Fukuoka resident Tony Alderman (UK) has been a licensed gun owner and registered hunter since 2010. Although hunting rates in Japan are in decline, the hobby is interestingly becoming more popular among Japanese women and, as Tony tells us, is accessible to foreigners too.
All text and photos by Tony Alderman for Fukuoka Now
I must have heard the question a hundred times, usually asked with a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion. “Do you have a license?” It’s usually the first response when I tell people I own guns here in Japan, and enjoy hunting as well as clay pigeon shooting. Readers might be wondering if I have some kind of special visa, or even if I changed my citizenship? Perhaps I’m fluent in Japanese? No, and no! I work on a standard, renewable visa sponsored by my company. My Japanese ability is intermediate; functional for most everyday interactions, but not much more than that. Surprised? If you’d like to find out more about the process of acquiring a Japanese firearms license, as well as information about shooting range facilities and gun shops in the Fukuoka area, please read on…
Is hunting necessary?
The sika deer and boar in Japan face no natural predators, the Japanese wolf now being extinct. Couple this with the fact that the number of hunters in Japan is falling, and it’s not surprising that deer and boar numbers are soaring. The latest data from four years ago estimated the number of deer in Fukuoka prefecture at 15,100! This figure is no doubt higher now.
The effect this has on the mountains and the livelihood of the people who live there is great cause for concern. The deer and boar get into crop fields and new tree plantations and cause havoc. The deer especially cause damage to planted saplings, resulting in the steep slopes being devoid of strong tree roots which help to hold the soil in place. Come rainy season, landslides are very common, because the top-soil simply slides away. Netting seems to have a temporary effect on preventing deer intrusion, but it’s not long before fences get worn, or the deer simply find another way in.
Hunters becoming rare
Why is the number of hunters falling? Well, younger Japanese people have little interest in taking up hunting. It’s expensive and time-consuming to get a gun and hunting licence. Also, most young people want to live and enjoy themselves in cities, where the jobs are, not up in the mountains. In addition, like many people both in and outside Japan, they find hunting distasteful, even cruel; though I have yet to meet a vegetarian here in over eight years! The vast majority of hunters are old guys, sixty years old and more. As they get older, they are giving up hunting. With scant few young hunters replacing them, hunter numbers are declining rapidly. You may have heard recently about the effort to encourage young women to take up hunting. It’s one measure to try to remedy the situation.
Every country has different laws on gun ownership and hunting; Japan’s laws are also interesting. If you’d like to know more about the process of buying a gun and getting your license in Fukuoka, please read on.
How to Buy a Gun in Japan
First things first; the process of applying for a gun licence here in Japan is definitely not cheap or quick. The paperwork involved will test your patience to the limit. If you are only going to be living here for a short time, it’s simply not worth your while even attempting it in the first place. However, if you intend to live here long-term, and you’re keen on shooting at the range or hunting, then maybe it’s something you’ll want to do.
My main aim in getting a gun licence was so that I could go hunting in Japan. However, I’m going to aim this article at people who want to get a shotgun for clay pigeon shooting. We can talk about hunting some other time, and everything involved in getting a hunting licence. Whether you want a gun for hunting, or for shooting at the range, the process to get a gun license is the same.
Let’s talk about cost first. You’ll need to set aside about ¥70,000 for the licensing process alone, plus you’ll need to buy some kit such as a gun locker, ammunition locker, ear defenders, gun cleaning kit, and so on. It’s up to you whether you buy brand new or secondhand. This price of ¥70,000 excludes the cost of your gun. A secondhand, side-by-side or over-and-under shotgun, of the type commonly used to shoot clay pigeons, will set you back about ¥200,000. A more simple, single-barreled shotgun will cost around ¥100,000. My own gun, a 12-gauge, single-barreled, smoothbore slug gun cost ¥70,000 used. I opted for this because I spend 90% of my “gun-time” shooting slugs for hunting deer, not clay pigeon shooting. You cannot get a rifle in Japan until you have owned a shotgun for at least ten years, some of which you must also have spent hunting. Even then, it is totally up to the discretion of the police whether or not to grant you a rifle licence. The total process is going to take you about two to three months, under optimum conditions.
