A reader who prefers to remain anonymous writes:
The sun seems to have set on the era of the police service revolver. The revolver soldiers on across the world, but often as a matter of economy over choice. Yet, there are exceptions to this. The Smith & Wesson 360J is a .38 special only version of Smith & Wesson’s scandium added aluminum alloy J frame revolvers.
As of 2006 this revolver beat out competing designs by SIG SAUER, GLOCK and Beretta to become the standard sidearm of the Japanese police. Japanese procurement numbers of the 360J are now in the tens of thousands. Every other year production overruns hit the domestic market, making this the cheapest scandium revolver S&W has offered commercially in the US.
Postwar Japanese guns and gun culture in Japan are unknown to most Americans since so little has been written on the subject in English. Lots of Americans believe the anti-gun narrative that there are no guns and therefore no gun culture in Japan. The meaning of technical gun information in the Japanese scripts, while clearly presented, isn’t always clearly understood, if that makes sense, to nonnative speakers.
The 360J is an off catalog offering from S&W, making it a bit of mystery in and of itself. I want to broadly introduce both of these subjects, the 360J and Japanese gun culture, in this article. I want to qualify from the start that I’m not Japanese; I’m basing this on what I’ve read or have been told. I’m hopeful that we’ll get some more in depth comments from other more knowledgeable people since I’m trying to cover a lot of ground in this article. I hope you’ll find it interesting since there is more to Japanese guns and gun culture than most Americans realize.
First I want to introduce you to the 360J’s adoption history, the backstory of what came before and how this revolver became Japan’s police carry gun. Next we’ll look at the 360J itself, its service history, how the gun is carried, used, and perceptions of it in Japan. Then we’ll take a technical look at the gun itself and compare it to other revolvers on the US market. Finally I want to briefly introduce Japanese gun culture, its history and what it looks like, and point you towards ways to learn more about it.
The 360J has an interesting backstory and is a very viable option for concealed carry in theUS. Is it modern or an anachronism, or maybe it’s both? Regardless in the land of the rising sun the era of the service revolver has not yet ended.
A little background
There are a few things the reader needs to know beforehand about Japanese police, politics, and guns in order to better understand why the 360J was selected in 2006. Japanese society and culture (and gun politics) experienced major changes in the 1950s and again in the 1990s. These dates will keep coming back up. The role of the police in society was a part of the debates going on at both times. Broadly speaking how much to change, or not to change, was at the heart of the issue.
When the US occupation of Japan began postwar there was a sense that reconstruction would be as simple as putting the people in charge in prison, and putting the people in prison in charge. An immediate function of this policy was to release political prisoners and legally limit the new Japanese government’s ability to discriminate based upon political orientation.
The prewar Japanese police had largely functioned as a means of suppressing dissident thought, which in practice meant the communist party. The term “thought police” is a literal translation of the name of one of the prewar police branches. A fundamental part of this reconstruction policy was changing the role of the police in Japanese society.
The new role of the police was to be oriented toward a more community outreach function. Police uniforms were designed to appear nonthreatening so people would feel comfortable asking for directions. I know that sounds somewhat “feel good” in purpose but in Japan buildings are numbered by order of registration, not necessarily sequentially, so this is actually a vital function if you want to get around!
The Japanese police wouldn’t adopt duty belts until the mid-90s for fear that it would appear too militant. This policy was highly successful and the role and perception of the Japanese police fundamentally changed. If you want a visual sense of how the police are portrayed in Japan copy 警察学校へようこそ (which means welcome to police school) into YouTube to see a government join the police promotional video.
Although this change in the function of the police was broadly supported in society, much of the prewar leadership also felt it went too far and would hand the country over to the communist party. Japan’s first postwar prime minister resigned over the issue. He seemed prescient when the socialist party gained a plurality in the 1947 elections.
The Korean War complicated things for US policy makers as it looked as though Japan could be lost in the Cold War great game. So US policy changed course, the prewar leadership came back into power, and most of the communists went back to prison.
Although with hindsight we can say the prewar leadership regained power, at the time that seemed far from certain. Much of the prewar leadership was discredited in the eyes of the Japanese right for collaborating with the US occupation. During the occupation some organized crime groups engaged in smuggling, gravitated towards the political right on the premise that they were resisting and had never collaborated with the Americans.
