Japanese shooting team sees Bianchi Cup as unique opportunity

Thursday, May 24, 2012 | 9:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:59 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 25, 2012
Shooters from multiple continents gathered in Hallsville this week participate in a variety of pistol shooting events at the 33rd annual Bianchi Cup. The competition began Wednesday and will end Saturday.

HALLSVILLE — The rattling kick of a pistol recoiling, the distinctive smack of a bullet being fired and the sulfuric smell of gunpowder are nothing new for most Bianchi Cup competitors.

However for Team Japan, competing at the event this weekend in Hallsville gives them a chance to fire pistols with bullets in them. Japanese gun laws forbid those who are not in the police or military to own pistols. Instead, the members of the Japanese team resort to firing gas-powered pellet pistols or Airsoft guns for shooting competitions in Japan.

For Tomo Hasegawa, a 45-year-old team member, toy guns, as he calls them, just don't compare to firing an actual pistol.

"I feel sad to use toy guns because toy guns are just plastic," Hasegawa said. "Real guns are much more exciting. I love the smell of the smoke and the knockdown power of the bullet."

Hasegawa's love of firearms started when he was 8, after he read an article about sniper instructors written by Ichiro Nagata, another member of Team Japan.

The 69-year-old Nagata is probably the most important member of the Japanese team. His American citizenship allows him to lend the team his weapons because non-citizens cannot own firearms. Hasegawa said Nagata's articles have also influenced many hobbyists in Japan to get involved with the sport.

For the Japanese team, Nagata makes their dream reality.

"When I shoot, I have reflections," Nagata said. "They grew up reading my articles."

The four-man team started training with Nagata and four-time Bianchi Cup winner, Mickey Fowler, at Fowler's ranch in California a month ago. Newcomer Tomohiro Mouri trained with bullets for the first time at Fowler's ranch. Under Nagata's direction he shot 20,000 rounds in three weeks to adjust to shooting with bullets.

"In the beginning he was holding the gun with his eyes closed," Nagata said. "Now he's used to the kick."

Nagata's passion for firearms started years ago when he first got to the United States. He said when he was in Japan he was fascinated with all sorts of martial arts. When he came to the United States, he walked into a San Francisco gun shop and left with a gun.

"The gun is an extension of your fist," Nagata said. "They were another martial art for me."

The Bianchi Cup is a yearly tradition for the Japanese team, and Hasegawa and Nagata have been competing at the event for more than 20 years.

Hasegawa and Nagata once attended various shooting tournaments around the United States. However, because of the poor economy, Hasegawa dropped every tournament except for the Bianchi Cup. Each Bianchi Cup trip costs roughly $6,000 for the members. Ammunition alone costs $2,000.

Hasegawa sacrificed his education to shoot live rounds in the United States. He was an architecture student in Japan, but frequent trips across the Pacific Ocean led him to drop his studies. He began freelancing as a photographer and writing for Japanese gun and military magazines in order to pay for his shooting competitions.

Despite the steep costs, the team still looks forward to the Bianchi Cup every year. One of the reasons Hasegawa hasn't stopped going is because he feels it makes him a stronger person.

"The Bianchi Cup is the toughest match. You need both speed and accuracy," Hasegawa said. "Shooting makes my mind sharper and makes me stronger."

For Team Japan, the sound of guns booming across the Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club means a rare week of festivities.

"This is like Christmas," Nagata said. "It's a good vacation."

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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