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Nobunaga’s Gun Fleet

In Japan, together with the technical know-how of SMED, there is an episode we talk about. The historical episode is the Nobunaga’s gun fleet.

Why is this important?

All countries should have such episodes where people can connect how they need to improve today. Such episodes help us connect technical know-how and reality.

Here’s the episode from Japan and what examples do you have from your country?

History of guns in Japan

Since the rise of the Samurai, Japan had constant battles. The primary weapons of a samurai were swords and arrows. There were technical improvements in weapons and armor, but swords and arrows played vital roles.

The guns arrived in Japan in the 16th century. They quickly learned how to produce these guns, and it spread quickly. But it did not replace as the primary weapon for two reasons.

  1. The supply of gunpowder was limited.

  2. It took too much time to load (It is estimated that it takes 30 seconds)

So the gun was used to intimidate or assassinate.

Nobunaga Oda

Nobunaga Oda was born in 1534. His family was a mid-level samurai clan in the Nagoya area but was wealthy. Nobunaga had a very progressive mindset and was introduced to guns early on. But upon inheriting the family, he did not use guns as his primary weapon. His success came from increasing full-time samurai (most samurai’s main job is farming) and construction. But his strategy was unique. Unlike many samurai who focused on expanding territories, Nobunaga captured major commercial cities first. Those cities were critical paths for the gunpowder trade. Then he expanded.

1575, Nobunaga received news that the Takeda clan was moving towards them. This was terrible news since Nobunaga’s samurai had lost in the past, only to avoid the disaster since the head of the Takeda clan died due to illness. But this time, Nobunaga had a plan. He ordered his samurai to submit guns to central control. And all forces to carry wood to make fences. Fences were built upon arriving at the battlefield. Takeda did not see those fences as a threat, so they started to charge toward the fence.

The most significant change Nobunaga made was to form a team. He divided the task into three since it took too long to load the gun. This allowed the military to shoot at a faster rate. The Takeda clan did not understand what was happening. They thought that gun shooting would end quickly. Instead, it kept coming. The Takeda clan made one of the most devastating losses. And guns became critical weapons for the samurai.


I know some will say, “This is not SMED. It’s about line balance.” I said that when I first heard this. My boss will say that Nobunaga did not change the machine (gun) but shot the weapon faster. I’m not still satisfied, but I guess that is not important.

Another non-important question is, is this a truth? There are many questions about this episode. How many guns did Nobunaga really have? Did he do this without training the team concept? How long can the gun be used without getting overheated? Also, we know as historical facts that some technical changes were made to guns. The only truth is that the importance of firearms increased significantly after this battle.

The importance is not historical facts. Instead, this episode is widely popular. It used to be in history textbooks. It is featured in TV dramas and movies. People know this episode. Using an episode, they created the attention of the people. “We need to think like Nobunaga.” A historical figure with fame for new ideas. Starting with such an episode, it grabbed the attention of the workers.

And such episodes should exist globally. There must be figures who use technologies in different ways to accomplish better results. Such local figures are better to use than foreign ones. So who are they, and what kind of episodes exists?

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