These groups either became associated with or were themselves far right political parties since the government couldn’t legally discriminate based upon political orientation. This is the origin of modern Japanese organized crime, the Yakuza. Ya-ku-za is the worst hand in a popular Japanese card game.
Speaking in very broad terms, the prewar right reached an accommodation with the new right with was associated with the Yakuza. Since the police couldn’t fight the communists on and off the streets, the new far right did. This accommodation also extended to more traditional police functions, the Yakuza in effect policed themselves.
The unwritten understanding was that a separation of the legal and illegal would be respected by both parties. The closest American equivalent to this would be maybe Las Vegas when the mob ran it. Japan had (and still has) a reputation for low crime since petty crime that got in the way of business wasn’t tolerated.
Of course organized crime breeds corruption; in Japan this is associated with land deals by politicians. As in the case of Las Vegas, some would say it had its benefits, others would say those were outweighed. This kind of accommodation would begin to end in the 90s, although the Yakuza families still very much exist even today.
The M60 New Nambu
The side arm of this new police force would be the M60 New Nambu, adopted in 1960. In Japan a national police agency sets universal policy decisions. It’s a very top down approach.
In the 1950s the Japanese government began subsidizing gun production by Shin Chuō Industries under the premise of preserving domestic gun manufacturing capacity and knowledge. Shin Chuō was the reorganized Nambu Arms of the prewar period which had closed during the occupation. Postwar studies by the Japanese had concluded that the most efficient and effective handgun calibers of the war were 9mm Luger, 32 ACP, and .38 Special.
9mm luger was thought to be the most effective military caliber for the same reasons you see in US postwar studies; better for logistics, just as effective as anything else. 32 ACP was thought best for handguns meant to be carried often but not often used. The smaller size and lighter weight of a 32 ACP pistol was thought to trump whatever increased effectiveness any other comparable caliber may have offered. .38 Special was thought to be the ideal caliber for a police side arm since it allowed for the best combination of ease of carry, ease of use, and effectiveness in a revolver.
Revolvers were believed best for a police role since they were thought more accurate than a semiautomatic and spent casings are retained in the cylinder. These conclusions have informed Japanese decision making up to the present.
All designs by Shin Chuō were called New Nambu after the famous gun designer. Production focused on three designs thought ideal for their respective purposes, the New Nambu M57A,(9mm) modeled on the US 1911, the New Nambu M57B,(32ACP) modeled on the Browning 1903 and 1910, and the New Nambu M60(.38), modeled on the Smith and Wesson J and K frame.
The M57A and B were purchased in limited numbers by the government to maintain production capacity but were never formally adopted for reasons of economy and conformity with the US. The M60 became the standardized police revolver and was produced in large numbers, over 100,000, until the mid-90s.
The M60 is a very traditional steel frame five-shot single/double action revolver normally sporting a three inch barrel. In size it’s between a J and K frame and was meant to split the difference between the two in terms of ease of use and ease of carry. The size difference means that speed loaders for either frame size can’t be used and were therefore not carried.
These are carried in a right side flap holster on a lanyard with the ring at the base of the grip, a practice carried forward to the 360J. The manual of arms called for the gun to be fired in single action, a practice that has also been carried on to the 360J.
In the 80s a pinky extension was added to the grip and the finish was changed from a blued to a parkerized one. These were and are well liked and continue to be carried as they are phased out by retirement and wear. By the mid-90s much of the production tooling was worn out and the design was very much showing its age. There wasn’t much enthusiasm to replace the venerable M60 among the upper levels of the police until several factors came together and forced the issue.
The SIG P230JP
By 1995 the Japanese police sought a new service handgun to replace the M60 which had fallen out of production. Major changes were underway in Japan which had prompted this decision. Largely due to a poor economy the governing party in power since the 1950s was voted out of office.
