Wednesday, September 21, 2011

History of Airsoft

Electric Airsoft Rifles
Airsoft is a relatively new sport that only began gaining popularity in the Western world in the 1990’s. It was originally developed in Japan and first became popular there, China, and Korea. America has played an important part in Airsoft development as well, and the sport is now immensely popular here. The history of Airsoft is a complicated one that isn’t explored often enough. Until the late 80's early 90’s, virtually no one in the West knew anything about Airsoft unless they had been or knew someone that had been to Asia and witnessed games over there. The internet was instrumental in the growth of Airsoft, as its invention allowed the earliest fans of Airsoft in America and Europe to purchase replicas for the first time. But to fully understand the history of Airsoft, we must travel back to a time well before the internet changed the world. We must travel to a decade of excellent music and horrendous fashion choices, the groovy 1960’s.

Since the 1960’s it has been illegal in Japan for any civilian to own firearms. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and Airsoft is proof of that. The Japanese market needed something they could use for target shooting, as various shooting sports already existed in Japan at the time of the firearms ban. It is also important to note that Japan has a penchant for plastic models, be they replicas of vehicles, firearms, or giant laser-shooting robots. It is not surprising, then, that high quality gun replicas were quickly introduced. These early replicas were extremely detailed and collectable. They were similar to blank-firing guns and even had full-auto capabilities. They did not, however, fire projectiles. At the same time in America, Daisy Outdoor Products (makers of the famous Red Ryder BB gun) began introducing a handgun series that fired small, round pellets encased in shells, similar to modern Airsoft revolvers. The pellets were fired at low power and did not go very far, and these guns were referred to as “soft-air” guns. Back in Japan, this technology was influential in the creation of what were essentially modern Airsoft guns, with both springers and gas-powered replicas becoming available in a variety of models by the mid 80’s. Many of the models had high metal content and were much more powerful than the Daisy “soft-air” guns. This is when the sport of Airsoft was born, having been made possible by the advent of well made, non-lethal, projectile-firing replica firearms. Until this point, Airsoft replicas had mostly been used for target shooting and collecting.
Airsoft Sniper Rifles
While all this development was happening in Asia, in America the sport of paintball had been created by a bunch of people messing about with guns originally meant for marking utility companies’ power poles. Paintball guns would follow a trend that emphasized functionality over realism. This, coupled with the family friendly image that paintball strived hard for in the early days, meant that paintball gun manufacturers steered away from realistic-looking firearms. It wasn’t until recent years that realistic paintball guns even became available beyond the scope of a very small niche market. This would later be important as Airsoft began to spread to the Western world, because by the 80’s and 90’s paintball was already popular in America and many European countries. Paintball is more popular than Airsoft in these countries, but as the sports are (arguably) quite similar, paintball’s success invariably helped the assimilation of Airsoft in to Western culture. Airsoft also benefitted from the family friendly image paintball had successfully created for itself. Although Airsoft is associated more with MilSim (Military Simulation), the public’s general acceptance of a sport that involved shooting at each other was almost certainly beneficial.

By the late 80’s and early 90’s both paintball and Japanese model kits had become popular in America and Europe. In the 90’s, Tokyo Marui created the first ever Automatic Electric Gun. AEGs helped Airsoft’s popularity immensely because, among other things, they were cheaper to manufacture, used no gas, and were more reliable. They became so popular that gas guns dropped out of favor and many manufacturers went out of business. However Tokyo Marui, along with some competitors, started developing more effective gas systems and began producing gas-powered guns that did not require an external tank for the gas (like those featured on modern paintball guns). Hop up systems were also invented at this time. By the mid to late 90’s AEGs were available in both America and Europe, and Airsoft really took off.
G&G Airsoft Guns
Today Airsoft is rapidly growing in popularity all over the world. Still extremely popular in Asia, Airsoft is now firmly cemented in America, Europe (especially the UK and Italy), Canada, and other countries around the world. There are professionally run fields everywhere, and the number of these fields is almost certainly dwarfed by the number of makeshift fields that kids and adults have built for themselves and their friends. There are a large number of manufactures making high quality Airsoft replicas, and they are even frequently used in films and on television. Today even Walmart sells Airsoft guns. They are terrible so don’t buy them, but it really says something about the popularity our little sport has gained in the last couple of decades.  So the next time you fire an Airsoft gun, remember that without overbearing Japanese gun control laws it wouldn’t even exist. So grab a gun from HobbyTron and I will see you on the field.

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