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Japanese Meiji 13 Chassepot-Murata

Chasspot Murata & Bayonet No. 447.JPG

Right side view of a French contract Chassepot that was converted during the year Meiji 13 (1880) to a Chassepot-Murata

PhotoCredit:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard

For excellent resource materials on this rifle, look into the two publications starred (*) in the REFERNCES section at the end of this webpage


   For an extensive discussion of the Historical Context in which Japan was immersed during the era of converting to and adopting metallic cartridge rifles please see the most interesting section titled HISTORICAL CONTEXT at Pre-Murata Japanese Military Cartridge Rifles.  That section covers Pre-Commodore Perry’s first and second “visits” to Japan, the shock of encountering the militarily overwhelming West, the unrest leading to the Boshin War, the overthrow of the Shogun, the Meiji Restoration and touches on the Satsuma Rebellion.



A mle1866 French Chassepot rifle

  Initially after the Meiji Restoration, Japan remained reliant on imported weapons, especially such extensive imports as the British Pattern 1860 Enfield short rifles, the French Chassepots previously imported, and later quantities of Turkish Peabody Martinis.


   Nevertheless, as quickly as it possibly could, Japan began developing its own indigenous, relatively modern rifle, the Meiji 13 Year Murata, derived from the mle1874 French Gras, itself a derivative of the Mle1866 French Chassepot, but with a bolt system copied and simplified from the Dutch M1871 Beaumont.  (For a deeper dive into the development of the Meiji 13 Murata rifle, see DEVELOPMENT at Meiji 13 Murata.


   After France’s stunning defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 the French army began reconsidering its linen-cartridge needle-fire rifle, especially given the impetus of their arch-enemy, the newly conglomerated nation of Germany, having just adopted their excellent brass cartridge Mauser Model 1871 (German M71 Mauser).  France’s response was the evolution of their mle1866 Chassepot into the slightly re-designed mle1874 Gras, substantially a Chassepot with a bolt system adapted to utilize brass cartridges.  After adoption and start of production of the Gras, France then turned to converting large numbers of its Chassepot rifles to mle1866-74 Chassepot-Gras rifles as well (see:  Mle1866-74, Mle1874 & M.80 French Gras).


A mle1874 French Gras rifle, distinguishable from its older mle1866 father by the shape of the back of the bolt.  This rifle’s bolt end is fitted with a serrated knob (NOT a screw!) that locks in the firing pin.

   Few arms developments in Europe escaped notice by the Japanese.  The following year (1875), Japan sent one of their best marksmen, a then young, samurai class, combat veteran (the Boshin War) Japanese Imperial Army Captain, Tsuneyoshi Murata, to Europe to study modern firearms technology.  In addition to winning multiple shooting awards while traveling across Europe, Murata also managed to study the new French Gras rifle as well as the Dutch Beaumont and in all likelihood the German M71 Mauser also.  In 1877, after returning to Japan, he was promoted to major and participated in the suppression of the Satsuma Rebellion.


   The adoption by France of the Gras rifle was especially interesting to Major Murata as it was both a simple and elegant implementation of the brass cartridge as well as an inexpensive and fast system for converting existing rifles to the superior new cartridges.  Initially his work was not focused on developing a domestic Japanese rifle but rather was toward the goal of converting existing Japanese imported Chassepots to fire modern brass cartridges, for which he designed his bolt system.  But the step to a domestic rifle designed around the new bolt was obvious.



   By 1880 Murata had a design for both the conversion of Japan’s Chassepots to brass cartridge use as well as a design for an indigenous rifle, and both were approved that year by the Imperial Army and ordered into production. 


A French Government-built mle1866 Chassepot rifle manufactured in 1870 imported by the Japanese and converted by them in 1880 to a Chassepot-Murata

PhotoCredits:  Centurion Auctions via

Meiji 13 Murata Rifle_a.jpg

A Japanese Meiji 13 Year Murata rifle, Japan’s first indigenous, domestically produced standard infantry rifle credited to Japanese Army major Tsuneyoshi Murata

  Although not widely known, the Winchester Company of the United States was contracted to provide the machinery and tooling necessary for Japan to manufacture parts with which to assemble the Murata rifle.  Very much like Russia, which imported British machinery to build the initially British BSA manufactured M1870 Russian Berdan I rifles, Japan also required western industrial support to initially arm itself with then modern rifles.  Additionally, Winchester also supplied Japan with some 10 million rounds of 11mm Murata ammunition as well as the machinery for ammunition manufacturing.  Not surprisingly, it took the Japanese a while to ramp up production of the Murata rifles.  Conversion of existing rifles would certainly be both much faster, and much less expensive, especially if a converted rifle could use the most modern 11mm Murata ammunition.  All of these factors, including the superiority and now availability of new cartridges certainly played a role in Japan’s decision to convert its existing store of Chassepots to Muratas.  It turned out that this could be done comparatively (that is, relatively) easily.