As a drug war played out in the 80s public perceptions of the Yakuza and the role of the police had significantly shifted and the first anti-Yakuza laws were passed. The police faced mounting pressure for major reforms due to their much criticized handling of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
Some in the police sought to reform along the German model, and as a part of this adopt a new 9mm handgun to replace the M60. The Japanese police tested four designs for potential adoption, the Beretta M92 in 9mm, the GLOCK 17 in 9mm, the H&K P7M8 in 9mm, and the SIG SAUER P230 in 32 ACP. The 32 ACP SIG SAUER P230 won the trials, was adopted, and was to be domestically produced by the Minebea Corporation.
Stepping back in the mid-70s, with government support, Shin Chuō Industries was absorbed by the Nippon Miniature Bearing (NMB) branch of Minebea, a major conglomerate and key player in the Japanese defense industry. This coincidentally coincided with the Japanese decision to finally replace the 1911 as its military side arm for a 9mm model, on the premise that the US would soon do the same.
Although Minebea did submit a product improved version of the M57A to the military trials, their alternative submission, the SIG SAUER p220 in 9mm, won the trials and was adopted as the standard sidearm in 1982. Minebea purchased the rights to domestically produce the p220 from SIG SAUER and production quickly shifted from Germany to Japan. The p220, domestically called the P9, has remained the Japanese military side arm up to the present.
The P230 is an excellent gun, well made and a pleasure to shoot. It wasn’t a bad choice, but it also wasn’t anyone’s first choice. Reformers advocating for a new 9mm were neither in the majority nor they were they united behind any one design.
Remember that 9mm was considered the ideal round for the military, there was a great concern that adopting any 9mm would seem just too militant for the police. It was also considered questionable if an officer could be as accurate with a 9mm as with a .38. A majority really wanted to stick with revolvers, yet that was recognized as not a long term solution, as no revolver on the market in 1995 seemed sufficiently modern enough to justify being adopted. The P230JP seemed to address enough of the concerns of both camps.
The eight plus one P230JP offered extra rounds over the five shot M60 revolver and was of course a semiautomatic as the 9mm proponents had sought. It was considered small and light with its aluminum frame and could be concealed under the anti-stab vests the police had then recently adopted along with duty belts. A lanyard ring was added to the left grip so that it could be carried in the same manner as the M60 in a right side flap holster.
Traditionalists considered it to have an attractive, less-threatening appearance that would complement the police image. Unique to the Japanese model an additional frame mounted double action safety was added behind the SIG style de-cocking lever so that the P230JP could be used with the same manual of arms as the M60.
The safety locks the trigger when the hammer is down in double action, and is released by either pushing the safety up or by thumbing the hammer back into single action. The safety can’t engage in single action, the purpose of this was to force the officer to shoot in single action. Conceptually it was believed the loss of accuracy transitioning from double to single action was a design issue that training could not satisfactorily rectify. It was hoped this unique feature would ease the institutional transition from a revolver to a semiautomatic design.
The .32 ACP SIG P230JP was meant to solve the police side arm controversy. It seemingly split the difference between the proponents of 9mm handguns and .38 revolvers. However in the end it satisfied neither side, so deadlock set in.
Although many P230JPs were purchased from Germany the design was never domestically produced as originally intended and the design did not replace the M60 revolver in service as intended, the new design served alongside the older model. Yet the need for a new universal side arm did not go away. Each passing year it became more impractical to maintain aging out of production revolvers. If a 9mm was out of the question, and a 32 ACP was undesirable, what .38 revolver was sufficiently modern to justify adoption?
The S&W M360J Sakura
The Japanese police found their answer at the 2001 SHOT Show with the introduction of the Smith & Wesson SC/PD family of scandium aluminum alloy J-frame revolvers. With its ultra-light titanium cylinder and stress resistant scandium frame, the 360PD was marketed and perceived as a very modern take on the traditional revolver. It was exactly what had been sought in 1995.
Since 1995 the side arm controversy had remained largely static. The P230JP had not replaced the M60 in service. Special orders of S&W M37s in .38 were purchased but the design was not considered modern enough for widespread adoption. Due to criticism of the police handling of the 2001 Osaka school massacre highly specialized units of the police had adopted the Beretta 92 Vertec in 9mm but this was very limited.
The 360PD went into commercial production in 2002; four years later the Japanese police adopted the design as the Sakura M360J. Sakura is a feminine name in Japanese and they mean to imply that it is an attractive looking gun, which is considered very important for pride of use. For the bureaucratic Japanese police this was a lightning fast decision.
