Sunday, August 21, 2016

1974 Bruce Lee "Enter the Dragon" Menko Cards

There is probably no iconic actor from the 1970s that has transcended multiple generations, countries, and cultures throughout the decades than Bruce Lee.  His work ethic and story is one that resonates with many people even today.  Fortunately for Japanese collectors, he was equally popular over there, if not more.  His movies eventually made it over there and the subsequent movie memorabilia soon followed.  Way of the Dragon (known in Japan as Dragon's Path) was released in 1972 and soon followed by Enter the Dragon (known simply as Dragon) in 1973.  On a side note, for those that follow Bruce Lee movies, you also know that Chuck Norris made his first credited acting debut (as Colt) in Way of the Dragon and has several 1974 mini cards in the Yamakatsu Mini Card release.

The first Bruce Lee menko cards were released in 1974 to coincide with the release of the Enter the Dragon movie in Japan.  There are two known Bruce Lee menko sets at the moment based on the Enter the Dragon movie: 1974 Amada Bruce Lee Dragon & 1974 Bruce Lee Bat/Bone Back.  The unknown company that printed the Bat/Bone Back set also printed baseball, pro wrestling, sumo wrestling, and various other popular subjects of that time.....the same can be said for the Amada set although it appears that Amada spanned several years for all of their releases.  Below are some scans of the menko from these two sets.  The Amada set has the Towa copyright in is my understanding that Towa was the company that bought the licensing rights to show and market the movies in Japan.  Not sure if the Bat/Bone set was licensed or not.  Each of the menko measures about 1.75" x 3.0" and are 3/32" thick.  Each of the sets display the usual menko markings like Fighting Numbers and Rock-Scissor-Paper symbols.  The Amada set has military weapons and playing cards depicted on the back, while the Bat/Bone set has baseball-themed words and playing cards symbols as well.  These aren't extremely rare in Japan and can be picked up frequently, but I haven't started picking these menko up in earnest yet.  My goal is to pick up a bunch more and try to complete a checklist.

I'll try and dig out the Chuck Norris rookie cards here soon for a future post!  Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fellow Collector's Request! Why it matters and card history is important.

Now that I've settled into the new job and life in Alabama (at least for the next 10 months until we have to move again) I've started purging out excess material and doubles onto the Bay and gathering a few material to fill in holes to focus my collection.  I think we all go through this at some point....or we try to streamline our collections.  Plus, the excess material is better suited in new homes where another fellow collector can enjoy.  One purchase recently, however, really got me thinking about the history of our collections, where stuff came from, and ultimately where it goes when we are done with it.  The purchase of the following cards came with an amazing note; one where I had to stop and reread it to really understand the impact of what I had just bought  The cards and note are as follows:

Dear Ryan,

Thank you again!  I case history is important, these cards were purchased new near Kanto Mura Housing Facility/Yokota Air Base, Japan between 1973 and 1976 when I was a child.  They moved to Colorado Springs, CO and lived in a small areas south of town.  They remained in storage at my parent's home until a couple years ago.  I retrieved them from storage and brought them to my home where they have stayed until now.

One favor.  If you ever sell them, please be sure to pass along their history.

Thank you again.

Here was a childhood collector letting go of some of his Japanese memories which obviously meant enough for him to add the note and pass along their history.  As a fellow collector, I am honored to pass along the history of these cards if I do end up selling some of them...even if I don't, I've passed along some of that history here already.  Fortunately, most of these fill in some big holes in my collection so they will likely be staying put for a while.  I have a request out to the seller to do an interview to understand what it was like to collect menko and mini cards in Japan in the mid 1970s.  And hopefully get a better background on these specific sets.  I'm hoping it all works out where I can share that with all of you.

But more importantly, these few short sentences have verified and confirmed what us Japanese card collectors have had to deduce from countless hours of research.  It nails down timeframes, locations of sale, and even the mini card prize system.  It doesn't get any better than that!  Most of these sets are destined for the blogosphere so stay tuned.

Has anyone else ever had a similar request or a good story on the history of cards in their collection?  I makes me want to be a better seller and pass along any info I have as the cards change hands.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A short guide to 1970s-1980s Japanese Mini Cards via the 1983 Amada LSI Game Mini Card Set

     Japanese card collectors in the 1970s and 1980s were bombarded with a ton of collecting options ranging from menko, bromides, and mini cards which covered a wide variety of topics like tv shows, anime, movies, singers and video games.  Apart from my sumo wrestling card hobby, I love to collect cards from the 1970s and 1980s, especially if they have a theme that I am particularly interested in or can relate to.  Japanese mini cards are my main focus from this era and I wanted to give a short guide to collecting these cards in the 1970s and 1980s via the 1983 Amada LSI Game Set.

