and the failure can only happen if the safety is off.

Derby and Brown point out some actual flaws of the design that are justified. It does suffer from a weak firing pin, and the magazine catch protrudes far enough out to release the magazine if the weapon is roughly placed on its left hand side. One final deficiency could be pointed out – the 8mm Nambu cartridge itself. This cartridge was fairly weak by the standards of the day (when compared to the German 9mm or especially the U.S. 45 ACP). These deficiencies in the design generally stem from Japan’s inexperience in modern warfare conditions.

The Type 94 is a popular collector firearm, but it has never reached the level of popularity of the quintessential Type 14 Nambu. Neither of these firearms are a desirable as the rarer Japanese side arms (nor do they command the prices). A decent Type 94 can be had for under $400, but early models in original finish (or near to it) will easily command twice that or more for rare examples.

Until next time!


1. Brown, James D. Collector’s Guide to Imperial Japanese Handguns 1893-1945, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2007

2. Derby III, Harry L. and James D. Brown Japanese Military Cartridge Handguns 1893-1945, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2003

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