Sunday, June 17, 2007

Arisaka Type 38 Cavalry Carbine: A Samurai Mauser.

When Commodore Matthew Perry's ships dropped anchor in Uraga Harbor in 1853, the insular Japanese were brought face to face with a harsh ground truth; if they wanted to remain free from the colonizing spree being engaged in by the great European powers, they needed to modernize. They did so with a vengeance.

By the early 1870s, the Japanese army was armed with German Gew.71 Mausers and French Gras rifles, but they didn't rely on foreign small arms for long; in 1880, they began equipping with the Murata Type 13, a homegrown single shot bolt action sporting a melange of Mauser, Gras, and Dutch Beaumont design features; Winchester was contracted for 100 prototypes, and then production commenced in Japan. Ironically, it would be another twelve years before the land of Commodore Perry would replace its side-hammer Springfield Trapdoors with a bolt-action rifle.

ABOVE: Arisaka Type 38 Cavalry Carbine, photo by Oleg Volk.

When Japan shocked the world by beating a European power in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, they were equipped with a new rifle designed by a Colonel Nariaki Arisaka in 1897. He trumped this design eight years later with a rugged rifle based on the Spanish M1893 Mauser, known as the Type 38 Arisaka, (Type 38 refers to the 38th year of the Meiji Restoration, with 1868 being Year 1.) This rifle would go on to serve as the primary Japanese service rifle for the next thirty-four years, and remained in production in some factories until the Japanese surrender in 1945.


LEFT: The knurled knob on the rear of the bolt served as both a safety and a gas-deflecting flange. Photo by Oleg Volk.






Col. Arisaka's rifle was made in both rifle and carbine formats and had several innovative features, some more useful than others. The rifle handled escaping gas from a ruptured case very well, being equipped with both gas vent holes in the receiver ring and a large round knob on the rear that doubled as both a safety and a flange to direct gas away from the firer's face. Famous gunsmith P.O. Ackley considered the Type 38 to be the strongest military rifle action he'd ever tested. It certainly was a rugged looking rifle.



RIGHT: The front sight was drift-adjustable for windage, and was protected by sturdy "wings". Photo by Oleg Volk.





The stock was somewhat blocky in shape, and the butt was of two pieces fitted together tongue-and-groove style, which allowed stocks to be made from smaller blanks. The rifles came from the factory with sliding sheet-steel dust covers, but these were frequently discarded by troops in the field as they rattled as they got loose. The sights consisted of a triangular front blade protected by beefy wings, and a rear ladder-style sight that was graduated to 2,000 meters on the carbine version. The infantry rifle had sling swivels on the bottom attached to the butt and barrel band, while the cavalry carbine had its swivels on the left side of the stock. Both took the same long sword bayonet. Unlike most Mausers and Mauser derivatives, which required a cartridge nose or punch to release the magazine floorplate for unloading, the Type 38 could be unloaded safely by releasing the magazine floorplate by means of a finger-operated catch inside the triggerguard.




LEFT: The Type 38's 6.5x50mm round, in this case a 156gr Norma soft-point, with a 5.56mm NATO round and a .30-'06 M2 ball cartridge for comparison.







Like many other rifle designers in the late 1880s/early 1890s, Arisaka selected a smallbore bullet, in this case a 6.5mm projectile. The military loading launched a 139-grain projectile at 2500 feet per second, giving it slightly better-than-average wallop among the military 6.5's. The flatter crack of the 6.5 was easily distinguished from the deeper muzzleblasts of the .30 caliber rifles used by the Allied forces in the Pacific during WWII, at least according to most memoirs of the time.

ABOVE: The receiver ring of the Type 38. Note the ground-off mum, indicating a surrendered weapon. (And no more inscrutable or mystical than the canceled "Broad Arrow" on a de-milled British weapon; it just means it's not Imperial property anymore.) The markings below it read "Type", "8", and "3" from bottom to top. Also note the dual gas-escape vents. Photo by Oleg Volk.