   The work at the Tokyo Imperial Arsenal to convert Chassepot rifles to metallic cartridge breechloaders was done concurrently with ramping up production of the Murata rifle.  This also benefitted from the now standardized ammunition.


  Virtually all that we know of the Japanese efforts at converting their Chassepots to utilize the then new Murata metallic cartridge comes to us from  Ushisaburo Kobayashi’s 1922 study. Military Industries of Japan (see References, below), and even at that, only tantalizing bits: 

“In the same month [February, 3 Meiji (1870)], the arsenal in Osaka was established. It commenced its work in June, and in the intercalary tenth month started its stuffing of gun powder and made frictional percussion caps, cartridges for the Chassepot, cartridges for maneuvers, fire arrows, etc., which was the first stuffing of gun powder done in the arsenal.” (pg 46 emphasis added)


“In March, 13 Meiji (1880), the Murata rifle made by In­fantry Major Murata Tsuneyoshi from his own design was adopted as the military rifle of Japan. The Murata rifle, which was a great invention in the Japanese military industry, was not only the first small arms made in the new style from a Japanese design, but it was also the origin of all the domestic rifles made thereafter.  In the same month work was started on remodeling Chassepot rifles into Muratas.” (pg 42, emphasis added)


“In January, 16 Meiji (1883), the pattern of the cavalry rifle was fixed. Thanks to the well arranged system of works in every one of its factories and the great progress made in the skill of its engineers and workmen since July of the previous year, the Tokyo Arsenal succeeded in that year in remodeling over 8,000 Chassepots, and making over 7,000 Murata rifles.” (pg 42 emphasis added)

  All else we can say regarding the Japanese Chassepot-Murata is what modern researchers have been able to glean from physical examination of the very few extant examples, but all of that taken together gives us a reasonably decent picture of this seldom seen rifle.

Bolt- Bottom.JPG
Bolt - Top.JPG

The all-important Chassepot-Murata bolt. 

Photo Credits:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard


View of the bolt of the new-made Meiji 13 Murata rifle.  This bolt utilizes a screw-retained cross-bar on the top front of the bolt for retention.  It also incorporates a gas deflector plate at its rear (see Meiji 13 Muratafor an expanded discussion of both of these features)

Photo Credits:

   The long leaf extractor of the Murata bolt rides in a channel cut into the left side of the receiver in both the Chassepot-Murata and the Meiji 13 Murata rifles.  The channel that you see in the right side photo of the Chassepot bolt above, is the bolt retention channel in which the bolt retention bolt/screw rides.


Good view of a Japanese inspector’s marking; and an even better view of the bolt retention screw of the French mle1866 Chassepot, also carried forward in the mle1974 Frech Gras series rifles.  This screw is seen in other photos here along the back right side of the receiver bridge, behind the bolt.

Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via



  This single-shot, bolt-action rifle, with extractor but without ejector, operates like most every other military, single-shot, bolt action rifle of the 1870s.  Open the bolt, manually insert a cartridge, thumb seat it, firmly close the bolt, aim, fire, open the bolt smartly to fully extract the spent case, tip the rifle over to drop the spent case, rinse and repeat.


Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via

  Disappointingly, while both the French mle1874 Gras and the later converted mle1866-74 Chassepot-Gras both incorporate a rudimentary yet functional ejection system consisting of a small screw at the far back base of the receiver against which a cartridge rim strikes tipping out a spent case, neither the Chassepot-Murata nor the Meiji 13 Murata have any ejection system except for manually tipping out an expended case.



   This rifle is a French designed and French-marked mle1866 Chassepot rifle fitted with a Murata bolt, chambered for the Meiji 13 Murata cartridge and marked with Japanese characters.

There you have it.


The fat bolt handle with big capscrew on the end securing the flat firing pin inside mated with a French chassepot is literally what this rifle is about.

Photo Credit:  Dr. Stanley Zeilinsky, The Chassepot-Murata, Military Rifle Journal, November 2001

  There were, of course, minor modifications made in addition to the major feature of the replaced bolt, to make the conversion possible such as cutting the extractor groove mentioned above.  While that operation was being accomplished, the Japanese also adopted the French ruptured case safety “Modification of 1880” consisting of cutting a gas relief channel around the inside of the receiver just behind the chamber matching the gas relief channel cut into the head of the bolt.

Bolt- Bottom_b.jpg

The front of the Murata bolt is carved with a channel around it that re-directs gasses outward, perpendicular to the shooter, in the event of a ruptured cartridge case.

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard


A photo of the inside of the receiver of a Japanese Chassepot-Gras illustrating the channel on the inside left of the receiver in which the long leaf extractor itself rides.  The extractor of the French chassepot and Gras rifles is housed on the top of the bolt.