As you can see, you need to be serious about wanting to own a gun here. You also need some spare cash and spare time. In addition, since the whole process can only be done in Japanese, you’ll need to be prepared to put in some study time. Just how much depends on your existing level of Japanese. If your ability is around level N2 of the JLPT, you should be fine, with just a bit of extra study for the rarer ‘kanji’ and the style of written Japanese laws.
Still interested? Read on!
Step 1: Introduce yourself and acquire a handbook (¥500)
@ local gun shop
Your first port of call to get the process started will be your local gun shop. In my case, and if you live in Fukuoka City, you’ll end up at Hakata Gun Shop, run by the very friendly Mr. Naito and his wife, located in the Nakasukawabatta shopping arcade: 〒812-0026福岡県博多区上川端町11-1 (092-291-0322). There are also gun shops in Omuta, Orio, Kitakyushu and Iizuka, although I have never visited them. I highly recommend getting a Japanese person to accompany you, or even myself. You’ll need to be clear about why you want to own a gun. Remember, there is no automatic right to own a firearm in Japan, unlike, say, the USA. You can buy a handbook detailing everything involved in the licensing process. This handbook costs about ¥500. Congratulations, you’ve just taken the first step!
Step 2: Take a multiple-choice test on gun laws and ownership basics (¥6,800)
@ local Police Station
Go home, and read the book from cover to cover; then read it again. Learn any new words and absorb all the information, because you will need this knowledge for the next step; applying for, and taking, a one-day course on Japanese law and rules relating to gun ownership. The course is held monthly, usually at a police station. At the end of this day, you will take a one-hour, multiple-choice test. You need to score over 70% to pass. To apply for this course, you need to fill in this form, submit it at the police station which has jurisdiction for your address (not your local ‘koban’) and pay ¥6,800. If you have previously studied the handbook, you will find this course and the test fairly easy. For me, the content was mostly common sense, but the Japanese was the harder part.
Step 3: Apply for your practical shooting test (¥8,900)
@ gun shop
After passing the test from Step 2, you will receive a certificate, which is valid for three years. Now you can move on to the next step; applying to take a practical shooting test at the range. You need to fill in another form, and pay ¥8,900.
Step 4: Health Clearance (~¥5,000)
@ local hospital
When you present this form at your local police station, you’ll also need to hand in a doctor’s certificate (must be from a psychiatrist) showing you are of sound mind and not suffering from epilepsy or any mental impairment etc. Obtaining this certificate will cost you about ¥5,000, depending on which hospital you visit.
Step 5: Submit your application and other required paperwork
@ local Police Station
In addition to the above forms, you’ll need to (fill out and) submit the following: a recognized form of ID, two passport-sized photos, your alien card, the certificate you received at the end of the above-mentioned course, a list of where you have lived and worked over the past ten years, and a signed pledge. If all of this is in order, the police will give you a certificate, valid for three months, which you can then use to apply for the practical shooting test.
Step 6: Buy ammunition for your test (¥5,000~¥6,000)
@ gun shop
With your certificate you can get permission to buy ammunition for your day at the range. You will need to buy 100 shotgun shells. These will cost you about ¥5,000-¥6,000 in total.
