The Japanese Law Controlling Firearms and Swords

I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News

The good news: Japan has some of the most severe restrictions on possession of knives and firearms in the world. The bad news: Japan has some of the most severe restrictions on possession of knives and firearms in the world.

Taboo in Tokyo?
Taboo in Tokyo?

Let’s Discuss the Good News First

Those responsible for the safety and security of participants and attendees of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will be interested to learn that Japanese laws have created a practically gun-free country. Even possession of one round of ammunition is a serious criminal violation. Many crimes and most terrorist attacks are committed by people using firearms. The almost complete ban on legal access to firearms in Japan certainly makes it more difficult to plan and stage a successful terrorist attack on the Tokyo Olympics.

Based upon the writer’s own experience of working in Japan for nine years with Japanese police officials he can state that almost no one in Japan has a firearm. Also, Japan border security is strong and it is extremely difficult for someone to smuggle a firearm into Japan. Indeed, Japanese police are normally not allowed to take their firearms with them after they have finished their work for the day. Instead, at the end of a shift a Japanese police officer will secure his firearm at a police facility. He will not have access to it again until he reports again for work.

And now the Bad News

First, firearm restrictions mean very few Japanese police officers have access to a weapon other than a side arm. There are very few shoulder weapons available for use by police officers anywhere in the country. For example, several years ago some bears escaped from a small zoo in northern Japan. A side arm is not useful for killing a bear and the local police department did not have ready access to any type of shoulder weapon. So the police enlisted the assistance of members of a local hunting club. Of course the weapons of the hunting club members were stored and secured per Japanese law and it took a while for them to access their shoulder weapons, answer the call for assistance from the police, and shoot the bears.

Let’s consider more bad news. What if criminals or terrorists patiently smuggle firearms into Japan and use them in an attack on the Olympics? It is conceivable such an attack would lead to a situation in which the police are out-gunned by those who mounted the attack. Those responsible for the safety of participants and attendees at the Tokyo Olympics may want to explore exactly what resources the police in Japan will have to protect Olympic participants and attendees.

Those who will participate in shooting events at the Tokyo Olympics might wonder if they can use firearms in Japan. Happily, the first linked article shows the law does take into consideration “athletes who compete in national or international competitions.” Presumably those participating in Olympic shooting events will be allowed to bring firearms into Japan for Olympic events. However, the writer is certain that the bureaucratic requirements one must meet to import and use a firearm during the Olympics will be tremendous. From the shipping of the weapon to Japan, to the storage of the weapon and ammunition at the Olympic venues, to access to the firearm for practice, etc., contestants using firearms at the Olympics will face bureaucratic hurdles like no others. So, those participating in shooting events should plan early and leave nothing to chance when dealing with Japanese government officials who will handle the firearms used in Olympic competitions.

But What about Swords?

Finally, another aspect of the law that could snag Olympic participants and attendees is a portion of the law that restricts possession of various types of knives or bladed weapons. That law is discussed in this article published in a newspaper distributed on U.S. military bases in Japan. The writer is aware of at least one U.S. government employee who visited the U.S. embassy in Tokyo for business and during a stroll on nearby streets was charged by the police with possession of a knife blade that violated Japanese law. Also, the writer talked one time with a Japanese police officer regarding someone (an American) who was arrested for possession of an illegal knife. The subject was a chef and he was charged for carrying his professional cooking knives. The writer asked a Japanese police officer if Japanese sushi chefs, etc. carry their professional knives with them. The officer answered in the affirmative and admitted to the writer that the Japanese police had great discretion to decide when to enforce the knife possession law. Recommendation: those who travel to Japan should leave any knives or tools with blades at home.


Japan experiences more earthquakes than just about any other country in the world. The earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan on 3/11/11 were widely reported around the world. The loss of life (nearly 20,000 dead and missing) was devastating. This article will discuss how Japan prepares for earthquakes and present two simple and easy earthquake safeguards for visitors to Japan. Those two safeguards are listed at the end of this article and those in a hurry can skip ahead and read them now.