Not only did the Type 38 see service with the Imperial Japanese military, but excess rifles were also sold to fellow allies Great Britain and Russia during WWI. Rifles found in the US today will generally either be battlefield-captured souvenirs, or surrendered pieces brought home by returning GIs and sailors or imported after the war by surplus houses. The latter can be distinguished by the fact that the chrysanthemum symbol, an Imperial property mark much like the British "Broad Arrow", on the receiver ring will be defaced or ground off. Prices will start at under $100 for a tatty infantry rifle with a ground mum, and can climb north of $500 for a nice carbine with intact mum and dust cover. Ammunition is still loaded by Norma as well as some specialty houses, but expect to pay dearly for it. This is a rifle for which it is definitely worthwhile to reload, especially since the strong action allows the caliber to shine. As with all WWII weapons, expect a lot of volatility in pricing over the next years as the war passes from living memory, with the passing of the generation who fought it.

30 comments:

Ambulance Driver said...

My Dad had a Type 38 Arisaka in good condition. My sister pawned it four years ago to feed her meth habit.

The only reason she isn't fertilizer now is because my nephew is a pretty cool kid, and would miss his Mom.

Hobie said...

I wish I'd had your article 3 days ago! Would have been a big help to one customer. Well written with the necessary info.

Ben said...

Very well written, of course. "A Samurai Mauser" has a great ring to it as well.

BobG said...

The first deer I ever got was with an old Arisaka I borrowed from a neighbor. It had been converted to a 30.06 by Ackley. The only thing I didn't care for was that safety; I thought it could have been designed a little better, as it was awkward to use in the field.

Assrot said...

Ahhh! What I wouldn't give to have one of these in type 38. I have a darn nice one but I let some idiot borrow it to go shooting with and he cleaned the barrel with a cleaning rod that was slightly bigger than the bore. He thought the bore was just dirty so he took a 3 pound hammer and drove the cleaning rod as far into the barrel as he could. Then he further mutilated the barrel by putting it in a vise and using a come-a-long to pull the cleaning rod back out. When I got my rifle back not only is the bore ruined but the barrel is also slightly bent. The gun now puts the bullet through the target sideways and 18 inches high at 25 yards. It's not safe to shoot because you have no idea where the bullet is going. If you know anyone that has a barrel for sale for one of these please let me know.

Joe

P.S. - No I didn't beat the idiots ass. He's an old fart and an old friend. He will never borrow another rifle though.

Tam said...

Yikes!

I'll ask around about barrels.

KD5NRH said...

Anybody remember where the post was about the guy who had a 6.5 Arisaka just rechambered in .30-06? As they found out after a few shots, it was just rechambered, not rebored, resulting in a self-swaging 6.5-06.

Now that's a strong action.

Tam said...

I'll bet they were wondering why a 6.5 had such beastly recoil. ;)

larsen550 said...

How much do these usually go for? I have an antique shop next to me selling one for 150 US dollars. Perfect condition and everything is authentic

Tam said...

$150 for a nice Type 38 cavalry carbine is not a bad deal at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to clean up my grandfathers old type 38... With some research I think it's from the Kokura arsenal, and should be suited for test firing, and maybe even using as a big(ger) game rifle... Any advice anyone?
thanks
sirchazbear@yahoo.com

thelepreklown said...

I found an Arisaka in a basement. The Chrisathimum is there and stamped over in the fashion of a decomissioned foreign sold firearm (interlocked circles). The markings on the top look like the picture above in this blog. The only thing is that the barrel is missing. So if anyone does find a barrel, I would love to know TOO! Either that, or I will sell the rest of the rifle for $50 plus shipping. tokarevlovers@live.com

Swedish Mauser said...

Interesting with the gas ports at the top of the reciever. I would have tought they were holes for an after market peep sight or something like that.

Anonymous said...

I have just purchased A type38 Ariska
What is the best rod to use to clean the barrel
Regards Phil Kidd

Anonymous said...

I've had an old rifle here all my life and I'm just now figuring out that it's a Arisaka Type 38. This is a very interesting article...thanks.

sac6 said...