The 360J is considered a variant of the Airlite PD line in Japan although its technical specs are much closer to the later M&P variant of the 360, which the 360J chronologically precedes. It is a standard 5 shot J-frame and sports a 1.8 inch barrel with a stainless steel liner. The titanium cylinder of the PD was replaced with a stainless steel cylinder with PVD finish. The change was justified due to not needing the .357 Magnum chambering, this is .38 special only, and as a matter of economy.
The 360J has a standard ramp front sight, also as a matter of economy. The three-finger grip, made by Minebea, has an integral lanyard ring; the frame is modified to fit a stud that holds the ring. Unlike many police guns the trigger weight is stock, the trigger is the same as any other off the shelf S&W J-frame. It retains the scandium frame of the PD line; it’s everything the Japanese police wanted without anything they didn’t need.
The 360J’s markings are of some interest and worth briefly explaining since when it hit the US market in 2008 these were unlike any other scandium frame. Of course under the cylinder yoke you’ll find its model designation 360J, and serial number, making these easy to identify. The serial number replaces the S&W logo under the cylinder latch, as the usual location, on the grip frame, would be covered up by the Japanese grip.
Police-owned guns will additionally be marked “SAKURA M360J” and “NMB” for Minebea under the serial number. Minebea does make the grips, but I suspect this marking is solely a political consideration. Since another company’s marking is on the left side, on the right the atom symbol found on the 360PD is replaced by a very large S&W logo.
The 360J is also marked as an Airweight unlike the PD which is marked Airlite. The likely reason for this is the change in cylinder material, but a little speculation on my part is that it is suggestive of the M37, which although never adopted was well liked in the Japanese police community.
The 360J was meant to be a modern replacement for the M60 New Nambu, but it is carried in the same way as the old M60. A lanyard attaches the gun to a right hand side flap holster. The holster is usually brown or black but sometimes white since the police often wear white gloves because that look is considered sharp with a uniform on. The revolver is only carried at work, when their shift is over the officer leaves the gun at the station. For most Japanese police officers this is a primary open carry gun even though its size does lends itself to being concealed as a backup.
The manual of arms is to cock the hammer during the draw from the holster with the support hand or thumb and fire single action. The double action pull is considered unacceptably inaccurate in a confrontation. This is considered a design issue and not a training issue.
Brass retention is emphasized during the reload. The carry ammunition is Remington standard pressure 158 grain lead round nose, a classic police load. American readers will be familiar with it as Remington green and white box, they are one in the same. Qualification requires keeping fifty rounds within the black circle of a 25 meter pistol target at 25 meters (27 yards). To maintain qualification an officer is expected to shoot fifty rounds a year.
The Sakura M360J has generally been well received in Japanese police use. Since a Minebea marking is on the left side of the revolver it is often believed that Minebea, a domestic company, jointly designed the gun with Smith & Wesson. I haven’t found any evidence for that actually being the case though.
The light weight of the 360J makes it easier to carry but that same light weight and a short barrel makes it harder to qualify with than the older M60. Cracked frames on the M360J have been a problem for the Japanese police. In 2009 the issue even made the mainstream media and forced a purchasing halt during a formal police investigation of the issue.
The frame cracks are found underneath the barrel where the barrel mates with the frame. This defect was found in less than one percent of purchased revolvers. The issue was found to be one of quality control and the investigation recommended resumed purchasing pending improved quality control measures by S&W.
Since 2009 the media has lost interest in the issue and the gradual replacement of the M60 has continued apace, today tens of thousands are in active service. Barring a major policy change the 360J will likely remain the standard service side arm of the Japanese police for the foreseeable future.
A technical review of the 360J
In the US the much larger Model 10 K frame (and now duty sized semi-automatics) filled the same role the 360J J frame fills for the Japanese police today. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and shows a clear difference in emphasis. The positive qualities the Japanese sought in the design also happen to be important considerations for Americans selecting a concealed carry handgun. The 360J fits the concealed carry market niche in the US, to be carried often but used little. It is after all a J-frame.
