They May Not Be Armed at Home, But ‘Gun Tourism’ Is Booming in Japan

In this photo taken on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, Japanese tourist Natsue Matsumoto, 38, warms up for a round of shooting at the Western Frontier Village range in Tamuning, Guam. (Photo: AP)

(TheBlaze/AP) — Their well-equipped arsenals offer everything from tiny revolvers (for ladies) to Berettas, Glocks, semi-automatic pistols and M16 military assault rifles. If kids can see over the counter, they are welcome too.

Forget the white sandy beaches, coral reefs and laid-back island culture. For many tourists from Japan, the biggest thrill is the chance to shoot a gun at one of Guam’s ubiquitous ranges, dozens of which are tucked between upscale shopping centers.

The U.S. territory of Guam — a tropical island often described as a cheaper version of Hawaii — has long been the perfect place to put guns in the hands of tourists, especially from Japan, where gun ownership is tightly restricted and handguns are banned.

“It was such a feeling of power,” Keigo Takizawa, a 30-year-old Japanese actor, said after blasting holes in a paper target with a shotgun, a .44 magnum and a Smith & Wesson revolver at the Western Frontier Village gun club, a cowboy-themed indoor shooting range and gift shop on Guam’s main shopping street.

“But,” he cautioned, “I still don’t think anyone should be allowed to have one of their own.”

In this photo taken on Feb 4, Japanese tourists are taught how to use firearms by range master Mike Aeta at the Western Frontier Village range in Tamuning, Guam. (Photo: AP)

Japan is often heralded as an example of a gun ban that didn’t result in skyrocketing murder rates, but that doesn’t mean their residents aren’t curious.  According to the Associated Press, many Japanese see America’s “gun culture” as both frightening and fascinating.

Gun-related crime is extremely rare in Japan, used in only seven murders in 2011 in a nation of about 130 million.  In the U.S., with 315 million people, there are more than 11,000 gun-related killings annually.

The Japanese are proud of their low crime rate and generally support tough gun-control policies.

But this Pacific island halfway between Tokyo and Honolulu is America. Guam’s gun ranges are to the Japanese what Amsterdam’s cannabis cafes are to backpackers from the world over.

“I think it’s human nature to be curious about something that is forbidden,” said Tetsuo Yamamoto, a Japanese native who emigrated to the United States 30 years ago and runs the Western Frontier Village range. “Most of our customers are from Japan and have never had the opportunity to shoot a gun. It’s very exotic for them, and it’s very exhilarating.”

In this photo taken on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, instructor Dunan Albert shows off his gun at the Hafa Adai Gun Club in Tamuning, Guam. (Photo: AP)

So exhilarating that he sometimes asks his guests to stay around for a while to calm down after they’ve finished shooting.

Many other tourists — from South Korea, Taiwan and increasingly Russia — are less impressed. All South Korean men, for example, learn how to shoot during mandatory military service.

“To them, learning how to use a gun was a chore,” said Patrick Chon, general-manager of the Hafa Adai indoor shooting range. “They hardly ever come here.”

Visitors to his range are greeted by movie posters for “The Terminator” and “Die Hard,” with their iconic, gun-toting action heroes. The Hollywood shoot-’em-up image is a common motif at many ranges, playing into an image of America that many Asians share.

“When most Japanese people think of American culture, one of the first things they think of is guns,” said Natsue Matsumoto, a 38-year-old Osaka woman who said she enjoyed shooting so much she was back at a range for the second time in three days. “American movies and video games are full of guns and that’s appealing, in a frightening sort of way.

“But I think Japan has it right,” she added. “If you don’t have a gun, you can’t kill someone with it.”