Japan is probably the best prepared country in the world for earthquakes. Safety and security professionals responsible for participants and attendees at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games should take comfort in the measures Japan takes to be ready for earthquakes. What does Japan do to get ready for earthquakes?

Strict building codes. After every major earthquake Japan reviews and if necessary revises its building codes. This habit clearly saved lives during the 3/11/11 disaster.

The city closest to the epicenter of the 3/11/11 earthquake (80 miles) was Sendai, a metropolitan area with four million people. The ground shook violently in Sendai for almost SIX minutes! And numerous aftershocks later that day walloped the city with more shaking shortly after the initial tremor. Yet no major building in Sendai or anywhere else affected by the violent shaking collapsed. True, many buildings had to be vacated and demolished after the quake but thousands of lives were clearly saved by Japan’s strict building codes.

Practice, Practice, Practice. First responders, emergency personnel, and the general populace in Japan regularly practice what to do in an earthquake. Schools and employers conduct training for students and employees to help them survive an earthquake.

Social Capital. In the areas devastated by the earthquake there was almost no looting or civil disorder. The writer confirmed this during numerous discussions with Japanese law enforcement officials and U.S. aid workers who were on site in the most devastated areas during the disaster and during the clean up and recovery. What was reported in the west as scattered looting was really just desperate people scavenging for food and emergency survival supplies in the ruins. There were no civil disturbances after the quake. As people moved into crowded evacuation shelters and stayed there for weeks or months everyone behaved in an orderly fashion (e.g., kept their quarters clean, waited patiently in line for food or supplies, and assisted others in need of aid).

Lifelines & Warnings Not only are buildings constructed to very high standards, but electrical, telephone, water, gas, highway, and other public facilities are built to survive earthquakes and continue operating. Also, Japan operates a vast network of seismic sensors all around the country. Within milliseconds of the initiation of a quake this network identifies the epicenter and magnitude and calculates how many seconds later other areas will feel the tremors, This information is then broadcast out to TV and radio broadcasting stations and even personal cell phones so people have at least a few seconds to prepare. More and more elevators are being equipped to receive these advance warnings and move the elevator to the nearest floor and open the doors even before the shaking begins in that building, Most high speed trains in the country also receive similar advance warnings and stop automatically.

But What About the Tsunamis? Most of the fatalities on 3/11/11 were caused by the hundreds of tsunamis which battered Japan. Didn’t Japan prepare for tsunamis? The answer is yes, Japan did prepare for tsunamis. And many more people would have died from the tsunamis if Japan had not prepared for them. Tragically, on 3/11/11/ tsunamis many orders of magnitude larger than any in recorded Japanese history battered the coast. Areas that were ready for 15 foot tsunamis were devastated when a 50 foot tsunami arrived instead. Also, many areas that were believed to be safe from tsunamis (e.g., a town 3 or 4 miles from the coast) were inundated by tsunamis which traveled that far inland.

As soon as immediate relief and recovery efforts were concluded the Japanese government began reviewing tsunami risk and today is busily revising plans and preparations for future tsunamis.


There are two easy earthquake preparations everyone in Japan can undertake.The first preparation I recommend is simple, cheap, easy to implement, and can be a life saver. Everyone in Japan should carry a small pocket flashlight. Below is a photo of one I carried when I lived in Japan. It is powered by a sealed LED battery and is still working after five years. A really bad earthquake will knock out electrical service and at night or in a darkened building or subway tunnel a flashlight can help one escape to safety and avoid danger while doing so.

LED Final

Second, everyone traveling to Japan should install the earthquake advance warning application (discussed above) on his cell phone and know how to understand the warnings. Even though the advance earthquake warning may be only a few seconds that is plenty of time to take basic safety precautions such as covering one’s head for protection from falling objects, moving away from windows which might break and spew glass shards, etc.