A Brief History of Browning and the Legendary Miroku Factory.
Release Date: 6/19/2013
Below is a general overview of the legendary relationship between the Browning Company and the world-renowned firearms manufacturer Miroku. We hope it serves as a foundation for knowledge and historical research about the combined histories of Browning and Miroku.
The Browning company has always had a tradition of using the finest manufacturers in the world to produce their designs. This began with John Moses Browning who established the original manufacturing relationship with Fabrique Nationale in Belgium at the end of the 19th Century. So it was only natural that the Browning company would be on the lookout for a similar manufacturer to enhance the manufacturing capabilities of Browning in the second half of the 20th century. As told in this story, that manufacturer turned out to be the Miroku company of Kochi Japan. It was all a mix of a little bit of luck along with some remarkable foresight by Browning and Miroku management.
Today, Miroku is recognized as a top tier manufacturer of quality firearms world-wide. And they are largely responsible for the manufacturing success of many of the most important Browning products of the 20th and 21st centuries.
At times people act surprised when they learn that Browning is now making the Citori, the BLR or the X-Bolt in the Miroku factory in Japan. But the fact is they have always been made there. Even today, production of the Browning line is split largely between Miroku in Japan and Belgium/Portugal in Europe. Only Buck Mark and 1911-22 pistols are made in the US.
The Browning-Miroku friendship is stronger than ever and is legendary among those who track the histories of great firearms brands and global relationships. The story below is a complex one, mostly due to the fact it is compiled from a variety of sources: Browning documents, Miroku historical books, recollections of former employees and other documented sources. Some of those originally involved have passed on. We greatly appreciated the help of the Miroku staff who collectively worked through their recollections to help create a narrative from the Miroku perspective. The combined recollections are deemed to be as accurate as possible with the resources available. We hope you enjoy reading it.
NOTICE: This article is copyright Browning 2013-2014 in its entirety. No part may be used without express written permission.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MIROKU AND BROWNING
The Early Days.
The earliest days of the Miroku company story are humble indeed. The story begins small with company founder Karaji Miroku operating a blacksmith shop creating parts and implements primarily for farming.
By 1893 he had formalized his business and established modest operations as a gunsmith and gunmaker, producing handmade guns for hunting boar and deer in the mountains near his home on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of the Japanese archipelago. 1893 is considered the beginning of the Miroku company as a manufacturer.
As a blacksmith and gunsmith, Karaji Miroku experienced success, but it had been a very small beginning – that was about to change.
In the 20th century Western manufacturing techniques began to take hold in Japan. In an environment of a new peace with Russia, the company adopted these techniques and grew under the direction of Karaji’s son Bukichi. By the early 1930s they were making a variety of small products and firearms, but eventually started focusing efforts, beginning in 1934, on manufacturing harpoon guns for the huge Japanese whale hunting industry. Overall this was a successful period for Miroku.
Miroku Guns in the Post War Era.
War came and went.
In 1946 a new post-war Miroku company was formed. But times were not easy for the newly incorporated B.C. Miroku Company and they faced difficult challenges of a destroyed economy. Finding markets was problematic. However, production of the Miroku harpoon gun line was successfully restarted in 1949. Miroku had the expertise, the natural resources (steel) and skills required to re-enter the firearms business. But they needed products with more than local appeal. They needed firearms that would thrust them into the global marketplace.
With the lifting of the Japan ban on manufacturing sporting guns in 1951, the door was opened to return to the roots of the company and begin building firearms once again.
In 1952 development of a side-by-side shotgun began, eventually to be sold under the Miroku name.
In the late 1950s they found the right gun to use as the archetype for a new future for Miroku: it was the successful Browning Superposed over and under. Miroku engineers reviewed the Belgian-made John Moses Browning design and began making changes and engineering modifications that would maximize the efficiency of their factory, their equipment and workforce skills. Development of the Miroku over and under – designed primarily by Bukichi Miroku himself -- was started in 1959 on a fast track. Industrialization commenced and in 1960 they had a production line in operation. The result was a gun they could call their own. It was not an exact copy, but a fine over and under nonetheless. There were approximately 300 workers in the plant in 1960.
In the early 1960s Miroku also began exporting other guns. In 1962 they produced a pepperbox derringer for distribution by Sharps Arms. In 1963, .38 caliber revolvers bearing the Miroku name were exported to the United States. Most firearms under the Miroku name were being sold in Japan, Australia and New Zealand at this point.
A Crisis of Competitiveness.
American and European sales of the Belgium-made Superposed were strong during the 1950s and early 60s. This fact, combined with an excellent price point, helped Miroku’s lookalike, over and under shotgun gain recognition on the world firearms market. By 1963 Miroku had also started selling a single barrel shotgun under the Miroku brand.
