Staff Writer (Updated: 7/23/2016):
Origins: The Type 38 Rifle
The Meiji 38th Year rifle (Type 38) appeared in 1905 and was considered an improvement over the previous offerings of the 1897 and 1902 attempts. The bolt work followed more in line with the original Mauser design and featured a larger, easier-to-grab, bolt handle. A new cartridge with a pointed tip - the 38th Year Type, 6.5x50mm - was also introduced at the same time as the rifle. Some 3.4 million of the weapon were produced and included both a carbine and a cavalry form. The Type 38 went on to serve the Empire for thirty years as the army's rifle of choice. In fact, the Type 38 even served as the official primary service rifle of the British Army for a time. 1914 saw the British Army is a desperate search for quantitative service rifles for training to counter its growing wartime enlistment numbers. As such, the Arisaka rifle was selected for purchase and given British-applicable designations upon delivery: Rifle, Magazine, 256-caliber Pattern 1900; Rifle, Magazine, 256-caliber Pattern 1907; Carbine, Magazine, 256-caliber Pattern 1907.
Once Again, Combat Experience Forces Change
However, combat actions in the Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan of the late 1930's soon showcased the Japanese Army was, yet again, behind the technological curve. The Chinese 7.9mm cartridge proved superior to the 6.5mm and was notably better at range. As such, a new weapon would have to be devised for the Japanese Army to replace the outclassed Type 38 and put the Emperor's land army on equal footing with her adversaries.
The New 7.7x58mm Cartridge and the Type 99 Rifle
A new cartridge was soon under development and ultimately became the 7.7x58mm Arisaka round. After a short period of testing using modified Type 38 rifles and ironing out of teething issues, the Type 99 was born. The Type 99 appeared in 1939 and was similar to the Meiji 38th series with the major exception of it being chambered to fire the 7.7x58mm Arisaka cartridge. The type was meant to compete on the battlefield against similar "Short Rifles" fielded by Japan's contemporaries but was also produced in an unwieldy "Long Rifle" form. She was designed as a more affordable, easier-to-produce rifle system and proved the point particularly moreso towards the end of the World War 2 when resources across Japan proved quite scarce to come by.
Despite its intent to become the average infantryman rifle, the system maintained some rather interesting, albeit rather relatively useless, features that stood it apart from the rest. For one, the rifle was fitted with a rather fragile-looking monopod just under the foregrip body. The idea behind the addition was for a more accurized and stable firing platform when used against low-flying aircraft. The other similar addition inherent to the Type 99 design was in the form of an integrated sighting device ranged far enough to allow the rifleman to accurately sight these low-flying aircraft. While a novel concept, this was a rather optimistic attempt on the part of the designers. It did serve to show the concern of aerial attack by vulnerable infantry forces. The sighting mechanism was concentrated mostly to the rear sight implement and consisting of folding bars.
World At War
By the time full-scale war had broken out over the Pacific, the Type 99 was already in use by forces of the Imperial Japanese Army. However, production seemingly never caught up to full demand and forced the continued use of the older yet still reliable Type 38. Both were used concurrently while the Type 99 never fully replaced the Type 38 as it was intended to do.
The Mauser Rifle, Japanese Style
While the Type 99 was based on the original concepts brought forth by the Mauser design of Germany (most any bolt-action rifle of the time lent its history to the fabulous Mauser), it also showcased some indigenous ideas that tried to make for a better rifle. Rate-of-fire was slightly improved in the Type 99 by introducing a bolt action that would cock the rifle system on the close action rather than on the open motion. The bolt cover was rotatable and, while it was meant as an improvement, often led to Japanese soldiers simply discarding the feature for it tended to rattle during movement.