Photo Credit:  Dr. Stanley Zeilinsky, The Chassepot-Murata, Military Rifle Journal, November 2001


This is the receiver area of a mle1866-74 French Chassepot-Gras converted to metallic cartridge and later modified with the “M.80” gas relief channel, clearly visible behind the chamber.  In the immediately preceding photo you can see that the Japanese conversion rifle’s chamber area looks identical in this regard.

Photo Credit:  Dr. Stanley Zeilinsky, The Chassepot-Murata, Military Rifle Journal, November 2001

    During this process the Japanese also bored and sleeved the French rifle’s chamber area to fit and support the Murata cartridge.

    The rear sight ladder was replaced with a new rear sight ladder ranged to 1,500 meters, matching the Meiji 13 Murata rifle sight; except that, for wholly baffling reason(s), the numerals were placed on the right side of the sight ladder as distinct from the new-built rifle’s left side markings.


The Chassepot’s rear sight was designed with a ladder hinge at the front so that the leaf flips up and forward for elevations above those on the base, and this sight base was kept during conversion.  The new-built Meiji 13 Murata rifle’s sight leaf hinges at the rear and the leaf goes up and back instead.  The two rifles are dramatically different in regards to rear sights

Photo Credits:  Dr. Stanley Zeilinsky, The Chassepot-Murata, Military Rifle Journal, November 2001

About the Murata bolt:  Because in 1880 Japan lacked the technological expertise to manufacture small yet strong, dependable coil springs, the spring powering these Murata firing pins are flat springs, which Japan understood how to produce.  That is why, like the Dutch M1871 Beaumont rifles, the firing pin spring of all early Muratas (Meiji 13, Meiji 18 Murata and this Chassepot-Murata) consist of flat springs housed in the rather beefy bolt handle, installed through the top protected by a large cap screw.


   This also explains why the back end of the Murata bolt can be simpler than that of the Gras bolt from which other features were copied, although we are uncertain why the Japanese conversion rifle bolt was not fitted with a gas deflection plate as was the new-made Murata rifle.

The conversion rifle’s bolt is also shorter than that of the new-made Meiji 13 rifle’s bolt.  Again, we do not know why.


   French Chassepot rifles were finished wholly in the white, without any bluing and it appears that converted chassepot-Muratas were left in their original white.  Meiji 13 Muratas appear to have been rust-blued except for their bolts, but this is something about which we remain uncertain.


   This rifle’s most distinguishing Characteristics, however, are most always going to be its markings.



We have markings from two different examples of Japanese Chassepot-Murata rifles.

Receiver - Left.JPG

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard


Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via

  More than two million (2,000,000) French mle1866 Chassepot rifles were manufactured by at least a dozen different armories and factories across Europe during their production run. In addition to the four French national armories, factories in Britain, Belgium, Spain, Austria, Germany, and perhaps elsewhere all contract-manufactured Chassepot rifles.


Original French Markings:


   In nearly all, but not all, cases, the Armory or factory producing the rifle will have its origin markings on the upper left receiver flat along the opening for the bolt. On some occasions, such as the Spanish produced rifle here, those markings will be on top of the barrel between the rear sight and front of the receiver.  On this example the receiver had been left unmarked and the Japanese used that opportunity to apply their markings there. On the French Arsenal produced rifle, where such area was already filled with French Armory markings; the Japanese marked the converted rifle on the flat below the French markings.


   French-manufactured rifles are also likely to carry original serial number markings as well as buttstock cartouches, if they had been originally so marked.


 This mle1866 French Chassepot was manufactured in 1870 by the French Imperial Armory at Châtellerault, France

Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via


French Chassepot rifles were usually buttstock marked with a manufacturer’s cartouch and very often serial numbered on the opposite side of the buttstock

Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via

Euscagalduna Placencia.jpg

 The Spanish contract maker of this Chassepot marked the rifle with its maker’s mark on top of the barrel between its rear sight and receiver.

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard

Japanese conversion Markings:


   Both Japanese Chassepot-Murata rifles, photos of which we have seen, are or were marked with the Japanese Imperial Chrysanthemum ownership mark, the Murata kakihan, considerable kanji, as well as multiple inspection markings.

Receiver - Left.JPG
Receiver - Top.JPG

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard


Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via

The Japanese Imperial Chrysanthemum:  Soon after the Meiji restoration, the armories required the stamping of the 16 petal Imperial chrysanthemum on all government firearms. This symbol indicates that such weapon is the property of the Imperial family.  It appears that many, although by no means all, of the Japanese metallic cartridge conversion breechloaders were Imperial marked (see: Pre-Murata Japanese Military Cartridge Rifles elsewhere on this website), as well as the Chassepot-Muratas that we are aware of and all Meiji 13 Murata rifles and subsequent Japanese Imperial military rifles.