Step 7: Practical Shooting Test (~¥30,000)
@ Fukuoka Kenritsu Sougou Shagekijyou 筑紫野市大字柚須原223-25 (092-924-6996)
Aside from buying your gun, the most expensive, one-off cost will be this day at the range; about ¥30,000. This practical is held on the second Tuesday of every month. You will spend the morning practicing shooting clay pigeons. You will use 75 of your 100 rounds practicing. That’s three rounds of 25 shots each, shooting ‘trap’ style; the clay pigeons will be flying away from you, not across you (skeet shooting). The final 25 rounds will be used for the ‘test’. You have to shoot 3 out of 25; it’s hardly sniper school! Rather, it seems to me, the day at the range is more about safety and gun handling, as opposed to accurate shooting. You’ll lose marks on the test if you point the muzzle at another person, or if you don’t follow their instructions; stuff like that. Barring any great mishap, at the end of this day you’ll receive a nice certificate, valid for one year. Combined with the very first certificate you received above, you’re now almost ready to buy your gun.
Step 8: Choose your gun (¥10,500)
@ gun shop
At the gun shop, tell the owner what type of gun you want, what your budget is, and see what’s available. When you’ve chosen your gun, the gun shop owner will fill out a form for you with all the details of the particular gun you wish to buy. This will cost you ¥10,500.
Step 9: Apply for your gun license
@ Local Police Station
Take this form to the police station (you’ll probably be on first-name terms by now!) and you can apply for your gun licence. You’ll also need to submit the following forms: a form detailing who you cohabit with (if anyone), two passport photos, a copy of your ‘jyuminhyo’, the two certificates you received from your day courses, your address and work history for the past ten years, and your doctor’s note. It gets very tedious writing out every place you’ve lived and worked for the past ten years, so don’t worry, you can make a photocopy of the one you used for your practical gun test application and just sign and date it anew.
Step 10: Buy and install two gun lockers (about ¥40,000 total, if both brand new)
@ gun shop
We need to talk about storage. You will need to show the police that you are able to store your gun and ammunition securely in your house. You’ll need to buy two separate lockers, and install them in separate rooms of your house, hidden from view (inside a cupboard, basically). Each locker has to be screwed in to the wall. The gun locker will need to have a metal wire inside which runs through your gun’s trigger guard and is locked in place. Before granting you your licence, the police will visit your house and check the status of your lockers. They will also briefly interview your neighbors to find out if you are an upstanding person, not prone to violence etc.
Step 10: Pick up your license and purchase your gun
@ local Police Station & gun shop
The police will call you when your licence is ready; usually after a couple of weeks. After receiving it, you have a two-week window in which to go and buy your gun, and then take it back to the police station for them to confirm everything. Finally, go home, store your gun. Congratulations, you are a legal gun owner in Japan! With your gun licence, you’ll be able to buy ammunition and shoot clay pigeons to your heart’s content. You won’t need to renew your licence for three years. If you live in Fukuoka, you’ll be going to the shooting range just east of Dazaifu (http://www.sponet.pref.fukuoka.jp/accions/k_shooting02/).
Skeet & Trap Shooting
When you arrive at the range, you’ll need to have bought your shooting rounds from the gun shop beforehand. You can’t buy them at the range. Show the range staff your gun licence, and choose what style you would like to shoot; skeet, trap, or both. You have to pay a fee for using the range and also a fee for each clay pigeon. Prices and directions can be found here. Each clay will cost you about ¥40~¥50. 100 shotgun shells will set you back about ¥6,000. By no means do you have to shoot off 100, but four rounds of 25 seems to be the norm. I like to switch things up by going for two rounds of skeet, followed by two rounds of trap shooting.
There are eight spots, or stations, positioned around the field in a semicircle. You start at station one and progress around to eight. Depending on the station, you shoot two or three shots. At either side of the field are the houses where the clays shoot out from. The targets will basically be flying across you, from left or from right. At some stations, you shoot two clays in quick succession, one from one house, then one from the other. A normal round consists of 25 total shots. The combination of varying shooting angles and different heights (one house is lower than the other) provides for a challenging but fun shoot! For more information.
There are five stations, in a horizontal line. You start at station one and progress to station five. The birds will fly out and away from you. They are shot out of the house about ten meters in front of, and below, your shooting position. Some of the clays will fly straight away from you, others will fly away at different angles left and right. One round would be 25 shots, five from each station. I find trap to be easier than skeet. For more information.