    Mini card production started around 1973 and ended approximately 12 years later in 1985.  As irony would have it, the subject of today's review (1983 Amada LSI Game Set) was likely the reason for the demise of the mini card as Japanese kids turned their attention from card collecting to video games and electronic entertainment.  But if you were a kid in 1983 and wanted to buy mini cards, you likely would go to a Dagashiya (Candy Shop), like the picture below, to browse the selections and make your purchases.  Dagashiya have been around in Japan for decades and where you would purchase menko in the 1930s-1960s , but today when you find one they are more for tourists and nostalgia.

   Once inside the shop you would be bombarded with candy, hanging bromide taba, small toys and of course mini card boxes like the one below.  Most dagashiya owners went to wholesale districts regularly to stock up on goods for the store and you see this still in Japan with the fish and meat markets scattered about in the bigger cities.  In order to prepare the box for display in the store the owner would remove the prizes as well as the envelope of sealed winner card packs.  See pictures below.  The prizes would be kept behind the counter and the winner card envelope opened and the winner packs would be randomly distributed among the regular, non-winning packs.  I'm not sure why the winner card packs were originally segregated, but likely so the owner could distribute as he/she saw fit, or because the cards were stamped separately and it was easier to package them separately. 

   The cover of the box, like most mini card boxes, shows what kind of cards you would be buying as well as what the odds were of getting a winner card.  The 1983 Amada LSI Game set came with 60 packs (2-cards per pack)...50 packs of regular or "Loser はずれ cards" and 10 packs of winner cards.  The prizes in this box are 2 Grand, 2 1st Level, 3 2nd Level and 3 3rd Level prizes.  As mentioned above, the winner card packs were distributed throughout the box by the owner.  It's impossible to tell from the pictures above put the Grand Prize (Gray) was a pack of 12 cards, the 1st Level Prize (Blue) was a pack of 8 cards, the 2nd Level Prize (Black) was a pack for 5 cards, and the 3rd Level Prize (Red) was a pack of 3 cards.  Most often these prize packs contained more of the same of the regular cards.  If you haven't caught on yet, the big push with mini cards was really all about gambling; the chance and motivation to get bigger cards and prizes.  Each pack, or chance, cost 10 yen and considering in 1983 the exchange rate was about 250 yen per US dollar, each kid was buying a pack for about 4 cents....which seems comparable to what kids were paying in 1983 per card....maybe a little more.  So after paying 10 yen, the kid would pick, or the owner would choose a pack, and the kid would start ripping.  If a winner card was opened, the owner would cancel the card (usually with a pen or marker through the winner stamp) and give the card back to the kid along with his/her prize.
  The below picture contains some single cards I have picked up over the year to give you a better idea of this set which was to highlight and showcase different handheld LCD video games from the early 1980s.....this set really seems like a big marketing ploy by the top game manufactures to get you to buy their electronics (Bandai, Tomi, Epic, Takara).  I've never played any of the games in the set, but they sure do look interesting and many of the games are still available on eBay for a hefty sum.  The Japanese called the early electronics LSI, an acronym for Large Scale Integration, which was the process of integrating thousands of transistors on a single silicon microchip (Thanks Wikipedia for the quick reference).  Also note below is a uncancelled winner card for a 3rd Level Prize.  More often than not, you see cancelled winner stamps on cards that come to auction, but occasionally you see uncancelled cards, and my guess is that these uncancelled cards were acquired on the secondary market many years after the set was originally sold and so there was no chance to claim a prize.  I consider these cards "parallel cards" and collect them right along side the regular/loser cards. 

   I don't have the set checklisted yet, but it is on my to-do list when I come across a hoard of these next time. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

R377 - 1937 Rikishi Gunbai 4

  There is nothing nicer, and more popular, in my opinion than a 1930s R-series sumo menko set.  R-series menko were nothing new in the 1930s and, in fact, had been around since the turn of the century, but a huge resurgence of sumo popularity was spurred by the great Yokozuna Futabayama.

The 35th Yokozuna Futabayama (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

  Futabayama hit his stride in the mid-1930s and eventually made it to yokozuna which kicked off a flurry of sumo menko sets production.....and timing is everything as there was also a surge in overall menko popularity in the 1930s.  These two factors have made for a treasure trove of sets to chase and pursue from this era.  1930s R-series menko are not that rare (obviously some more than others) and surprisingly a vast majority of them survived the war through fires, bombings, and paper drives.  It is unimaginable how many must have been produced to still see them come up for auction today.  One such set is the R377 - 1937 Rikishi Gunbai 4 set that was produced by an unknown company likely trying to capitalize on Futabayama's dohyo prowess.  As is somewhat common for this era, registration can be spotty at best for these sets and the quality of paper used was often poorly produced.