But it wasn’t enough. Miroku lacked one key to future success: a stand-alone brand. Very few people had heard of Miroku and the U.S. market was unsure about Japanese-made firearms.
Help came from a strong American brand that was seeking a potentially successful gun: the Charles Daly company. Charles Daly has been primarily an importer throughout its history, originally in pre-war years importing from Germany and later from Italy among others. So, true to form, a brokering agreement was established with an export firm and in 1963 the Miroku made over and under was being sold by Charles Daly for U.S. distribution. It was immediately recognized for its quality, good design, fine detailing, excellent fit and finish and solid function. The Charles Daly catalog in 1963 did not hide the origins of this new over and under, stating that it was:
“. . . manufactured to the most exacting specifications from the finest materials at the world famous B.C. Miroku Gun Works, Kochi City, Japan.
Of course its $279 basic price and high quality put pressure on many over and under manufacturers, including Browning (the Superposed) and its partner manufacturer, Fabrique Nationale.
Post war Germany was no longer a viable or even popular place for Charles Daly to source shotguns. The Miroku connection provided an opportunity for Charles Daly to build market share in the shotgun market in an aggressive way once again. In 1963 and over the next few years Charles Daly worked with Miroku to expand the line-up, adding high grade models, introducing an Anson and Deeley type boxlock side by side, among other projects.
On the short term the new Miroku-made Charles Daly shotguns presented a threat to the Browning Superposed and Browning in general. But soon Browning management recognized, that more than a threat, it was a huge opportunity. At the same time Charles Daly was expanding their relationship with Miroku, Browning management began taking a closer look at a potential future partner.
And the world was taking a closer look too. Japanese products were cutting through the distrust common throughout the Western world at that time. Even the noted – and snobbish -- English gun writer, Gough Thomas commented favorably about Miroku made firearms as early as 1965. Speaking of the side-by-side he said:
“This gun was notable for the exceptional accuracy of the machining, for the full hardening of all wearing parts, and for the high quality of the trigger pulls.”
The Right People Get Together.
In 1962 Mr. Ido -- from Miroku -- visited the United States in order to explore more opportunities for expanding the exports of Miroku guns. One person he met with was a Mr. Dakin owner of the Dakin Company. Dakin’s trading company already had an arrangement with Miroku and had been working with Miroku on future projects to expand the market for their products. He had not been very successful at providing substantial business for Miroku and may have been concerned about the future of Miroku or may have even felt guilty about his own slow progress. This is most likely why -- on Ido’s visit to the U.S. -- Dankin arranged an introduction between Mr. Ido and Browning President, John Val Browning.
The meeting was a success, but sadly Mr. Dankin was killed in an airplane crash not long after bringing Browning and Miroku together. But the stage had been set.
NOTICE: This article is copyright Browning 2013-2014 in its entirety. No part may be used without express written permission.
Events in Belgium.
From this point on Browning’s interest in the idea of using Miroku as a supplier grew. The pressure on sales caused by the rising costs of production for guns coming out of the Fabrique Nationale factory was one driving force in Mr. Browning’s interest in Miroku. But there were larger issues at work throughout Europe at this time -- especially in Belgium.
The early 1960s were turbulent times for Belgium. The unrest set a tone that pressured manufacturers like Browning to explore all their options. The Winter General Strike of 1960-61 was clearly a pivotal time in Belgium’s 20th Century history and is often called the “Strike of the Century.” The political and social future direction of Belgium was uncertain, at best.
This combined with rising production costs and other worries of the times were the backdrop to a moment in history where there were questions about the future of Belgian manufacturing that had to be addressed by Browning.
While Mr. Browning and the Browning Company considered their options, a deal went forward and was completed between Miroku and Charles Daly in 1963 and shortly Charles Daly began importing Miroku-made guns into the United States – primarily the Miroku over and under.
Business contacts continued and in 1965 John Val Browning visited the Miroku factory for the first time. All indications are that he was impressed with the potential and impressed with the great work being done.
Charles Daly and Browning.
During this time Charles Daly continued to sell Miroku-made over and unders brokered through the Shinko Sangyo trading house in Japan. These guns were based on the original Miroku over and under design. Also, Miroku continued the sale of Miroku-branded guns in their own, non-U.S. markets. Charles Daly had elected to not sell the single shot trap gun Miroku had developed and was selling under the Miroku brand.
In 1968 the Browning annual report stated that formal contracts between Miroku and Browning had been started in 1965. Miroku documents indicate that some time in 1966 Miroku and Browning formed their first official “sales and technical tie-ups.”