That puts the 360J into a very crowded and competitive market that has moved in the direction of lighter weight guns. In the 90s the 642 started production, the 642 and similar J-frames have remained popular ever since. Taurus J frames from the same time remain in production and are well liked and are also very competitively priced.
In 2001 S&W introduced the 360PD which uses exotic materials like titanium and scandium to go even lighter than the 642. The 360J came out in 2006 and forgoes some aspects of the PD while retaining others.
In 2009 Ruger introduced the LCR which uses polymers to be as light as the 360PD, although not quite as small, at a much lower price point. Although the revolver market is not often thought of as dynamic it has experienced many changes in the last twenty years or so. Starting from the barrel I’ll briefly go over different aspects of the 360J as compared to other models on the market. I’ll give you some of my impressions to help give someone considering a J-frame some things to think about.
The Barrel on the 360J is only 1.8 inches long; it’s really just a stub of a barrel. The barrel is stainless steel and has a shroud around it; the barrel is not all one piece. Its .38 special only, not chambered for .357 magnum although the frame is the same as the .357 chambered revolvers.
It gets debated a lot if there really is an advantage to a .357 mag in such a short barrel, if for the price you won’t miss it, well… you really won’t miss it. Some will actually prefer that it isn’t chambered for .357. It’s a personal preference thing because everyone reacts to recoil differently.
The barrel has a pinned front sight and a shrouded ejector rod; both of these things are also matters of preference. I personally like the look of a shrouded ejector rod, if you do to it has that look. The pinned front sight means you can change it out for a tritium night sight or a fiber optic; most S&W J-frames at this price point do not have that option so it’s a real nice feature. Some people will prefer the stock ramp front sight, but it’s nice to have options.
The cylinder is normally where most of the weight of a J frame comes from. The 360J will either have a stainless steel cylinder or a carbon one. The initial Japanese contract called for stainless but some carbon cylinders are in US guns.
S&W lists the weight of these at 13.3 oz, my scale says 14.7 oz and a quick check of online forums shows I’m not the first one to notice the discrepancy. Part of the difference might be from a change in grips, that’s just how light these are! At 14.7 oz these weigh about the same as other aluminum J frames. The PD line or the LCR will be lighter in the 13.3 oz range. Lighter not always better, a lighter gun carries better, a heavier gun is easier to shoot. The 360J is right in the middle of the pack.
The frame of the 360J is aluminum with scandium added in the alloy. Scandium is very expensive and makes up just a very small portion of the material in the frame. In conjunction with aluminum, scandium’s advantage is that it is supposed to make an aluminum frame nearly as resistant to the stresses of firing as a traditional steel frame without adding weight. Traditionally aluminum frame guns will stretch due to the stresses of shooting and fail sooner than a steel frame gun.
Is this really an advantage…maybe? If the extra cost of a scandium frame isn’t burdensome then it’s a nice feature. The oldest scandium frame revolvers are about twenty years old now, they seem to hold up fine and if projections are correct they will last a long time. If the extra cost concerns you, aluminum frame guns have come a long way and should function far longer than they did even twenty years ago.
It’s very unlikely you’ll ever wear out an aluminum frame, and if you do you’ll have your money’s worth out of it by then! The 360J is nice because you get this extra feature for the price of a regular aluminum frame. Either way it’s not the end of the world, you can’t abuse a scandium frame more than you can anything else.
The trigger on the 360J is stock; many police double actions have heavier triggers but not here. S&W J-frames and the Ruger LCR have distinctly different triggers, the best thing to do is just try them both out and see what you think. Ruger did a clever thing with the LCR, they managed to make a double action trigger feel a lot like a striker fired trigger. Since striker-fired guns dominate the market today that was a great move and lots of people like the trigger.
One thing you have to watch out for though is that it’s not a striker fired trigger, if you try to ride the reset like you might with a GLOCK you can induce malfunctions. The J-frame trigger is heavier, but less susceptible to malfunctions of that kind. It’s a little ironic that thirty years ago, gun writers hated striker-fired triggers but today every major gun maker produces a striker-fired design. If you are a newer shooter not committed to any style of trigger try them both out, pick the one you like best, and don’t look back. Have an open mind when trying the J-frame though; the trigger is better than you might think.
