Scaled-Down Arisaka Trainer (Video)

In many countries prior to WWII, it was not uncommon to begin preparing children for military service at fairly young ages, and several countries produces small-scale rifles for training boys who could not yet handle full-size weapons. These include France and Italy (with miniaturized Lebel and Carcano rifles), and also the Empire of Japan. Today we’re taking a look at a small-scale Type 38 Arisaka trainer, approximately 7/8 normal size. While most of these sorts of rifles were designed for small rimfire cartridges, this one was instead chambered for 6.5x50mm blank rounds.


  1. At war’s end some of these were broken down and converted to 8mm Nambu. Others were used with very reduced loads and they often exploded. There are trainer versions of japanese light machineguns which used reduced charge loads. These were all swept up and sent to the “front” to defend the Japanese homeland.

  2. These used to be fairly common. They tend to have cast iron receivers and bolts, and unrifled, iron barrels! There seem to be a lot of variations.

    • I with Mike on this. I also fail to see the logic behind a ‘rifle’ (perhaps better described as a ‘quasi-gun’) that can only shoot blanks.
      That miniature Lebel is quite nice! Thanks for posting the link.

    • My assumption would be that they were used for drill practice. There were special bayonets made to fit them as well, and by using blanks you could instruct a big group of young cadets without needing an actual range for safety.

      Also, I am learning more about Japanese blanks, which apparently used wooden full-size bullets – which would not have fit in these trainers. There were also gallery rounds with small soft lead or aluminum projectiles barely longer than the cartridge case, and possibly those were the intended ammo for these rifles.

      • I imagine you could go through all the firing drills short of actually firing it. That is, you could learn how to hold the rifle, operate the bolt, the safety, the sights, the magazine, etc., and demonstrate that you actually understand everything. There’s a lot to learn before you actually fire a rifle. Remember that you are training a group of cadets, not giving someone individual instruction. Actually firing a weapon could be done with real rifles on a range day once the cadets understand what they are doing.

        The big advantage that these rifles would have over real ones is that you didn’t need special storage arrangements because they couldn’t actually fire ammunition or be converted to do so. It’s probably quite deliberate that the locking lugs were missing and the receiver was too short to fit a standard cartridge. You can’t convert the rifle to fire even if you got a spare barrel from a real rifle. That means that you could store them cheaply and conveniently in a school or other local building without special arrangements instead of at a proper armoury. I don’t know what Japan’s firearms laws were during that period, but military arms may have been very tightly controlled and guarded, to prevent coups and mutinies if nothing else.

        I really wish we as cadets could have done this with FNs. Our cadet regiment only had Lee Enfields and FNs had to be borrowed from an armoury. We really didn’t have enough training with FNs, and we weren’t properly prepared when we were first went the range with them.

      • Blank firing is used quite a lot in military training, not just for learning to handle the weapons. Training whole units with blanks is quite common, as the noise signatures is more evocative of real battle than shouting “BANG” every time you pull the trigger. That being said, the modern approach is usually a blank-firing adaptor for your service weapon.

  3. In Canada (and no doubt the UK, Australia and New Zealand) we had 22 calibre converted Lee Enfields for this purpose (army cadets). They were full size, but they had a 22 calibre barrel. I imagine (it’s been too long to recall clearly) the bolt was slightly different as well, as the firing pin would have to be offset for a rim fire cartridge. Otherwise, the rifle was just a standard Lee Enfield, of various models. It was single shot, and the magazine spring and follower were removed so the empty casings just fell down into the magazine on extraction.

    The 22s were used for the indoor range below our school. We also fired the standard FNs in 7.62 on outdoor ranges, and I must admit they were a bit large for some of us! We had a ball though.

    In my fathers day cadets used Lee Enfields in 303. He told me that with some of the smaller kids they would (when prone) have another cadet sit on their shoulders to help hold them in place.