Miroku still had an official agreement with Charles Daly. But by 1966 they considered Miroku’s discussions with Browning as a breach of contract – but there was no official litigation on the issue. In the meantime, a Browning team was working with Miroku to bring a new lever action 22 to market. This rifle would become the BL-22.
The Forces of History at Work.
An analysis of this time in Browning history reveals a few important facts of why the forces of history moved Browning into a business alliance with Miroku.
First, political instability in Belgium made it common sense to cultivate an additional country or region for production. Second, price instabilities in Belgium (and Europe in general) made it essential to have additional factory(s) situated in diverse economies so production would never be held hostage to events in one country. Production could be shifted -- when necessary -- depending on exchange rates, material costs, labor costs, civil unrest and other factors. Third, it was important to have multiple talent pools of intellectual knowledge, dispersed in multiple locations. This provides a supply chain safety net. Plus, internal competition promotes greater research, advances in technology and improvement in the cost-to-quality ratio of end products over time.
The Miroku company fulfilled all these requirements for good strategic business planning. Product quality was high. Expertise was high. Motivation was high. The factory was situated on the opposite side of the world, in a totally separate economy. And in fact, Miroku was in an economy on the verge of explosive growth and poised to lead the world in the new concepts of innovation and total quality management lead by the teachings of the legendary W. Edward Deming. By the 1960s Deming was already considered something of a hero in Japan and his influence upon the success of all Japanese manufacturing has been proven by history.
Production Begins Under the Browning Name.
Exchanges of design and technical expertise were in full swing by 1966. Browning sales and marketing already had a role in future development ideas and potential production strategies. The Browning corporate headquarters had only recently moved to the Morgan, Utah offices in 1964.
In 1967 Browning formalized a quality control process. Browning’s quality inspector (Harry Heiter, from the Browning R&D department) was actively involved in the development and approvals of the first totally new Browning project with Miroku: the BL-22. This proved to be a learning experience for both with production starting then being stopped several times by Heiter for quality issues. The cost to Miroku was very high. He is well-remembered by Miroku as a difficult and stubborn quality inspector, but it set the stage for a culture of quality that soon became even more ingrained in the culture of Miroku.
Two years passed and it was 1969 before the first significant shipments were on their way to Browning. Miroku considers this a significant time for the factory since all production for Browning was required at a much higher level of quality than that required by Charles Daly.
The Departure of Charles Daly.
From 1963 Charles Daly continued to sell Miroku made guns in the U.S. But after the formalization of the agreements between Browning and Miroku in 1966 Miroku records indicate that the original long term relationship had changed beyond repair and the agreement essentially had ended. However, the original Miroku-made over and under continued to be sold under the Charles Daly name until – according to Miroku accounts – 1973 . . . although a small number of guns were still seen in the market place well into 1976. At their peak, Charles Daly imported only 4,000 to 5,000 pieces per year.
The Miroku-Browning Era.
More models were coming on line in rapid succession. All the while most guns continued to be manufactured in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale. By 1968 the single barrel trap gun to be known as the BT-99 began and shipments started to Browning.
For the first time, in 1970, representatives of FN visited Miroku to get a closer look at the potential of this new partner. By all accounts, they were impressed.
In 1971 production of the BLR and 22 Semi-auto began. The Browning Side-by-Side and the B-78 Single Shot went into production at Miroku in 1972.
In 1973 the most important project of all began – this would be the production of an over and under based more closely on the original Superposed design created by John M. Browning. It was not to be a “replacement” for the Superposed. The Superposed production would remain in Belgium. But it was to supplement sales with a version that could be manufactured with lower costs while retaining exceptional quality. This would be the version that would preserve and even increase Browning’s share of the over and under market. During the development of the new over and under (to be called the Citori), Browning sold the Miroku designed over and under shotgun under the Browning name.
When Miroku began actual production of the Citori over 500 employees were directly involved in the project. Miroku management recalls that this project was the most expensive ever and was characterized by long-time Miroku general manager, Mr. Shidei, as “a lot of money!” But strategically they all knew that Browning and the new Citori was the path forward to a bright future for Miroku.
When the Citori finally hit the market it accomplished exactly the shot in the arm needed by Browning. By the 1970s the Belgian-made Superposed had shot up in price and several variations listed at about $750 retail. The Citori offered comparable quality and performance at less than half that price.
This Citori was the first of many examples of Miroku’s extreme levels of competency even in the early days. In one year the design changes and industrialization was accomplished. Mr. Ray Allen was the head of Browning R&D at the time and offered excellent oversight, but almost the entire project was accomplished by Mr. Ito and Mr. Tadahiro Nishigawa and their teams. This was the time that the forearm bracket was totally redesigned away from the Superposed configuration, among other changes.
