It’s a tense time in America. After several mass shootings in the last year or so (including one not too far from Tofugu HQ), some people in the US have started looking into reforming our gun laws.

With reform on the table, some Americans are looking at other countries for ideas on how to shape new law. One of the places that’s been getting a lot of attention in Japan.

Japan is at one extreme when it comes to gun culture. There are tight gun laws, few gun owners, and even fewer gun deaths. In recent years, there have only been about a dozen deaths in Japan annually from firearms.

So how do the Japanese do it? What does Japan’s gun culture (or lack thereof) look like?

What Are Gun Laws Like in Japan?

Gun laws in Japan are some of the strictest in the entire world. There are laws against owning a gun, owning bullets, and discharging a firearm. Basically, any sort of interaction with guns is illegal in Japan, unless you’re licensed, or with the police or military.


Photo by Ryan Ozawa

Some Japanese tourists find going to a Hawaiian shooting range easier than buying a gun in Japan

Even if you belong to that small portion of the population that can own a gun, there are a lot of restrictions, even if you’re dead. In one particular instance, a police officer who had committed suicide with his service weapon was posthumously charged with a crime.

And that small population can only own certain types of guns. You can basically buy guns for sporting and hunting, which limits it to shotguns and air rifles. Handguns and semi-automatic weapons are strictly forbidden.

How Do You Get a Gun in Japan?

Getting a gun in Japan is really, really hard. There are many steps that you have to go through before you can actually buy a gun. These steps include:

  • Written test, only offered on certain dates.
  • Psychiatric evaulation.
  • Drug test.
  • Criminal background check.
  • Gun skills competency test.

Only after you pass all of those will you be eligible to buy a gun. Even if you pass all of these tests, it’s not uncommon for the police to periodically and informally check up on gun owners. One retired Japanese police officer recalls that

Sometimes, police officers even go to the neighborhoods where a gun owner lives and interview neighbors to make sure the owner isn’t causing problems or having issues with his spouse.

Clearly, buying a gun in Japan is a serious committment and responsibility.

How Many People Own Guns in Japan?

A very, very small percentage of the Japanese people own guns (close to 0.1% of the population) and that percentage has been declining for years. In 2011 there were only a little over 120,000 licensed gun owners in Japan, down from 140,000 a few years earlier.


Of course, like with any law, there are those who slip through the cracks. Yakuza own guns, but less and less so. Because illegally owning a gun carries such stiff penalties, the yakuza would rather avoid guns altogether than get taken down for such an easily avoidable offense.

How Does Japan Compare to the Rest of the World?

As I said earlier, the Japanese have some of the lowest rates of gun ownership and gun deaths in the world, but I wanted to see how Japan stacked up against the rest of the world.

I grabbed data from the Small Arms Survey, the CDC, and the UN, and graphed the numbers for the five countries who visit Tofugu the most. Here are the numbers:


And here they are graphically:



Obviously, the Japanese approach to gun law has worked well in Japan, but it’s not a strategy that would work everywhere in the world.

For instance, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, but still has a relatively low crime rate. These sorts of laws are so dependent on a country’s history and culture that it’s not really something that you can just copy and paste law from place to place.

Even if the Japanese approach isn’t something that everybody can adopt, it’s still an interesting example for the entire world to look at.

Read more: Even gangsters live in fear of Japan’s gun laws, A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths

  • henderson101

    >Chicago is a mess with the homicides and tons of gun violence in DC.
    > How could that happen if guns aren’t allowed?

    Simple – if you live in a city that bans guns but that is surrounded by gun selling states, and you wanted a gun… you do the maths. Banning guns in an area next to an area where guns are not banned and then allowing free movement – how is that even vaguely going to stop illegal gun ownership? This isn’t exactly rocket science, is it?

  • stefafra

    are you including hunting weapons? Just wondering, as going to shoot pigeons and rabbits around here is considered almost as “biological control of vermin” (I live in Norfolk, UK).
    ps: I lived in Switzerland and news about people going mad and using their “army gun” (long story, as a Swiss male citizen you are supposed to have a gun in your house, to be ready to defend the country, to tell it the short way) to kill the family, the boss and colleagues, and (usually) themselves at the end, or just to menace of doing so (a form of domestic violence) has prompted requests to enforce a separate and controlled storage of the guns in question. Like in a “village armory” instead than at home…No idea haw it went, as I moved and stopped following Swiss news.