The design of the hammer is the most controversial thing you’ll find on a J-frame; don’t sweat it because they’ll all about the same. Whichever version seems right to you will serve you well and you should feel confident with any of them.
The 360J has a very traditional single/double action with an exposed hammer. People like the single action because it really is easier to shoot well single action. It’s much less demanding on the shooter since you don’t have to maintain your sight picture for as long.
Some other advantages of the exposed hammer are compatibility with holsters; the hammer serves to retain the J-frame, especially in ankle holsters. Of course you can also place your thumb on the hammer during your draw or when holstering for extra piece of mind. Again don’t let a wealth of choices cause you indecision, you won’t choose wrong.
The grip you’ll find on commercially sold 360Js is different than the Japanese grip, it’s probably better than the police grip. S&W calls it’s a combat grip, it’s thin and allows a three finger hold which is nice for control. Normally J frame grips are a compromise between ease of concealment and ease of use, these are a nice middle ground but more toward the ease of use side of things.
It might shift in your hand since it’s so thin. Under the grip is the only evidence you’ll find of its Japanese heritage, a hole in the bottom of the grip frame for a lanyard stud. If you replace the grip with one that doesn’t cover the backstrap the hole will be exposed. It might not bother you, or a little black electric tape would cover it, but if it just being there will eat away at you, well you have been warned.
Gun culture in Japan
Gun politics in Japan are confusing, not so much because they are complicated, but because they are intentionally opaque. The law itself is very clear, since the 1950’s all guns and swords are banned; no private citizen can own one. Where things get murky is in the application of the law, which has everything to do with postwar politics.
A very common anti-gun narrative in the US is that in the far past an all-powerful emperor banned guns and ever since then Japan has been a weird gun free paradise (Freudian slip). Another narrative is that Japan’s incredibly strict ownership requirements are a wonderful system the US should emulate. If you’re not familiar with these arguments just type in “why Japan has no mass shootings” on YouTube and you’ll get a sense of it. A careful reader will notice the incongruence of this, how could Japan have no guns, ever, and yet need a strict system for acquiring them?
This perception of guns in Japan is based on a myth, crafted postwar by Americans, for Americans, yet which has been embraced by the Japanese themselves. I know that’s confusing so let’s unpack it. Historically in Japan the ruling class, a rural landowning elite, sought to limit weapon ownership to their own class.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 forever changed this dynamic; commoners could legally own guns and in some cases were expected to own guns. Military service became universal; officers of any class were expected to purchase personal side arms since they were a marker of their rank and status. That’s why the Japanese used so many different kinds of handguns in the war, they were mostly private purchase.
At this same period of time worldwide it was fashionable for an emerging middle class in the business community to show they were successful by buying a shotgun and dressing up like a member of the gentry to go hunt and socialize on the weekends. European fashion trends were followed very closely in Japan. A shotgun was something of a fashion accessory; you can see this in old shotgun books in this country as well.
Hunting was popular and a person could, if they had the money, purchase an Arisaka rifle, then state of the art. Prewar gun ownership was not uncommon among people who had land or money, but of course Japan prewar was an extremely unequal society, having land or money was itself uncommon. Sword ownership was associated with “old money,” gun ownership with new. Prewar Japanese gun culture was very focused on the concept of the citizen hunter and was elitist in character.
There are two truths about the immediate postwar period that everyone knows but which should be pointed out. Japan had attacked the US; even today there are Americans who hold animosity towards the Japanese for this. Despite this, at the end of the occupation much of Japan’s pre-war leadership was back in power, with US backing, because they were anti-communist. How do you justify that to Americans when the war was a very recent memory?
The answer is you misremember Japan as a pacifist society with a strange militant streak. Banning guns and swords played well politically in the US. It sold the political change Americans expected for Japan to become an ally, even though we had reversed supporting changing the actual political leadership. It was also effective policy for the Japanese themselves. Of course on one hand it was a legal way to deny guns to the communists.