  This particular set is unique in the fact that there were two colors of ink used to print the back: blue and purple.  My only two guesses for this is the manufacturer likely used whatever color was available (maybe scarcity of certain colors) or they were produced regionally and standardization wasn't addressed.  As with all R-series sets, this one is die-cut and uses nice and vivid colors on the fronts to depict the kesho mawashi aprons used as part of the ring entrance ceremony.  Registration, especially noticeable with red, is quite poor with the R377-2 Type 2 Purple Backs, but seems to have been cleaned up when the R377-1 Type 1 Blue Backs were printed.  There are too few of these out there to make any definitive conclusions though.  Unfortunately, I haven't located a Futabayama from this set yet, but I'm sure there is one out there.  I do like the clean and simple design on the back dominated by a large referee fan with the wrestler's name in the middle and rank at the very top.  The bottom shows the wrestler's weight with a 4-digit fighting number at the very bottom.  Overall, most menko are about 1.5" x 2.25".

Here is the checklist so far from this set:
8958 – Maegashira Takanobori
8901 – Maegashira Nayoroiwa
8702 – Maegashira Itstsushima
7256 – Sekiwake Asahigawa
6728 – Komusubi Yamatoiwa
4860 – Yokozuna Minanogawa
2812 – Sekiwake Taikyuzan

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lone Sole Mate / New M-Series Set: M526 - 1952 Trump 5

I have a binder of "To-be-checklisted" sumo menko sets.  These are sets I have just acquired and that I have not yet entered nor checklisted in my book.  Normally the amount of sets in my binder number between 5-10... I'm always cataloging and clearing new sets as new ones come in.  I define a set as having two or more menko, however, I also have a section in my binder called the Lone Soles.  These are menko I only have one of and can't catalogue them since I usually need at least two menko to narrow down a year.  Some of these Lone Soles have been in there for some instances almost 10.  This week I was able to move one of my menko out of the Lone Sole section and into the queue for cataloguing due to finding another one from the set.  Nothing brings me more joy, other than discovering new sets, than finding a match (or Sole Mate if you will) to my Lone Sole pile.  Sumo menko collecting will never be as mainstream as baseball or football, but in this small niche collecting community, these are the discoveries that get us excited.

This Lone Sole Mate is a a new M-Series set from 1952 and I've catalogued it as the M526 - 1952 Trump 5.  I had the #53819 Yokozuna Chiyonoyama menko for what seemed like an eternity, but I picked up the #62357 Yokozuna Terukuni menko recently at auction.  I've deduced it's from 1952 as Terukuni retired early on in 1953 and Chiyonoyama didn't promote to Yokozuna until later in 1951.  This set has the possibility of being from 1951 or 1950, but I'll update it if I happen to find any more of these rare bad boys.  I love the artwork on this set and the colors are nice and vivid.....also having a red-inked back is quite rare too as most sets usually have blue, brown, black, purple, or green.  Red is really uncommon.

I am hoping that more of these exist out there, but given that I have only found 2 in my 16 years or so of collecting, I am unlikely to find many more.  If a Wakanohana menko of this set exists, that would be the big menko of this set as it would be considered his Debut Menko.....much like a rookie card is defined.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

1985 Japanese Takara/NTV Transformers Menko

Growing up in the 1980s offered a ton of new toy and electronic gaming options. I think most collectors today yearn for "the good ol days" of that entertainment bliss and I was one of the kids that caught the transformers craze and still have the original toys. Fortunately, my love for Japanese sumo cards has also afforded me the opportunity to collect other Menko Japanese, mini cards, and bromides from the 1970s and 1980s.  One of these menko sets is this 1985 Takara/NTV Transformers Menko Set. I have a feeling what I have here is only a partial set, but I couldn't pass up the artwork and nostalgia. They are printed on fairly thick cardboard and likely were distributed in boxes like most menko were.  This set is actually quite late for a menko set as the peak popularity was in the late 1970s.

