June 23, 2023
Adopted by the Japanese military in 1897, the Arisaka is a bolt-action battle rifle that fought through two world wars and numerous other conflicts. It was chambered in two cartridges: the Type 38 in 6.5x50 and the Type 99 (shown here) in 7.7x58. In all, some 3.5 million were made.
Because this rifle has been sporterized, it is valued somewhere around $300, but it’s special just the same. It belongs to an acquaintance, whose father carried a flame-thrower in the South Pacific. He fought on Iwo Jima and picked up this Type 99 there.
Unlike most Arisakas, which had the Imperial Chrysanthemum stamp that designated them as the Japanese Emperor’s property ground off the front receiver ring before they were surrendered, this rifle’s “mum” is intact. This indicates the rifle was a genuine battlefield pickup.
Whatever the Marine’s reason for keeping the rifle, it wasn’t enough for him to keep it pristine. Like many wartime rifles, this Arisaka was “sporterized” to make it more suitable for hunting. The fore-end and barrel were cut shorter, the muzzle was recrowned, and the front sight was reinstalled on the shortened barrel with its protective “ears” ground off. Additionally, it appears that the stock’s resinous original finish was sanded off.
This particular rifle isn’t a “last ditch effort” Arisaka (it has the standard bulb-type bolt handle, adjustable rear sight, and so on), but judging by the deep machining marks and rather coarse finish on the receiver, it wasn’t far off.
Type 99 rifles have a robust action with a cock-on-close bolt; a Mauser-esque full-length, rotating claw extractor; dual, opposing locking lugs; and a unique and rather awkward massive disc-shaped rotating safety on the rear of the cocking piece. Soldiers fed it with five-round stripper clips. Interestingly, there is no thumb cutout in the left wall of the action to facilitate this.
Lacking stripper clips, the Arisaka may be loaded like most traditional bolt-action designs. Simply place cartridges atop the follower and press them down into the magazine.
Work the bolt rearward and forward to chamber a fresh round. Slam it home with vigor because the robust firing pin spring takes some compressing before the bolt can be rotated into battery.
Use the palm of the shooting hand to compress and rotate the large safety an eighth of a turn clockwise to engage. An aggressive rotational push with the thumb is usually adequate to turn it counterclockwise and disengage the safety. Squeeze the two-stage trigger to fire.
Working the bolt rearward again draws the fired case from the chamber, ejects it to the right, and begins the process again.
According to the arsenal symbol on the left rear of the action, this rifle was manufactured by Kokura Arsenal. Arisakas of this era were made and serial numbered in blocks, or “series,” of 100,000. According to the character prefacing the 3383 serial number, this was a Series 25 rifle.
This was the final series manufactured by Kokura, which made Series 20 through 25 from 1939 to 1945. Series 25 was never finished, ending somewhere around 92,000 rifles. We can roughly estimate that Kokura Arsenal manufactured around one series per year 1939 through 1945, and as such, the rifle shown was likely made late in 1944 or early in 1945, shortly before the war ended. That would put this rifle entering service directly before the Battle of Iwo Jima.
There’s a bayonet with this Arisaka, too, with the correct arsenal markings. It’s not serial-numbered, so there’s no knowing if it was originally issued with the rifle. However, it makes sense that it probably was. It’s now dark with patina, as if it had laid on a shelf in a garage for three-quarters of a century—which it probably did.
Ammo for a 7.7x58 Arisaka is obtainable but not common. I had a half-box of Norma cartridges loaded with 174-grain softpoint bullets on hand. Posting a six-inch black bullseye at 100 yards and resting over sandbags fore and aft, I wasted two precious shots into the ground below the target.
Arisakas of this generation are fitted with a rather sophisticated ladder-type rear sight. This rifle’s sight was manufactured without the fold-out wings that theoretically provided Japanese soldiers with the ability to lead a passing aircraft. Folded, the sight has a ghost-ring aperture that mates perfectly with the triangle-shaped front sight. Flipped up, it has another aperture intended for 300-meter work and more than 1,500 meters worth of upward adjustment for volley-fire maneuvers.
Probably because of the shortened barrel, the standard up-close sight puts bullets two feet low at 100 yards. Thankfully, the 300-meter aperture put bullets on paper.
I used up five more shots to produce a 5.3-inch cluster on the target. It’s not refined accuracy, but hey, the old rifle put bullets near point of aim (about four inches left of center) at 100 yards. Not bad for a wartime pickup that started life during the early stages of last-ditch Japanese World War II rifles and has been through who knows what since.
Accuracy would surely have been better if the trigger hadn’t been so stout. Compressing the first stage required 3 pounds, 11 ounces of pressure. Tripping the second stage required nearly 9 pounds of pressure.
The sights, however, are easy to resolve, and the little, cut-down rifle points and handles naturally. Recoil, with the metal buttplate, is robust. My shoulder developed soreness after just a few rounds firing from the prone position.
Arisaka actions are known for strength, and this one is still as reliable as a hammer. Although it wasn’t easy to shoot, just the opportunity to shoulder, aim, and fire a rifle that once roared in battle on Iwo Jima and then lay in the muddy earth until being picked up by a U.S. Marine and brought home was an honor.
Type 99 Arisaka Specification
- Manufacturer: Kokura Arsenal
- Type: Bolt-action repeater
- Caliber: 7.7x58mm Japanese
- Magazine Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 20.75 in. (cut down from original)
- Overall Length: 39 in.
- Weight, Empty: 6.75 lbs. (as sporterized)
- Stock: Birch, walnut, or katsura wood
- Length of Pull: 13 in.
- Finish: Blued barrel and action, refinished stock
- Sights: Ladder-type rear, windage-adjustable blade front
- Trigger: 8.88-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Rotating knurled disc/bolt shroud