Receiver - Top.JPG

Murata’s kaikihan or family symbol, stamped into both Chassepot rifles converted to metallic cartridge via Murata’s bolt system:  Below the Chrysanthemum on the Goddard rifle and on both the barrel and below the Chrysanthemum on the Centurian rifle.

Photo Credits:  Courtesy of Chip Goddard and Centurion Auctions via

  While the buttstock of the Spanish-built rifle is bare, as would be expected, that of the French national armory rifle is marked with a roundel cartouche with center ME plug on the right side of its buttstock and serialized on the left side of the buttstock, also all as is expected and correct for French-made rifles.


Photo Credits:  Centurion Auctions via

  A fanciful but almost certainly apocryphal Japanese story says that “When retreating during the Seinan War (in which Murata himself honorably participated and was even wounded), many soldiers gave up their rifles and fled, so it is said that Murata carved this in consideration not to throw away his guns.”



Although we have not been able to personally examine and measure a Japanese Chassepot-Gras, they should nevertheless maintain their original specifications but for the rear sight leaf:


Overall Length:  1310mm (51.6 in)

Barrel Length:   795mm  (31 3/8 in)


Weight, empty:  4.6 kilograms (10lb 3½ oz)

Muzzle velocity:  approx. 400m/sec  (1,300 ft/sec)

Sight:  Ramp-and-leaf with slider, graduated from 200 to 1,500 m (220 to 1,640 yds)



No Japanese Meiji 13 Chassepot-Murata short rifles or carbines are known.




The contemporaneous French mle1866 Bayonet.  This would be the bayonet of the Japanese Chassepot-Murata

Belgian-made Chassepot Bayonet 1870.jpg
Japan marked Chassepot bayonet - User yur1279_Reddit.jpg

This bayonet would have originally been manufactured contemporaneously with the 1870 dated rifle pictured above.

Photo Credit:  WorldofBayonets

Well-marked Japanese mle1866 French chassepot bayonet including Imperial chrysanthemum.  Note that this bayonet’s serial number is a mere 51 digits from that of the rifle pictured here.  There simply weren’t that many chassepot-Muratas ever.

Photo Credit:  User-yur1279@Reddit

If any accomplished reader can assist us with a translation of these kanji, we would be most appreciative.


Meiji 13 Cartridge

(Aka:  11mm Murata, 11x60R)


   The Japanese Chassepot-Murata was a conversion of Japan’s pre-existing stores of mle1866 French chassepot rifles to accept the new Meiji 13 (aka 11mm Murata) cartridge which was adopted concurrently with this Chassepot-Murata rifle and the new-built Meiji 13 Murata rifle.   This cartridge is more fully discussed at the CARTRIDGE section of the JAPAN part of this website under:  Meiji 13 MURATA


   All we know, and that is by no means certain, comes to us from Kobayashi, wherein he states that “[T]he Tokyo Arsenal succeeded in [1883] in remodeling over 8,000 Chassepots, and making over 7,000 Murata rifles".  Other researchers have suggested that as many as 16,000 Japanese Chassepots may have ultimately been converted to Chassepot-Muratas.


   The French mle1866 Chassepot rifle was widely used throughout the world both in its original configuration as a needle-fire rifle and as a conversion by multiple companies and governments.


   While we cannot discount the possibility of some of these Japanese conversion rifles having made their way to China, the Japanese Chassepot-Murata does not appear to have ever served in any other country, and even in Japan, only briefly.


Predecessor Rifle(s):  Because of how Japan armed itself with a variety of European and American arms while industrializing, it would be difficult to point to any one rifle and consider it as a predecessor, but probably the candidates making the most sense would be the Enfield conversions to metallic cartridge.  See:  Pre-Murata Japanese Military Cartridge Rifles



Follow-On rifle:   Although adopted concurrently with the Chassepot-Murata, that rifle was superseded as quickly as the Japanese could manufacture and field enough of its new standard Meiji 13 Murata rifles to fully arm all of its units.  Thus the indigenous Meiji 13 Murata rifle was also the Chassepot-Murata’s follow-on rifle. 


The Meiji 13 Murata Infantry Rifle


A special thanks to Dr. Stanley Zeilinsky & Chip Goddard for their help and information!


Kobayashi, Ushisaburo (Masuda Norimoto), Military Industries of Japan, Oxford University Press, New York, 1922.

Japanese Imported Arms of the Early Meiji Era, Edited by Joseph P. Koss, Jr, Francis C. Allen Press, 2011


* Zielinski, Stanley, Japanese Murata rifles 1880-1897, Lodestone, 2010.

Military Rifles of Japan, 5th Ed., Honeycutt & Anthony, Julien books, 2001

Small, Charles; Warner, Ken, Ed. "Murata Types 13 and 18". Gun Digest (1983 Annual): 196–199.

Page Created 02/18/22

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