On the other hand in a more esoteric way it was a part of changing Japanese culture without changing it. In Germany postwar there was a debate about what was wrong with German culture, what needed to be changed. Japan didn’t experience this in the same way since much of the leadership stayed the same. That’s not to say Japan didn’t change postwar, it dramatically did, but Japan didn’t change in the same way Germany did. The Japanese didn’t abandon the past, they reimagined it, and have since embraced this reimagining.
Paradoxically gun ownership and Japanese gun culture greatly expanded postwar despite all guns being technically banned. The Japanese economy boomed postwar and as a result a much larger part of the population could aspire to join the gun culture which in practice had remained much the same. This upward trend continued until the 1970s when it leveled off and since this point the gun owning demographic has trended older each passing year.
At this point all .22s were banned and air guns became regulated like real guns. .22s were banned because they were used in high profile hijackings and were negatively associated with terrorists. Air rifles were regulated after a teenager infamously used an air rifle to occupy a gun store and then had a well augmented shoot out with the police. These bans were not necessarily meant to be anti-gun; many hunters felt this change didn’t impact them. For a long time it didn’t, the decline didn’t happen overnight; it played out over a few decades.
It’s the height of irony that in the mid-90s a Japanese gun owner could legally purchase a new production semi auto rifle which had a threaded muzzle, pistol grip, and used detachable magazines as this very same rifle would have been illegal for his American counterpart. Yet it is at this same time that gun control measures began to be passed in Japan on the federal level. These were very much influenced by the American gun control movement. In the 90s crime increased in Japan and this was blamed in part on American gun culture and the availability of handguns in America. This is when you start to see legal restrictions to make ownership more onerous and evil feature bans put into place.
Many Americans think gun control was over and done with 500 years ago in Japan, it really only started in earnest in the last decade. Since 2008 gun ownership has dropped by about half. The legal burdens have become such that you really have to be dedicated to own a gun. Gun owners can still own semi-auto rifles but the concept of the citizen hunter is under legal attack and a new professional hunter model is being pushed legislatively.
An unintended consequence of this trend is that the deer and boar populations have exploded out of control, even though there is no bag limit during the November to February hunting season. There is now a movement to reintroduce wolves to control these populations; this should all sound familiar to American gun owners.
What Japanese gun culture looks like
Generally, shooting sports are divided into two categories, target shooting and hunting. Each requires a separate approval process by the local prefectural police which in the last few decades has become more dictated by the federal level.
Japan is administratively divided into 47 prefectures, which are like a mixture of state and local government in the American sense. The federal level sets guiding principles which the prefectural level then interprets. The police can deny your application for any reason at any point in the process and you have no legal recourse if you are denied.
Target shooting is all close range shooting. Long distance marksmanship shooting isn’t really a thing since they just don’t have any long distance ranges. Airsoft and the clay shooting sports familiar to Americans like skeet and trap are common examples. You can legally only possess 800 rounds at any one time, no one ever shoots anywhere near that.
Target shooting ranges have to be government approved so everyone has a home range. A hunting license lets you shoot outside a range but it’s harder to acquire one. People use shotguns to hunt ducks and rifles to hunt boar and deer. Bows incidentally are considered cruel and are illegal.
The average hunter is either older or is considered something of a hipster. A lot of the hipster ideas on food are present, younger hunters want to know where their meat comes from. Licenses have to be renewed every three years and to inherit a gun you have to have a license, which is the main reason why the number of guns has dropped since the average owner is older.
While traditional gun culture has declined a new urban gun culture focused on air/airsoft rifles/pistols has greatly expanded. Air/airsoft ranges are typically indoors and are often modeled after US competitive shooting courses. Some of them are quite elaborate and very popular, they literally have airsoft stadiums. The most popular air guns are made to mimic actual firearms; any gun you can purchase in the US has an airsoft version in Japan.
Even very mundane things like Ruger Mark pistols are copied exactly. Most firearm accessories are not regulated so American made items are popular for completing the right look to give a gun. Japanese gun magazines actually cover Shot Show because people want to buy the latest American gadgets. 月刊Gun Professionals is a popular magazine that focuses on guns/gun accessories. Copy that into YouTube and Google to get a sense of how a professional Japanese media outlet presents guns. They showcase real guns for enthusiasts and for airsoft owners to model their own on.