You don’t need to follow any official or Olympic rules about skeet or trap shooting, unless you so desire. For example, you could just shoot all 25 of your shots from a single skeet station, or perhaps two or three, not all eight. Some hunters like to practice shooting from just one or two stations because those particular angles are ones they want to polish up before hunting. You have the freedom to choose. Also, it’s up to you how many rounds you want to shoot. It ultimately depends on how much money and time you want to spend. If you are a total beginner, I highly recommend watching some YouTube videos before going to the range.
Both skeet and trap shooting provide great practice for bird hunting come hunting season, whether you’re hunting ducks, pheasant or whatever. However, even if you don’t like hunting, clay pigeon shooting is simply a great way to spend a few hours! There’s no rush; you’ll most probably be the only person at the range. Finish a round, grab a drink, chat with the staff, then continue on. The staff are very friendly and happy to offer guidance/assistance as you require. After you finish, you will receive a slip of paper showing how well you scored. It’s fun to compare these between visits. Have fun!
Gun Hunting in Japan
As I mentioned earlier, my main reason for getting a gun was so that I can hunt here. The hunting season for deer and boar in Kyushu runs from November 1st through March 15th. I’ve been averaging three deer per season. Any more and I run out of freezer space, for one thing!
My style of hunting is very different from the majority of local Japanese hunters. The latter tend to go hunting in groups, often using dogs to sniff out and corner the boar or deer. I prefer to go alone, or with one friend, stalking quietly and slowly. I scout out potential paths and abandoned logging roads during the summer months and then visit these areas during hunting season. I hunt deer almost exclusively, simply because I enjoy eating venison, and deer are over-populated. I like the process of quietly stalking, reading the ground, thinking about wind direction, remaining stealthy etc. I may only actually shoot a deer once per ten hunting trips. That’s fine by me. It’s really a bonus, since I enjoy the stalking and tracking aspect so much. When I do shoot a deer, I process the whole animal into meat myself, a time-consuming but worthwhile process. I don’t need to buy supermarket meat for several months of the year. As well as deer and boar, there is a whole list of other animals and birds which can be legally hunted here. Daily and/or season quotas vary from species to species. I also hunt pheasant and ducks occasionally.
I often meet locals in the mountains who are happy to see hunters. Just this past weekend, a farmer told me to shoot as many deer as I could because they are constantly on his property and in his fields. Personally, I’ll only shoot deer I know I can eat (or give to friends to eat), but I can understand the locals’ willingness to simply want the deer shot, whether they end up on the dinner table or not. In light of the overpopulation, daily quotas have gradually been phased out. This year, you can shoot up to two stags per day, every day, for four and a half months, should you so desire. There is no limit on the number of female deer (hinds) or boar that you can shoot. When I first started hunting, the season used to begin on November 15th. Now it starts two weeks earlier. I’m not sure how much of an effect this has had on the total number of deer taken, as official figures won’t be released for a couple of years.
From: Poole, UK
In Japan: 8 years
Licensed gun owner and registered hunter: since 2010
“I came to Japan in 2005, lived for about a year and a half in Omuta, then moved to Kumamoto for the next six years. I moved to Fukuoka earlier this year. I’ve been working as an English teacher since day one. It was in Kumamoto where I became friends with a long-term Japan resident and gun owner, originally from Canada, who introduced me to hunting. Coming from the UK, I had no experience of guns or hunting until this point. Hunting especially tends to be the reserve of the wealthy back home. I enjoyed looking at my friend’s photos of the mountains and forests of Kumamoto prefecture and I was intrigued about the idea of gun ownership and hunting. After spending a lot of time up in the mountains, both for scouting and accompanying my friend hunting, I decided I wanted to embark on the process of getting my own gun. I was very lucky in that I had a lot of guidance from another foreigner who had already gone through the process. I received my gun and hunting licences in 2010.”
All text and photos by Tony Alderman for Fukuoka Now. Contact Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org