This is the checklist I have so far:

- Alert
- Convoy
- Perceptor
- Slag
- Smokescreen
- Snarl
- Trailbreaker
- Wheeljack

- Condor
- Frenzy
- Hook
- Jaguar
- Kickback
- Megatron
- Megatron Combo
- Mixmaster
- Reflector
- Rumble
- Soundwave
- Thundercracker

Saturday, July 23, 2016

New Set: 1958 All Star Matching Game (G582)

This is one set I've had my eye on for quite sometime.....probably 3-4 years or so. The same auction would always come up and it never seemed to sell, but I finally pulled the trigger and was lucky enough to end up with 5 sheets of this new set.  I've labeled and catalogued this new set in my book as the 1958 All Star Matching Game (G582). I'm still working on the company that produced these and have cross checked the set in Engel's book, but he doesn't have it listed there. This set is easy to nail down as being from 1958 as it shows Asashio ranked as an Ozeki, but he promoted to Yokozuna in late 1958. It also has 4 rookie cards of the baseball player Nagashima as he started playing in 1958. So we have 4 previously unknown and uncatalogued rookie cards of Shigeo Nagashima which is a pretty amazing find as well for the Japanese Baseball Card collectors.

The back explains several ways to play, but the common way is to play it like memory game. Put all the cards face down and try to match pairs (合せ in Japanese). There are a variety of ways to do this with this set: number, person, playing card suit, playing card number, season kanji, color kanji....  These cards could also be used as a regular playing card deck.

There are 54 cards in the set...52 regular cards and 2 jokers.  Each card has pictures of a famous person from 1958 and each person has four different cards (Same playing card number, but 4 different suits).  Quick public math verified by photos results in 13 different people depicted in the set with 4 cards each. Sadly, I'm not versed in 1958 Japanese actors or music stars so I don't know who the majority of the people are(yet), but I do know the 3 sumo wrestlers and 2 baseball players (thanks NPB Card Guy for the help on Masaichi Kaneda).  It's not surprising that the established Yokozuna weren't included in this set as they were nearing the end of the prime and the new youngsters and popular wrestlers in Wakanohana, Asashio, and Kotogahama were in much better favor.

The sheet is printed on thin cardboard stock, about like construction paper, and measures about 12.25" X 18.25".  Each card measures about 1.5" x 2 5/8".  There is a lot going on with each card and a lot of distinguishing features. For the purpose of the checklist, I chose to identify each card by playing card number & suit followed by background color.

Here is the current checklist:

KD - Unknown Actor - Red Background
KS - Unknown Actor - Blue Background
KH - Unknown Actor - Pink Background
KC - Unknown Actor - Green Background
QD - Unknown Actor - Red Background
QS - Unknown Actor - Orange Background
QH - Unknown Actor - Green Background
QC - Unknown Actor - Red Background
JD - Unknown Actress - Blue Background
JS - Unknown Actress - Red Background
JH - Unknown Actress - Pink Background
JC - Unknown Actress - Green Background
10D - Unknown Actress - Green Background
10S - Unknown Actress - Blue Background
10H - Unknown Actress - Red Background
10C - Unknown Actress - Pink Background
9D - Unknown Actor - Red Background
9S - Unknown Actor - Yellow Background
9H - Unknown Actor - Red Background
9C - Unknown Actor - Yellow Background
8D - Masaichi Kaneda - Yellow Background
8S - Masaichi Kaneda - Green Background
8H - Masaichi Kaneda - Red Background
8C - Masaichi Kaneda -Blue Background
7D - Shigeo Nagashima - Blue Background
7S - Shigeo Nagashima - Green Background
7H - Shigeo Nagashima - Pink Background
7C - Shigeo Nagashima - Red Background
6D - Unknown Singer - Red Background
6S - Unknown Singer -Yellow Background
6H - Unknown Singer - Blue Background
6C - Unknown Singer - Red Background
5D - Unknown Actor - Red Background
5S - Unknown Actor - Green Background
5H - Unknown Actor - Pink Background
5C - Unknown Actor - Yellow Background
4D - Ozeki Asashio - Colored Circle Background
4S - Ozeki Asashio - Red/Yellow/Blue Background
4H - Ozeki Asashio - Colored Flower Background
4C - Ozeki Asashio - Blue Background
3D - Unknown Actor - Red Background
3S - Unknown Actor - Green Background
3H - Unknown Actor - Yellow Background
3C - Unknown Actor - Red Background
2D - Ozeki Kotogahama - Wave Background
2S - Ozeki Kotogahama - Star Background
2H - Ozeki Kotogahama - Circle Background
2C - Ozeki Kotogahama - Fan Background
1D - Yokozuna Wakanohana - Orange Background
1S - Yokozuna Wakanohana - Red Background
1H - Yokozuna Wakanohana - Blue Background
1C - Yokozuna Wakanohana - Pink Background

I have 5 sheets of these so one or two will likely make their way to eBay.