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Modelguns are Japanese replica or toy guns, which are usually made of zinc-alloy or plastic materials. Most modelguns are designed to replicate the physical outlook and in full scale of the real gun counterpart. Some bear the authentic markings that make them look very realistic like real guns. Some are even made to copy the internal mechanisms and operate like real ones using tiny bit of gunpowder (the cap) to produce firing sound, spark and the operation, but strictly not able to shoot any projectile. There are very strict gun control laws in Japan to restrain the mechanisms and material of modelguns so that modelguns appeared in the Japanese market are safe and cannot be converted into something that can fire any live cartridge or projectile.
Modelguns were developed after the Second World War due to tight restrictions on firearm ownership in Japan. Civilians are forbidden by Japanese law to possess handguns, although in rare cases they may be permitted to possess live shotguns. As a result, the Japanese have developed a fascination for them. The first "modelguns" were developed in the late 1950s and were fairly crude approximations of actual firearms, with few operational features. Many of the first modelguns were imported cap guns from the United States, but were eventually replaced with indigenous designs. The first Japanese designed modelguns were released to market in 1962. At nearly the same time, MGC produced the Walther VP-2 and Hudson Industry produced the Mauser M1896 in 1962. Both were made with metal zinc alloy. They are now collector's sought after items.
The Japanese modelgun/airsoft inventor Tanio Kobayashi is considered by many Japanese to be the "father" of the modelgun, as Kobayashi's internal modelgun designs led to the modern version of the modelgun.
The various Japanese modelgun laws can be quite confusing, as the initial modelguns where fairly unregulated and some models were closer to real firearms than replicas.
In 1965, the Japanese government began regulating the replica firearms industry. Changes included requiring that the barrels have internal blocks to prevent the firing of projectiles.
The Firearms/Swords law revision in 1971 introduced more safety changes. It requires all metal model handguns released thereafter have to be painted in white or yellow color. Since then, all metal model handguns are either painted in gold color or gold plated. In addition, the modelguns have to stamp on a crown mark and "SM" mark on the frame to identification purposes.
The second law revision in 1977 is even stricter. It prohibited the use of hard metal other than zinc alloy in main parts of modelguns. The barrel and frame of metal model handguns must not be separable to prevent the interchange of the barrel. Super hard steel is also needed to insert in the barrel of metal model handguns to prevent modification of structure. The SMG mark replaces the SM mark in order to meet the new regulation.
Modelguns can be found in many configurations and types. These range from small pistols/revolvers to rifles, shotguns, assault rifles and sub-machinegun, machineguns models, with the exception of belt fed machineguns. Handgun models were and are still quite popular in Japan. Modelguns can be found in both all-metal and plastic versions. For plastic version, it may be made with ABS or Heavy Weight plastics. The Heavy Weight plastics is the ABS resin mixed with some fine metal (usually zinc or iron) powder so that it weighs heavier and looks less plastic. Modelguns are available in display-only (or dummy version) and cap-firing versions. The cap-firing modelguns do not and cannot use conventional blank cartridges due to their construction different from the blank firers. Modelguns use small flexible plastic caps (usually from 5 to 7mm in diameter), that have a phosphorus composition filler. These caps fit into machined brass multi-piece cartridges which consist of a simulated primer, base, piston, O-rings and the "bullet". The cartridge design as well as the parts count/description varies by manufacturer.
The Japanese manufacturer Marushin invented the modern plastic bodied cap in the early 1980s. Before this, the caps where quite similar to the paper roll caps that were common in the United States. However, the Japanese paper caps where "printed" on flat sheets of red paper. These plastic bodied caps have become universal throughout all the Modelgun manufacturers. The caps are manufactured by the Kane Company in Japan and marketed as "Marushin", "M.G.Cap", "Real Flame cap" brands. Marushin caps contain a metallic content that sparks brightly as well as smoke when the cap ignites. While this is not necessarily a realistic flash, it does much to enhance the simulated firing. The majority of Modelguns have either totally blocked, or partly blocked barrels so the majority of Sparks from Marushin caps is seen at the ejection port. MG and RealFlame caps produce good smoke effects and are arguably give a better and realistic effect.
The current modelgun manufacturers in Japan are Marushin, Tanaka, Kokusai, HWS, KSC, Tanio Koba and CAW, Shoei.(see below) There are 2 other companies producing modelguns outside Japan. HwaSan (a Taiwanese Company) is the only company produces some cap firing capable modelguns outside Japan. HwaSan modelguns are famous as being full metal and it also produces disposable cartridges (one time use with pre-installed cap). Denix (a Spanish Company) produces some dummy display only full metal modelguns.
Note: The MGC and Hudson Industry are the 2 most famous modelgun makers which first produced the original Japanese designed modelguns in 1962. Unfortunately, both of them have gone.
MGC went bankrupt in 1994. Most of the molds and production was taken over by Taito and Shin Nihon Mokei. The modelgun production was continued and trading as New MGC until second closing down in 2007. The molds were sold to other modelgun makers. Only the New MGC retail shop in Fukuoka still remains.
During December 2009, Hudson Industry closed and ceased all modelgun production. It is unclear whether or not other manufacturers were able to purchase Moulding Dies and other manufacturing equipment before closure. It is believed, however, that ALL Hudson's tools and spare parts were destroyed.