After World War 2, the Japanese were a conquered people with the United States acting as majority overseers. As such, their defense industry went on to be highly regulated and many of its Cold War-era arms were usually American in origin and the nation was not allowed to maintain a large military presence for a time, especially for actions geared towards overseas activities. Their infantry squads were, therefore, inevitably stocked with the war-winning 1930s-era American M1 Garand self-loading rifle which continued use in the Japanese Self Defense Force at least into the 1960s.
However, by 1960, there was a perceived need by the Japanese to modernize its inventory of Garands with an indigenous battle rifle of wholly Japanese design. Japanese General Iwashita was allowed direct input into the design process and development was handled through the Howa Heavy Industry firm. Howa, based in Kiyosu, Aichi, Japan, represented a machinery manufacturer founded back in 1907 with its stable of products ranging from civilian and military firearms to construction equipment, windows, doors and power tools. The resulting "battle rifle" - that is, a military service rifle firing a full-power rifle cartridge - was evaluated and displayed better accuracy than the American rifle it would be replacing. The rifle was then accepted into service with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in 1964 as the "Type 64".
Externally, the Type 64 shared some design similarities to the Belgium-made FN FAL. The weapon exhibited the same straight-lined box magazine fitted to a slab-sided receiver of very little detail. The trigger was set within an oblong ring attached to an angled, ergonomic pistol grip. The buttstock contoured with fine lines into the rear of the receiver. Iron sights were fitted atop the gun body. The barrel and gas cylinder were encased in a rounded forend that featured flat sides, tapering from the receiver front towards the muzzle. The barrel extended a short distance away from the forward post sight structure. A hinged foldable bipod could be fitted under the front post sight for sustained fire and improved stationary accuracy. Overall, the Type 64 was a clean battle rifle with superior lines and seemingly fine craftsmanship.
The weapon displayed a weight of just 9.7lb. Overall length was out to 39 inches with the barrel being 17.7 inches in length. The cartridge was a 7.62x51mm NATO round though slightly modified with less powder charge and stacked within a 20-round detachable box magazine. The firing action of a gas-operated tilting bolt. Rate-of-fire was a respectable 500 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of 700 meters per second and an effective range listed out to 400 meters. Along with the iron sights, operators had the option to affix telescopic sights as needed to create a "Designated Marksman" rifle and role.
Despite the addition of a scope, the Type 64 as a sniper rifle left something to be desired. As it was mounted onto the receiver with just a single screw, it was prone to misalignments through normal battlefield handling. The targeting in the lens itself was also done against a black "T" reticule that did not compensate for use against dark targets or in low light activity. In its sniper role, the Type 64 has since been replaced by the proven American M24 Sniper Weapon System (SWS) - based on the Remington 700 series - of the US Army beginning in 2002.
There are four selector switch settings along the Type 64 receiver - a safety, semi-automatic fire, full-automatic fire and one interestingly labeled "Hit the Target". The buttplate at the stock is hinged while the cyclic rate of fire is adjusted via an external gas regulator. While the weapon does use the 7.62x51mm NATO caliber, these rounds are specifically designed with less powder charge to account for the generally smaller stature of the common Japanese soldier - the lesser powder charge in effect lessens the outgoing recoil when the gun is fired, particularly on full-automatic, leading to better accuracy and handling. While the weapon can fire the base 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, it cannot fire a "standard-load" 7.62mm round without consequence to the internal mechanical components.
In spite of its 1960s origins, the Type 64 is still commonplace with the Japanese Self-Defense Force the Japanese Coast Guard and the Special Assault Team - the latter being a civilian paramilitary anti-terrorist group. To date some 230,000 Type 64s are believed to have been produced. The weapon has not been sold outside of Japan proper due to the severe military export restrictions imposed upon the nation for its actions in World War 2. For the most part, the Type 64 has been largely replaced by the newer and much improved "Type 89" rifle, another product of the Howa company.