  • ジョサイア

    That’s why seiner chaps are the ones that attack people with swords :/

  • ジョサイア

    Umm…If you are not really rich this probably wont be seen by anyone in the government :/

  • ジョサイア

    if everyone used nerf guns the gun death rate would drop to almost 0…Untill someone makes flaming bullets :/

  • ジョサイア

    My toe was appressed by a hammer once! D:

  • unger

    And exactly where did I give the slightest applause for American exceptionalism? Where did I say America was ‘the greatest country’ or ‘free-est country’, let alone the ‘saviour of democracy’? Nowhere, that’s where. In fact, considering that I expressly indicated my distrust of government power and my dislike of people whose insipid parochialism keeps them from seeing the indisputable (and, let us note, undisputed) reasons for that distrust, you should immediately have gathered that I do NOT proclaim that America is ‘the greatest country’, ‘the saviour of democracy’, etc., etc. Hence your objection collapses for want of relevance.

    But thanks for giving the class two nice illustrations: first, of a red herring, and second, of a reading comprehension fail.

  • Chris Heier

    It is an interesting stat, though I’d argue that correlation does not equal causation in this case as homicide rates across the board in many countries are going down, though over the last 15 years, it has dropped 40%, the highest rate of drop of the G20 nations.

  • Chris Heier

    Emotion drives the majority of policy. A good example of this is the focus on mass shootings as opposed to overall homicide. Ben Shapiro pointed this out to Piers Morgan when trying to focus on handguns as causing more death than “assault weapons”. People have big emotion over mass deaths be it shootings, plane crashes, etc. I prefer to look at things purely from a data and statistical standpoint.

  • Chris Heier

    Most statistics I’ve come across will tend to exclude self inflicted harm (suicide) from gun related deaths as those are generally considered to happen regardless of whether a firearm is used or not. Japan and Korea re two perfect examples of this issue.

  • Chris Heier

    I believe that number includes suicides as well, where as I’m trying to focus more on homicides, essentially where the victim didn’t want to or intend to die.

  • Chris Heier

    I guess by your logic, the original poster probably shouldn’t have posted statistics about firearms here?

  • lychalis

    I was talking about kitchen knives, but fair enough ^_^

  • unger

    Like you said: it’s cultural. We Americans have good reason to distrust the police and military, having spent some time under your military’s boots – which, let us not forget, were, at the time, our own military’s boots – a couple of centuries back. Unlike you, we aren’t so naive as to think that human nature has changed in that short time.

    Which is to say that American guns don’t make sense to you, but they ought to. Fortunately, they make perfect sense to us, and we don’t understand why anyone with a lick of self-respect would want to be helpless and utterly dependent on authorities that, in every era, the whole world over, have a long and bloody history of turning on their own people whenever they find it profitable to do so.

  • Jangta

    Great article on a very sensitive issue. For such a touchy issue, I’m glad you presented the topic without any bias and with facts and statistics.

    I live here in Seoul, KR, where guns are also extremely hard to get (like Japan). While I admit, it does feel safe to not worry about a shooting walking the streets of Seoul at night, at the same time, I know there are a lot of responsible, safe gun owners in places like the US and Switzerland. It may be easy to say “let’s ban firearms and that will solve a lot of problems.” However, a lot of times, it comes down to educating people about firearms and respecting one another.

    Like Switzerland, Koreans have a mandatory military service (2 years) that all males must serve. They train to learn how to shoot a gun, and thus, have more respect for the firearm once discharged from the army.

    The culture is also dictates the different needs between countries. In Korea and Japan, for instance, the hunting culture isn’t as big as say, the US. Also, the history of the US had the intention of arming citizens to overthrown their government if things went unruly or to expel invaders. But for the two Asian countries mentioned, due to culture and past history, there’s not much of a need to own a gun.

    In any case, there will be people that want to keep their guns, while others have no need to own one. For either opinion, totally cool. I just hope in the future that the guns stay within the hands of the responsible owners and away from the criminals and crazy bunch. Hopefully, not just gun related crimes go down, but all crimes will decline in the years to come :).

  • Admiral Awesome

    Not at all, it’s definitely relevant. By giving people a grasp of the article with some statistics is a nice little addition, but that’s it. A little addition, not the whole articles focus, but you took it from an addition and threw it into a sizable comment, which could have been a blog in itself, which just threw it off topic.