I have a type 38 that was brought home by my uncle,it has since came into my hands, ever since i can remember it has been in a canvas case that was made to fit the weapon, the leather fasteners have the some type of stiching as japanese holsters. I'm wondering if anyone knows if it may have been issued with the weapon?

Anonymous said...

I found a rusted up Type 38 in a brush pile and have started to restore it...Not sure it's worth my time but I do have a barrel that is in good shape. Here's a question...Every part on the gun is stamped 84. Any idea if how old this gun is?

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on the best place to sell three Arisakas? Two rifles and a carbine. My dad brought two of them back from Japan. I am in Kingman AZ. plaubel@frontiernet.net


thanks

robert said...

Hello, I inherited a Type 38 from my grandfather as he brought it back from the war with him. The gun and all its parts are in great shape, when he got back from WW2 he sat it on a gun rack and never shot it... my question is. Is it safe to shoot these guns after not having been fired in so long?? is there a chance they might explode or anything break??

midway41 said...

anyone with healthy arisaka 6.5s ( with intact/ untouched mum) at reasonable prices may contact me here at midway41@satexas.net or wrigneyjr on yahoo and we can talk about it.rifle or carbine. thank you. BILL RIGNEY SENDS. BT

Brandon said...

Here is a nice site to interpret some of the markings on a Type 38. Also may help you date the rifle: http://www.radix.net/~bbrown/japanese_markings.html

Anonymous said...

My dad gave me the T38 he brought back from the war. Too bad some punks stole it and a Marlin .22 back in about 1980. I would really like to find another in VG usable condition (carbine model). Also, if you ever see one with an orange playboy bunny sticker on the stock or sticker residue in that shape, this was mine and I'll buy it no questions asked. I can be contacted at tom [dot] perkins [at] att.net

tilleyone said...

i found a type 38 in the back of a trailer 10 yrs ago just found out what it is i need a stock magazine and trigger guard if any could help me i will be very thankful cant wait to shoot it contact at ROCHELLNJAMES@AOL.COM 5-17-09

Gilbert said...

Im planning on buying one these rifles, but how do you go about registering one of these rifles or do you not? I mean, what serial numbers would you give?

Anonymous said...

I was just given one by a coworker.It seems to be in good shape except I can't get the bolt closed.Can anyone help me?

Anonymous said...

I have one of the Arisaka T38 Cavalry Carbines. My father picked it up at a gun shop somewhere 30-40+ years ago. As a kid, I used to take it deer hunting, and took several deer with it. Not knowing any better, in high school, I refinished the stock, which I know now, effectively ruined the value. I've had this rifle for around 25 years and never knew what it was. After procrastinating for several years, I finally decided to catalog all of my guns. When I came to this rifle, I had to do some searching to determine "what" it was, and found a site that listed most (if not all) of the Japanese rifles..... http://www.oldrifles.com/japanese.htm Once if figured out "what" it was, that lead me to this place. Great article & full of info! Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

excellent article my uncle has the same type rifle that he wants to sell. It is in good condition.
If intrested respond orr9001@yahoo.com

Larry said...

The Type 30 was designed by Col Arisaka, the Type 38, as well as the subsequent 7.7mm Arisakas, were redesigns by MAJ Nambu based on the T30 platform (the biggest changes were the bolt, dust cover, and caliber for the 7.7mm).
The dust covers were never thrown away by Japanese soldiers who revered their Emperor and wouldn't dream of defacing his property, they were usually discarded by American soldiers/sailors or importers who didn't know (or care about) the difference.
To close the bolt, push down on the magazine floorplate. It was designed to lock open so that the soldier behind the trigger would know it was time to reload.
Have the gun checked out by a gunsmith before you shoot it. Some of the "war trophy" Arisakas were training rifles confiscated from schools that do not have rifling in the barrel and were designed for use with dummy ammo. This (and using the wrong caliber ammo) is the basis of the "exploding Arisaka" myth.
I have a T30 carbine if you would like some photos.

Buddy said...

I have one ,but my brother screwed up the stock and I trying to restore it. Need help finding a stock.

jph said...

I have a Type 38 that needs cleaning desparately. Where can I get instructions on how to break it down?