Made in Japan: Take a Tour of the Miroku Shotgun Factory With Phil Bourjaily

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Kochi, Japan, to see the Miroku factory, where Japanese Brownings - including the Citori -- and Miroku shotguns are made. Miroku is one of only two remaining gun makers in Japan (Howa, which makes mostly rifles, is the other). I wrote a column about it for the magazine but I never shared any of my pictures. Japan was remarkably clean and the people were very polite. When you go through airline security in Japan, an attendant is waiting for you with a shoehorn on the other side of the scanner. On the other hand, it's very difficult to own a gun there. Mr. Miroku himself only owns one of the shotguns made in his factory. In all, there are about 170,000 gun owners in Japan. Several kinds of knives are regulated, too. I read about a knifing in the paper while I was there, and in the aftermath several uninvolved knife owners voluntary turned in their blades. So I'm thinking Japan is a wonderful place to visit, but not a good place for a Gun Nut to live. The Miroku factory is on the outskirts of the city, amid rice fields. They have been building guns since 1893, although for many years they were better known for harpoon guns, one of which you see here(those are gunwriters John Taylor, Mark Keefe, Nick Sisley and me. Behind us is our adult leader, Browning's Scott Grange). Today it operates four plants in the area, and 60% of its production is auto parts.
The main gun factory consists of several one story corrugated metal buildings like this one. Lots of natural light comes in through the windows. Because it's Japan, the break area has a koi pond. The average worker is 45 years old. They start as "freshmen" spending a week at stations around the factory until they find the job they do best. I was surprised at how much skilled hand labor goes into the making of every Citori. There is a lot of old-school gunmaking here, Japanese style.
Although Miroku barrel boring machines are among the best in the world (for instance, I saw one during my visit to the very high-end Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company) much of the production at Miroku is low tech and is done by feel, eyeball and experience. This man is straightening barrels. If he doesn't like what he sees he'll put the barrel in the bender on the floor next to him and give the handle to his left a tug.
These barrels have been joined to the monoblock. That joint is checked for strength on a very modern ultrasound machine, but they are eyeballed to make sure the job is straight.
These barrels and ribs have been carefully joined and are wired together awaiting the soldering gun.
Not all the inspections are done by eye. This man is measuring barrels with a gauge. I couldn't look at the uniforms without thinking of henchmen in early James Bond movies. All this guy needs is a submachine gun slung over his shoulder and he could work for Dr. No.
This man fit the barrels to receivers. Traditionally, English and European gun-makers use black smoke to darken the metal parts, then they close the action, open it, and file it down anywhere the smoke rubbed off. At Miroku they do the same, but they use a pinkish chalk instead of smoke. The man was a blur of motion. He would open the action, dust it, snap it shut, open it, file, dust, close, open, and file, repeating until he had it fitted precisely. This is just one of the 20-30 operations required to assemble and fit the barrels and actions.
Engraving is first rolled onto the metal parts by a hand-cranked machine. Engravers then go over ("chase") the roll engraving with a hammer and burin to deepen it.
The stocks are cut by a computerized machine that does all the inletting in 13 minutes, then they are put on receivers and hand filed until they fit.
The checkering on stocks is cut by machines, then chased with an electric cutter.
After being proofed and tested for point of impact on a computerized pattern board, the guns get one last eyeball inspection. The factory turns out 137 Citoris a day.
The finished product.
Kochi is on Shikoku, the smallest of the Japanese home islands. It is a port city on the Philippine Sea. A lot of fishing and rice farming go on there. Very few people hunt in Japan, but lots of people in Kochi own boats and fish in the ocean. We were there in April when the cherry blossoms were blooming.
Fire bombing during World War II destroyed half of Kochi, but it missed Kochi Castle, the city's most famous landmark. The castle was built between 1601 and 1611.
Here's a picture of a firing loop in the castle.
Here is downtown, seen from the top of the castle. Kochi is a city of 300,000. If I had turned the other direction I'd have gotten a picture of the baseball stadium, home to the Kochi Fighting Dogs.
A downtown intersection. The cars are tiny, and very clean. I thought Americans washed their cars a lot until I visited Japan.
The market is a covered arcade. There is lots of fish for sale. Kochi is famous for seared tuna. I ate a ton of it while I was there.
Japan has more vending machines per capita than any other nation (who knew?). "Pocari Sweat" is an unfortunately named and very popular bottled water.
I don't read Japanese, but I think this sign marks a space-alien crossing.

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Kochi, Japan, to see the Miroku factory, where Japanese Brownings - including the Citori -- and Miroku shotguns are made. Miroku is one of only two remaining gun makers in Japan (Howa, which makes mostly rifles, is the other). I wrote a column about it for the magazine but I never shared any of my pictures, until now. --Phil Bourjaily