Often considered the most important functional and structural innovations in the relationship was the hiring in 1967 of Mr. Tsutsui as chief quality manager. Tsutsui was an employee of Browning but was given the management (initially) of a seven person Miroku staff of quality control engineers at the branch office in Kochi. This arrangement continued until 1999. Mr. Tsutsui had excellent command of English in addition to his native Japanese, and had a solid understanding of the gun industry and manufacturing in general. His polite, yet powerful, leadership is why he is considered a key player in the exceptional growth of Miroku and its historic reputation for quality.
One of the most significant changes in the relationship between Browning and Miroku occurred in 1976. John Val Browning resigned as president of Browning and Browning sold ownership of the Browning Company to Fabrique Nationale in Belgium. At this time the relationship between Browning and Miroku was reaffirmed by the FN management team. Miroku was greatly surprised by the sudden change of ownership. But the relationship only strengthened.
Current Miroku Business Activities.
Miroku considers the anchor of their business to be the firearms industry. They started as firearms manufacturers, but as knowledge of manufacturing in general became part of the total intellectual assets of the company they were able to branch out into other areas.
Today Miroku divides their company into these key units.
Sporting Arms Business Group
Woodwork Business Group
Machinery Business Group
The hub of the group is the Miroku Corporation. They oversee the strategies, management, publicity and investor relations.
Miroku is a publicly traded company on the Nikkei stock exchange. Just over 50% of the company is held by these investors. Slightly less than 50% is owned by banks, close partners and large investors. Currently 9.8% of Miroku is owned by BACO (Browning Arms Company) and (according to our latest documents) BACO is the largest single investor. Today 15,027,209 shares of Miroku stock are listed on the Osaka Securities Exchange and is listed as Miroku Corp (7983:Osaka).
Key business activities included the manufacture and distribution world-wide of gun drilling machines. This technology moves beyond gunmaking into other industries demanding precision metal boring such as the auto industry, aerospace and advanced electronics. This expertise led to the development of top tier lapping machines. Lapping machines are not only essential in the guns industry but also are used when precision grinding silicon wafers for the most advanced uses in the high tech electronics industry.
Miroku’s expertise in some of the most beautiful and precise gunstocks has been transferrable to the manufacture of automobile steering wheel production. Solid wood steering wheels are the epitome of quality and class for many of the world’s top car makers, including a key customer, Toyota. Previously only veneer construction was possible. Miroku introduced mass production of highly contoured, precision solid steering wheels into the market. Advanced wood impregnation technologies developed by Miroku had resulted in many wood products for outdoor use in decking, foundations and exposed wood construction among other uses.
Miroku continues to distribute its own line of firearms separate from the Browning brand. Miroku brand shotguns are highly regarded and often used by Japan’s Olympic teams in shotgun events. Notable was the use of a Miroku 6000-T trap model at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics by Kasumi Watanabe for his silver medal performance. Japan’s former prime minister, Mr. Taro Aso, shot a Miroku skeet over and under at the Montreal Olympics 1976.
Miroku currently has approximately 500 employees. At its peak, in the mid 1990s, Miroku was producing over 200,000 guns per year. When Browning and Miroku first began their relationship there were three sporting firearms manufactures in Japan, and Miroku was the smallest. Now, over 45 years later, Miroku is clearly number one.
The Quality Advantage.
A key expertise that has served Miroku well in its relationship with Browning is the ability to produce highly complex products at an extreme level of quality and at prices acceptable in the marketplace.
For example, the anchor of the Miroku gun lineup – the Citori over and under – requires approximately 50% of the work of each gun to be done by hand. This includes part fitting, polish and tolerance adjustments. It takes an exceptionally efficient factory with advanced processes and quality control to allow this degree of resources to be focused specifically on issues related to the quality, fit, finish and feel of the final product. This is a tribute to a company that has stayed true to its mission in both word and deed for well over a century.
The long term association between Miroku and Browning is today stronger than at any time in Browning history. The combined commitment to quality continues to provide Browning customers what they want most: The Best There Is.
Copyright Browning 2013-2014. No portion may be used without the express written permission of the Browning Company. Browning, One Browning Place, Morgan, Utah, 84050. 801-876-2711.
Sources: Recollections of Rich Bauter, Yoichi Shidei, Miroku Corporation publications and records, various Browning records and documents.
This article is provided as a resource for historians and for informational purposes for Browning enthusiasts everywhere. It is not to be used for commercial purposes by other publications or websites (particularly to enhance SEO or traffic for any commercial websites).
Compiled, written and edited by Roger B. Stitt, Browning, 2013. Browning, One Browning Place, Morgan, Utah 84050. 801-876-2711.