    I read your whole comment so there’s no need to take your down votes out on me, I’ve just known the internet well enough to guess how the generic blog reader would take that comment.

  • Bradley Warren Hanstad

    Pretty sure Singapore beats Japan, but I don’t know current nonsense.

  • Kira

    I think if you mean other factors which sees the reason why Japan has the lowest gun ownership rate despite your claims of a skewered data might be also due to airsofting,and as you you know airsofting is also a well penetrated market in Japan so this can offset the few reasons why despite having a tight law on gun owner ship people still can own guns replicas of course

  • Flora

    I read an article on Cracked a few days ago about gun violence & video games, and the author brought up a very interesting point – he said, “we are a nation of warriors without a war”. We don’t honor our troops, we glorify them, war, and – admit it – violence in general. If we didn’t, what else explains how “Call of Duty” got so popular?

    We usually like to compare ourselves to Rome, but we’re more like Sparta than any other past civilization. In all honesty, we really value machismo & “toughness” more than intelligence & compassion in America. That “warrior” mentality could be a strong factor into why we value gun ownership so much and are convinced that average citizens need to be battle-ready.

  • Chris Taran

    There is never any good reason to own a lethal weapon. Buy a taser or other non-lethal/less-lethal weapon if you want to protect yourself.

  • Jonadab

    Those “guns per capita” numbers look very wrong to me. In particular, I’m almost certain the number of guns per capita in America (overall) is less than 1, or at least not very much more than 1 (everywhere I’ve ever lived, it’s closer to 0.1), and 88 is absurd. No place has anywhere near that that many guns per capita, not South Central L.A., not a military base during wartime, not a hunting lodge, not anywhere.

  • Darren Sander

    I don’t believe that the “gun responsibility” statistic you offered is really accurate or static enough to be worth considering. It’s entirely speculation, especially when we consider simple statistics we have that attest to the opposite. For instance, the US has a .2 ratio of accidental fire-arm related deaths, where as Japan has “0”. We should also consider the fact that the number of firearm related homicide deaths in Japan is .02 in 100,000 (literally a two digit number, annually), whereas America maintains a relatively high 3.6. That is to say that, proportionately, the United States has a gun-related homicide rate 180 times higher than that of Japan. With a much greater general homicide rate (4.8 to Japan’s .40, 12 times higher), we can easily connect the leniency of gun distribution in America to not only an increase in gun related deaths, but general murders as well.

  • Chris Heier

    Comparing murder rates between Japan and America and directly tying it to firearms isn’t really fair. There is a major cultural difference between the two countries which cannot be discounted. There is a lot of culture in Japan directly influenced by the feudal era and oppressive rule, whereas the US was driven mainly by the desire for personal liberties, opportunity and many constitutional rights. Also, as shown in countries with higher rates of murder, the common threads tend to be economic situations, drugs and gang activity. Take Mexico for instance where gun control is severe. Those armed are generally involved in the drug cartels. They also play a major role in the Mexican murder rate.

  • orenji

    That means there area lot more gruesome deaths in other countries, lol…

  • R

    I’ll not argue about we should have gun or not. But you logic of calculation is incorrect (Yes, ratio value is correct calculate but I’m not means that way). You cant compare it by ratio like that, you must just look it by trend/scale. For example, if we talk about country ‘A’ with 100 people, All people have 4 guns. And they kill each other 40 die. You’ll says rate is 40/400=0.1 Country ‘B’ with 100 people, 2 peoples have 1 gun (All only 2) and kill 1 person. You’ll says rate is 1/2=0.5 Have less gun will have more murder? You can simply says NO. It just because ‘A’ have overly number of gun. So its divider is just large until rate is low. If you still not understand, just take another math says that each people have 400000 guns (it’s just a joke but you can see some misconcept of yours here). So rate is 0.000001? lol
    People have 1 gun or people have 100 guns will have nearly fire-arm related death rate. Your calculation makes latter case look better while it should seem equal

    OK, you still can use ratio if you proper think about people who have gun (Because you’re thinking about ‘irresponsibility’ of what? of ‘people’ not of ‘gun’ itself) Assume USA for who have guns usual have 2 guns (I think in fact it’s more if you really use average value): irresponsibility=
    3.3 / (88.8/2) = 0.037*2 = 0.074 compare to Canada 2.13 / 30.8 = 0.069 Also, you cant compare to other country that huge difference because I just think to take side with your point so I assume 1 people have only 2 guns.