I know this seems strange to Americans because we think of air/airsoft as being toys but in Japan they are considered real guns and there is a lot of pride in ownership. The Japanese air/airsoft market mirrors the American .22 market, you see the same trends, the same ideas; they’re really equivalent.
Air/airsoft owners consider themselves gun owners and they have to go through the same hoops as other gun owners. In America we don’t think of this as gun culture but in Japan they do. It’s very different. If you’re curious try copying マック堺-MachSakai into YouTube to see a popular Japanese air/airsoft channel. It’s kind of like the Japanese version of hickok45. He shoots everything; including some “real” guns, see if you can tell the difference.
Japanese gun culture is in a state of transition as the citizen hunter model declines and as Japan becomes increasingly more urban. In some ways this isn’t all that different from what is happening in the US. It is only in the last ten years or so that gun control has threatened the vitality of Japanese gun culture and gun ownership rates have declined.
It remains to be seen if wider acceptance and ownership of air/airsoft will transition into greater shotgun/rifle ownership as the younger generation ages and interests change and expand. Anyone who has ever been to a gun range in Hawaii knows the interest is definitely there though. Japan is not yet a country uniquely without guns; that decision will be made by this generation. I’m confident that if anywhere can defy expectations, it will be Japan.
The 360J is similar to all the other J-frames S&W makes, which is a good thing; it’s a sound proven design. The 360J is set apart by its backstory as a still serving police service gun and also because it has some features normally only found on more expensive models.
At about $400 dollars new, you’re getting the scandium frame, likely a stainless cylinder, a better finish, and the option to easily replace the front sight. If those things matter to you this could be a good choice for you. These are overruns from Japanese police orders so they come in waves, it’s something you might have to wait or look for.
If you find one for the right price it could serve you well, keep an eye out for one if you’re in the market for a J frame. You don’t have to be Japanese to appreciate a fine revolver; the J frame’s day is not yet over.
SPECIFICATIONS: Smith & Wesson 360J
Caliber: .38 Special
Action: Single/double action revolver
Front Sight: black ramp
Rear Sight: Fixed notch
Barrel Length: 1.8”
Overall Length: 6.31”
Weight Empty: 13.3 oz (According to S&W; my scale says 14.7 oz)
Frame Material: Scandium aluminum alloy
Cylinder Material: Stainless steel with PVD finish
Price: Last batch of overruns offered new at $400 give or take $50
RATINGS [out of five stars]:
Style * * * * *
The overall visual attractiveness of the design was a criterion for the Japanese police. It has a classic look to it. Take away however many stars you like if you dislike a hammer block safety.
Ergonomics Carry * * * * *
These are really small and light guns; you almost can’t appreciate it without holding one. This size and weight has been considered ideal for carry for a long time, there’s a reason for that. The J frame sets a standard other guns are judged by.
Ergonomics Firing * * *
The stock grip may slip in your hand but it does allow a full three finger grip. While some will miss the ability to shoot .357 magnum, others will be secretly relieved. A 15 oz gun is still really light in any caliber and some will find it uncomfortable regardless of loading. You have to assess it for yourself. Just because it’s right for one person doesn’t make it right for you, that doesn’t reflect negatively on you. It’s not a bad idea to rent or try out a friend’s first before you buy.
Accuracy * * *
Every Japanese officer carrying one could maintain at least a five inch group past 25 yards, that’s pretty good for a little j frame.. That short barrel doesn’t lend itself to accuracy. Accuracy requires a lot of concentration on the shooters part, especially in double action.
Customize this * * *
This is a little more customizable than meets the eye. The frame is the same as the .357 mag chambered 360s making it strong enough for a caliber conversion. The front sight is pinned and can be replaced easily enough. Yes even the grips are replaceable. As far as revolvers go you do actually have a few more options.
Overall Rating * * *
The 360J is a J-frame, nothing more and nothing less, and that’s not a bad thing. J-frames are excellent guns and this version would serve you well. It’s your call if this particular J-frame suits your own needs better than another. If you have a desire to try out a scandium frame but don’t want to shell out extra cash for it add a star. Add two stars and cat ears if you seek a Japanese revolver in particular. The 360J is a very nice J-frame variant worth your consideration.