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An Edo period wood block print showing samurai gunners firing bo-hiya with hiya-zutsu (fire arrow guns).

Bo hiya (棒火矢, Bō hiya) is the Japanese version of the fire arrow. Bo-hiya were used in ancient Japan and by the samurai class of feudal Japan.

History and description[edit]

Fire arrows of some type have been used in Japan as far back as the 6th century where they are said to have been used during a military campaign in Korea. Bows (yumi) were used to launch these early fire arrows.[1]

In 10th-century China, gunpowder was used to launch fire arrows, and this type of fire arrow was used against the Japanese by Mongolian naval vessels in the 13th century.[2]

In 1543 the Japanese acquired matchlock technology from the Portuguese, and the resulting firearms developed by the Japanese led to new means of launching fire arrows. These rocket-type bo-hiya had the appearance of a thick arrow with large fins, a wood shaft and a metal tip; they resembled the Korean chongtong, a cannon-fired rocket.[3] Bo-hiya were ignited by lighting a fuse made from incendiary waterproof rope which was wrapped around the shaft; when lit the bo-hiya was launched from either a wide-bore cannon, a form of tanegashima (Japanese matchlock) called hiya zutsu, or from a mortar-like weapon (hiya taihou). By the 16th century, Japanese pirates were reported to have used bo-hiya. During one sea battle it was said the bo hiya were "falling like rain".[4] Bo-hiya were standard equipment on Japanese military vessels, where they were used to set fire to enemy ships.[5]



  1. ^ Brinkley, Francis (1901). Japan: its history, arts, and literature. J.B. Millet Co. pp. 135.
  2. ^ Baker, David. The Rocket: The History and Development of Rocket & Missile Technology. Crown. p. 10.
  3. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (2003). Fighting Ships of the Far East (2): Japan and Korea AD 612-1639. Bloomsbury USA. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-84176-478-8.
  4. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (2007). Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639. Bloomsbury USA. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-84603-174-8.
  5. ^ H. A. C. Bonar, "On Maritime Enterprise in Japan", in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan. Asiatic Society of Japan. 1885. pp. 121.

External links[edit]