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  • Japanese: 火薬 (kayaku)

Gunpowder is an explosive material made from sulphur and saltpetre, used for a wide variety of firearms, cannon, fireworks, and explosives. First developed in China around the end of the 9th century, it came to be used throughout many parts of East Asia and Europe by the late 15th century.

First invented in China around the end of the 9th century, gunpowder was long used for fireworks and various sorts of military purposes. Chinese styles of handheld firearms and larger cannon were first developed around 1300. Mongol forces in the Mongol invasions of Japan in the 1270s-1280s used hand grenades, rockets, and other forms of gunpowder weapons as yet unseen in Japan. Some of the earliest forms of gunpowder weapons in Europe were first developed shortly afterward; some have suggested that European firearms may have been significantly influenced by cultural influence from China via the Mongol Empire.[1]

Chinese-style gunpowder weapons came to be used throughout much of the region, in China, Korea, and elsewhere, by the 12th, 13th, or 14th centuries. Though the Ming Dynasty banned the export of certain types of weapons, as well as gunpowder, saltpetre, and sulfur, the trade, production, and use of gunpowder weapons continued - including the import into China of materials such as sulfur from Ryukyu.[2]

It is unclear precisely when gunpowder weapons first began to be used in Ryûkyû, but they were certainly a standard element of Ryukyuan procession ritual by the 1450s or 1460s; Stephen Turnbull writes that the firing-off of Ryukyuan gunpowder weapons as part of a ceremonial "gun salute" in Kyoto in 1466 may have been the first gunpowder explosion in Japan since the 1280s.[3] These sorts of Chinese-style gunpowder weapons, if they ever caught on in a widespread way in Japan, were soon replaced, however, by Western-style arquebuses / matchlock weapons (teppô) beginning in the 1540s.


  1. Gallery labels, Royal Ontario Museum.[1]
  2. Uezato Takashi 上里隆史. "Ryûkyû no kaki ni tsuite" (琉球の火器, "The fireweapons in the Ryukyus"). Okinawa Bunka 沖縄文化. vol. 36:1, no. 91 (July 2000). p77.
  3. Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai Capture a King: Okinawa 1609. Oxford: Osprey Press, 2009. p58.