    In fact, forget about above calculation. That just describe that if you want to scale irresponsibility you must base on people, not gun.

    But the point is more gun=more fire-arm related death rate is still real. You seen the number? Gun amount increase->fire-arm related deaths rate increase just that! You dont have to make more ratio by do math.
    1. If you divide like that. It just mean ‘rate is not exponential’. But it’s still increase trend. For more understanding:
    If 10 people not eat any food 5 days they’ll die 6.
    If 10 people not eat any food 7 days they’ll die 7.
    Is not mean if you don’t eat any food 7 days is have die people less than 5 days. Just that increment rate decreased. It’s still means INCREASE Rate, not DECREASE.
    0. It’s already rate. (It’s already calculated in the right manner)
    (#0 here because it’s most important)

    PS. I’m not against people should have gun or not. I just says that your logic is wrong.

  • R

    lol Also here, I’m not math teacher or anything (So.. sorry for interfere with them).

    You must only says that 10.4%-3.8%=UK 6.6% more that US (If you prior calculation for 10.4 and 3.8 is correct and it can be use this way).

    How do you get 274%?
    10.4/3.8 then %? (*100)

    Percent ratio of ratio, ouch. You can increase this ratio, you know?
    UK is 6.6% difference from US, US is 3.8-3.8=0% difference from US

    So UK is 6.6*100/0 = 100 times of ‘infinity’ value of ratio from US.
    lol Just a kidding

    Don’t just divide the number by no means to makes it more and more. You may say some correct but you usually makes over stat. More stat difference may looking good in first glance.. but many people can see through it and think: Wow, is it real.. Nah, I don’t think it’s real stat.. this’s not credible. Sorry, it may seem annoying to you. But as I said, topic’s owner way of using data is better that using it like this. Although some comment says it’s not calculated, ..’just presented the data as it appeared and even included a very
    objective summary to keep others from jumping to conclusions themselves.

    I am an American gun owner and carrier and I don’t like it when
    people present data to support their opinions one way or the other.’..
    But I think another way around: it’s better to give uncalculated correct data. That means you can jumping to conclusions themselves even though he’s already conclude it. If not so.. why have back hand around from the same data as this??

    Use normal stat don’t tend to bias by calculate whatever that have no meaning.

  • R

    It fact, label’s incorrect here. It’s Number of guns per ***100 residents. Which is compare to your though (1 unit): it’s 0.888 for US: means 1 resident have around 1 gun. Don’t forget many people have more than 1 at the same time you have no gun *Just example*. So around 1/resident in US (2007), I think it’s nearly data.

  • R

    I think same as henderson101. Just simple :)

    Also people in US must have gun as you said. I ever have thug neighborhood, cant image if they have gun why I shouldn’t have it. It’s also horrible anyway. It’s better for me that normally people have no gun (I’m not in US). But if I live there, I’m sure I’ll have it as you Mrs.Tiger

  • feloneouscat

    Chris, your numbers are way off.

    The 10.2 number for the United States is, in fact, correct. There are approximately 30,000 firearm deaths for the total population. That works out to about 10.2 per 100,000.

    What the measure is exactly what it says: the firearms related deaths.

    HOWEVER your argument is “oh, let’s IGNORE anything except homicides” – in other words you are throwing out MANY firearms related deaths because you want to make the numbers look different.

    That’s not called science. That’s called propaganda.

    NOWHERE does the OP say “firearm related murder rate”.

    So, what did we learn from your exercise? You want to throw out firearm related deaths because they make firearms look bad. You want to recalculate the numbers. Then you come up with a phony-baloney calculation that assumes that all firearms in the US are fully functional.

    You know, I understand statistics. I work with numbers daily. Mortality and morbidity is done the way it is done for a reason.

    I’m sure you think you are terribly clever by using homicide figures instead of total deaths, but that is, as I said, purely propaganda. That is not how public health is done. it doesn’t throw out deaths because they are inconvenient or don’t fit a narrative.

    The OP was correct and Chris is totally incorrect. If you wish to buy into propaganda or swamp land, then trust his numbers. But they have nothing to do with reality.

  • jacob

    i’d like to know what would happen if Japan did’nt use rifles