  4. Deliberately making the practice rifles out of weaker, lower-stress metals such as cast iron would also have rendered them of little use to mutineers, rebels or other potential coup followers who might get it into their heads to steal the rifles from low-security storage facilities ( such as schools ) and convert them into viable weapons — after all, this was a time of much internal political tension in Imperial Japan, with the “Strike North” and “Strike South” factions at each other’s throats and the Emperor’s own cabal trying to manipulate both sides to their advantage. The low-cost construction on a national scale would also have helped conserve budgetary resources for more important endeavours ( such as financing the supply of full-powered rifles for the Army ) while still achieving the basic goals of firearms handling and familiarization for school-age cadets. In pre-war Japan, conservation of material, labor and financial resources was of paramount importance, said resources being reserved in large part to equip the military and bankroll the campaigns in China as well as the Soviet-Japanese border conflicts. The lingering effects of the Great Depression, which had world-wide repercussions well into the 1930’s, also contributed to this parsimonious yet necessary state of affairs.

    In that light, making the Arisaka replica to fire only blanks makes eminent sense.

    • Thanks for all the valuable contributions gentlemen! This is a good example of the excellent level attained by FW and its readers. And thanks also to you Earl, for the interesting and enlightening view on two possible – and non mutually exclusive – explanations for the Japanese fad for producing practice, blank firing rifles out of lower grade metals, a politically driven one plus a purely economical rationale. Personally, I tend to favour the later over the first, due to the ever-present hunger of iron ore that plagued the iron and steel industries in prewar Japan, which were themselves more dependent of state-of-the-art technology transfer and importation from the Western industrial powers than what is usually realised. Besides from China, iron ore and other metals were sourced from less developed Asian regions in the immediate or not so immediate vicinity of the Japanese home islands, such as Korea and even British ruled Malaya. The urge to secure most of said sources of raw materials was one of main justifications used by the military (esp. the Imperial Army) to support not just the then ongoing military aggression in Chinese soil but also the so-called “Strike South” expansion plans.

      • Thanks, Ruy — I really enjoy sharing information and exchanging viewpoints with you and all the guys on this site. There is so much that one can learn and contribute in return.

  5. The marking on the stock appears to be the name of a school, in abbreviated form. The first two characters represent the name of the school, the third is “school”. -Pete

    • the kanjis are “wa do kou” i.e. Wado School.

      I found Wado Elementary Schoolin Iwatsuki / Saitama City which was established in 1873 (Meiji 6) and renamed Wado Ordinary Elementary School in 1888 (Meiji 21).

      Supposingly, the trainer belonged to the predecessor of the present post-war School.

  6. Japan had a pretty well established “tradition” of trying to deny “weapons” to any but the “warrior” class/caste – hence the appearance of items like rice flails, grind stone handles (the side handle batons cops carry now!), and sickles in some of the martial arts. They had been the plausibly deniable improvised weapons of the non samurai.

    The Meiji restoration had re-established Japan as an “empire” deposing the Tokugawa shugunate (shogun = sort of supreme warlord), and in the Boshin war of 1868, had effectively wiped out the traditional Samuri warrior caste – with any survivors fleeing to hide in remote areas or escaping overseas – one of the reasons why there’s a popular image of remote mountain dojos teaching martial arts – they were the survivors.

    Those who’d fled overseas sometimes traded on their only skill – teaching fighting, which is how we come have among other things, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

    Having gained power, the Meiji were unlikely to loosen their grip by allowing pee-ons to gain access to weapons.

    Clearly, that isn’t going to be the only reason for these little rifles, but it does go some way to explaining why they were blank firers rather than firing any of the multitude of small rounds used elsewhere, such as the .297/.230 short and long Morris rounds used with barel inserts in .577/.450 martinis and small rook rifle type martinis. The .300 Cadet used in small Martini actions in Australia, and the numerous .22rf barrel adaptors and re-barrelling jobs used elsewhere, and which firms like Erma excelled in.

    a little 6.5 practice round and chamber adaptor would have been cute.

    • Logical analysis in keeping with the military, social and economic mores of the time, Keith — thanks for sharing.

  7. Seems you have overlooked the cadet versions of Springfield rifles after the civil war. Smaller rifles for military schools were quite common in the US also.

    • A very good point, John. Do you have any more information on these cadet versions of the Springfield-made rifles? Thanks in advance, and thanks for sharing.

  8. When my grandfather was in elementary school, there was a military drill at his elementary school.
    From the time he was in the fourth grade until he was about ten years old, he was trained with a rifle that was smaller than a Type 38.

    Maybe it was a rifle like this one.

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