October 09, 2020
By Joseph von Benedikt
Just a few of the rifles that participated in World War II could claim the distinction of being an Imperial battle tool and the personal property of the Emperor. Japan’s Type 99 was one of them.
Introduced to service in 1939, the Type 99 was chambered for the 7.7x58mm Japanese cartridge. With a 0.312-inch bore, it was nominally a .30-caliber rifle intended to replace the 6.5x50 cartridge in Japan’s Type 38 rifle. War stress curtailed the transition, and both battled through the war. While only in service until 1945, there were some 3.5 million Type 99s manufactured.
As with many of the late-war battle rifles, those manufactured in the final year of World War II, termed “Last Ditch” Type 99s, are particularly crude, exposing the massive time-saving and cost-cutting efforts being employed by Imperial armories.
Nine different armories manufactured Type 99s, in four different variations. Most common are the Short Rifle, like the one shown here. Long Rifles, Paratroop Rifles, and Sniper Rifles were all limited variants.
One of the most commonly known historic tidbits on the Type 99 is the Imperial chrysanthemum found atop the front receiver ring. Nicknamed “mums,” these marks designated the rifle as the personal property of the Emperor. On most Type 99s, the mum has been defaced or ground off. Collectors disagree on the reason for this, but many believe the marks were removed or destroyed to protect the Emperor’s honor.
Many—even most—of the thousands of Type 99 rifles brought to America were carried back by servicemen returning from the South Pacific. I think that adds a bit of panache to the Type 99.
In ways, the Type 99 is similar to the cock-on-close Model 96 Mauser action; however, the Type 99 is considered an extremely strong bolt action. A massive, Mauser-type, non-rotating claw extractor provides controlled-action feeding. Dual, opposing lugs provide lockup. There is no thumb cutout in the left side of the action, although there is a stripper clip guide in the rear receiver ring. A large, Mauser-type lever allows the bolt to be easily removed.
The largest departure from the Mauser norm is the use of a large, knurled, disc-shaped safety that also serves as a bolt shroud. It’s meant to be engaged using the palm of the right hand in a swift, aggressive move in which the shroud is pressed forward and rotated to the right. It can’t be done with just the thumb.
A hinged floorplate caps the bottom of the magazine and features a unique rearward-sliding latch located inside the top front of the trigger guard. Load, function, and fire the Type 99 like any other Mauser-type bolt action.
The rear sight is unique. Of flip-up ladder design, the robust sight utilizes apertures rather than notches, enabling a very clear sight picture. Notches in the side of the ladder assist in precise placement of the slider, which is marked to 1,500 meters, and caliper-type, fold-out wings provide aiming solutions for shooting at aircraft. Unfortunately, the wings on my rifle were removed at some point in the past.
Wood stocks were made from beech or some variety of Japanese walnut or katsura wood. I don’t know which was used on my rifle, but the grain structure does not appear to be beech. The finish is said to be the resin of the urushi tree, of the poisonous sumac family. It’s extremely durable when cured, but sanding off the finish creates a toxic dust.
According to one source, the Type 99 was the first mass-produced rifle to have chrome lining in the bore. This combated the corrosion prevalent in the South Pacific’s salt-sea air, which was exacerbated by the corrosive ammunition of the time.
One of three vintage battle rifles I purchased in the Brownells retail store in Grinnell, Iowa, the Type 99 shown here is a nice example. Manufactured in the Toyo Kogyo arsenal sometime between 1939 and 1945, it’s in excellent condition inside and out, and it came with a poorly fitting Type 30 bayonet (which were issued to all Japanese infantrymen regardless of whether they were issued any firearm) and a traditional-type canvas sling that appears unused. I’m not expert enough to tell, but I suspect it’s a reproduction.
Precisely dating the year of manufacture is difficult. Toyo Kogyo made around 557,000 Type 99s in blocks of 99,999, over a five- or six-year period. Each block was assigned a symbol to accompany its serial number. This particular rifle was made late in the third block, so I assume it was made somewhere around the middle of the war.
Ammunition for the 7.7 Japanese round is not particularly easy to come by, nor is it cheap. Norma and PCI offer current-made factory ammo, and you can find a variety of surplus stuff on gunbroker.com.
Norma sent me a few boxes of its 7.7 load for this report. It features a 174-grain softpoint bullet well suited for hunting big game and excellent, reloadable brass cases.
I tested my Type 99 at a range of 50 yards, and even my middle-age eyes were able to resolve the aperture rear and pyramid-type front sight easily. Five-shot groups averaged around 1.5 inches. I say that’s not bad for an 80-year-old battle rifle. Point of impact with the 174-grain Norma softpoint bullets was an inch or so left and about four inches high, which would put bullets centered on target at about 300 meters—quite a useful battle zero and workable for hunting as long as you keep in mind that the mid-range trajectory at 100 yards is about seven inches high.
The two-stage trigger pull weight was stout, averaging a tad over eight pounds. Function was stellar, and balance was quite good, too. In all, the Type 99 is a nice, serviceable bolt-action battle rifle that served Japan briefly, but honorably.
Type 99 Arisaka Specs
- Manufacturer: Toyo Kogyo
- Type: Bolt-action repeater
- Caliber: 7.7x58mm Japanese
- Magazine Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 25.9 in.
- Overall Length: 44 in.
- Weight, Empty: 8.3 lbs.
- Stock: Beech, walnut, or katsura wood
- Length of Pull: 12.5 in.
- Finish: Blued barrel and action, urushi resin-finished stock
- Sights: Ladder-type rear; windage-adjustable winged pyramid-type front
- Trigger: 8.25-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Rotating disc/bolt shroud
Type 99 Arisaka Accuracy & Velocity