Were crossbows used in any significant way by the Japanese? If so, what period and how were they fielded?

I found some very brief references:

Jonathan Clements' "A Brief History of the Samurai" mentions an isolated late use. Post AD1000, iirc, but the index doesn't help me find the relevant section in the book. Could also be formulaic copying of earlier texts. I think you can safely ignore them after the end of the 9th century.

The Chinese varieties were well known in Japan and appear in dictionaries under the names 'oyumi' or 'teppo yumi'. Those preserved in Nagoya belonged to Tokugawa Mitsutomo (1625 - 1700), whilst the Metropolitan Museum's one has a partial signature '... Kunitaka'. One of the Nagoya ones has an alternative string and a half barrel that can be fitted to convert it into a pellet-bow. (See my article in the Royal Armouries Yearbook, Vol 3. 1998).

  • I would not like to be so critical to any answeres, but answering quite misleading answer just leads the questioner nowhere. In Nara period, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nara_period date BC710-BC794, there were not actually generally ( or with misuderstanding ) so called Samurais. I am or was a teacher of social science, so that I can tell you anything.
    – user12387
    May 20, 2015 at 4:05
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    Please note, non native Japanese people, it is critical to remeber that the origin of Samurais are actually imperial family. But since there is only one emperor, the other family members descended into the other regions far from the capital Kyoto, and admnisterd as a governor, well, though if it were in America, it is probably the size of one county. Then these administrated became independt themselves and started arming. That is the origin of Bushi-Samurais which began around early 10th century. I know this is difficult for non native people. So plese never mind but mind ^^.
    – user12387
    May 20, 2015 at 4:12

2 Answers 2


Actually, I can say Japanese ( being happening to be native Japanese well, ) did not use the crossbows almost at all throughout its entire history except for shortly before 10th century. ( I am sorry this is Japanese and Wiki site )

According to the above source, along with the increase of Samurai's gradual role throughout Japan ( up until, say, at least 6-7 century, even the northern part of Japan was not ruled by the central dynasty. ), the crossbows became not to be used by them due to the difficulties of the maintenance of them as well as the management, whereas long bows are comprably light and easy to maintain, so that after 10th century, it looks the crossbows completely disappeared. We can guess such a consequence by considering the size of Japan, I think. ( almost equal to California and Japan is a mountain-full country. )

So while crossbows were used widespreadly used in China, which is enormously large, on the other hand, Japan is tiny and there are many hills and mountains so that I or we can guess the Samurais preferred much lighter weapons than heavy ones such as crossbows.

By the way, I am wondering the phrase in your question.

What is teppo yumi? Teppo means rifles, whereas yumi is a long ( or rather shorter ) bow. So that personally I guess the writer should have inserted a comma as Teppo, Umi ( Rifles, Bows ( We called the crossbows "DO".))

And regarding Oyumi ( I have no idea what that means ), since Mitsutomo Tokugawa lived in peacuful era ( the final battle ended in 1615 ), so that it may be possible he invented or imported from China the crossbow.

I like reading books about the warring era in Japan too, but I have neer ever heard even there was a battalion or an unit comprised only of the crossbowers for 30 years. ( Although there were many units comprised only of bow users before the rifles were imported and widespread. )

Per the request by Courtny Cotten at the comment line, I would like to show you 4 pictures of wars during war era.

  1. Nagashino War : Nobunaga Oda vs Takeda family, 1575.

    Can you see any crossbowmen groups? No, only what I can see are Spearmen, Rifle units, Horsemen group. ( Please note after the import of Teppo, bowmen became less and less important. ( But you can find one bowman at around down left and 2 bowmen at around the center ( between rifle groups ( Kindly check with due attention )))

2. Sekigahara War : Ieyasu Tokugawa vs Toyotomi subordinates AD1600

Same. Can you find anyone?

Kindly refer to the below 2 so that you can see clearly from earlier dates Samurais used bows as their main weapon ( before Teppo came ):

3 Ounin War Many warlords vs many worlords. 1467-1477

You can find bowmen but not crossbowmen.

4 Paited late 13th century, about his ( as a symbol of the Samurai's ( actually drawn by himself ) great play defending Japan from Chinese ( Mongolian ) Invasion 1274 or 1281

Thank you. Please have good days.

  • Interesting, your answer is quite different from @axelrod so I'm curious if you can support it with any references?
    – Courtny
    May 19, 2015 at 15:12
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    Yes, for example in Japan there are pictures about major wars during around AD1500-1600 but no-crossbowmen were portrayed. I will show you example by editing tommorow. Let me have sleep for today. Thank you for your comment though.
    – user12387
    May 19, 2015 at 15:28
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    Oh, I see, if Oyumi is O-Yumi, then I understand. O-Yumi means simply "a long bow"
    – user12387
    May 19, 2015 at 16:14
  • I'm not sure but afaid to say where Mr. Axelord obtained such a claim. Yumi were frequently used especially before Teppo came and even a lord himself died.
    – user12387
    May 19, 2015 at 16:16
  • My claim was specifically that handheld crossbows never took off, and the oyumi references date it as being in the 7th century and almost definitely link it to being an import. May 19, 2015 at 17:10

The O-Yumi, a large crossbow essentially acting as a siege weapon was used, but the typical crossbow itself was eschewed; the samurai did not like the crossbows as much as their Yumi, which were also considered spiritual tools. Additionally, there were complaints about the issues in training soldiers to use the crossbows and technological issues present in crossbows, such as difficulties in loading while on the move, and

In addition, there Japanese would have encountered serious technological problems producing crossbows. The main difficulty would have been one of available materials: the same limited choices of construction materials that determined the development of the distinctive Japanese longbow would have complicated the design and manufacture of hand-crossbows as well. Crossbows, Karl Friday

Japanese Crossbow



It would seem, therefore, that early medieval warriors lacked interest in using hand-crossbows, and that this indifference toward hand-held crossbows predated the bushi, having been shared by the ritsuryo military apparatus as well. This apathy is easy to fathom, when one considers the technological benefits and limitations of the weapon.Crossbows, Karl Friday

  • Thank you, the first article linked was very helpful. Perhaps you could summarize what is shared in that article to improve this answer? It seems that "the samurai did not like the crossbow" is not necessarily true, instead it was a matter of lack of expertise/centrally established production.
    – Courtny
    May 18, 2015 at 16:30
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    "It would seem, therefore, that early medieval warriors lacked interest in using hand-crossbows, and that this indifference toward hand-held crossbows predated the bushi, having been shared by the ritsuryo military apparatus as well. This apathy is easy to fathom, when one considers the technological benefits and limitations of the weapon." May 18, 2015 at 16:35
  • The site that @Axelrod references is pretty cool; I'm always skeptical of discussion boards, but this seems quite useful. Does anyone have any information about credibility? is Karl Friday a well known scholar?
    – MCW
    May 18, 2015 at 18:33
  • Your second reference (on Wikipedia) clearly says that it is not known how Oyumi looked and no pictures/descriptions survived. I conclude that your first reference is a pure fantasy and recommend to delete it.
    – Alex
    May 18, 2015 at 20:03
  • Alex: That's covered within the first reference. May 18, 2015 at 20:13

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