Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Post WW2 Occupied Japan Menko - 1946 Kimarite 6 (M461)

    Post World War 2 Occupied Japan was marked by heavy poverty, inflation, and a very weak economy with a rampant black market.  To say it was a struggle for most Japanese is an understatement as most families had barely enough money to buy food and provide shelter let alone any frivolous items like toys and menko.  So when I have the opportunity to buy and own post-WW2 occupation menko I consider it a great honor to be able to preserve something that likely cost a child, and his/her family, food money.  A unique attribute to most post-WW2 occupation menko (prevalent throughout all menko subjects) is the "westernization" of menko where the wording is written in romaji or the romanization of the Japanese alphabet.  This was an attempt to provide a common language where the Japanese children and American troops could communicate with each other.  Since baseball was America's pastime there are dozens of sets produced in Japan during this time....and several sumo sets....not to mention the dozens of non-sport sets out there.  One of those sets is the 1946 Kimarite 6 Set (M461).  These menko were printed on very thin paper stock (paper was very difficult to come by so the thinner the cheaper to produce) with either blue or purple backs.  This set came in sheets and had to be hand cut with each individual menko measuring about 1.75" x 2.75".  On the front of the menko is a cartoon drawing of the rikishi as well as the rikishi's rank, shikona, and the romanized spelling of the shikona as seen in the pictures below.  The back had all the menko features (dice, gu-choki-pa, fighting number, hometown, height, weight, birthplace, stable (heya)).  So far I have identified 11 menko in the set with a few more likely.  Interestingly, in 1946 there was only one tournament as the whole sumo association was thrown in a whirl as the occupying forces took over various sumo facilities during this time.  On a positive note, by 1952 Japan was out of the post-war depression with a decent economy with sumo popularity reaching an all time high thanks, in part, to the advent of television and broadcasting.  So for now, we'll take these pieces of history and imagine how cherished they likely were due to the sacrifices made to own them.

- 995041 Maegashira Chiyonoyama
- 957600 Yokozuna Terukuni
- 876540 Maegashira Terunobori
- 745002 Ozeki Azumafuji
- 725650 Yokozuna Terukuni
- 640520 Maegashira Masuiyama
- 625398 Komusubi Kamikaze
- 605040 Ozeki Shionoumi
- 504207 Maegashira Wakasegawa
- 437021 Maegashira Kashiwado
- 156217 Sekiwake Fudoiwa


  1. Nice ones. As you say, it really is interesting that they were already producing sets in 1946 in the midst of the economic chaos at the end of the war.

    I suppose on possible explanation is that paper/cardboard was the only commodity that could be spared for a low-priority item like children`s toys, so these might have been the only thing kids had to play with!

    Another interesting question is whether these were illegally made. During the war a very strict regime of price and distribution controls was instituted, which resulted in the creation of vast black markets (as you mention). By the time Japan surrendered these black markets (mostly for food and other necessities) had become so well developed that virtually all civilian economic activity was taking place in them since people would literally starve if they went through the legal system. During the war this all took place out of sight since the authorities would punish it, but with the surrender it all suddenly came into the open, with huge markets selling technically illegal goods springing up overnight in front of burned out train stations in most cities.

    The wartime controls remained technically in effect for some time after the war ended, but were mostly ignored. I did some research on the black markets in the occupation period and there were vendors who specialized in children`s items like these.

    So these are interesting since they might have technically been born as black market cards (though legit of course from a collector`s perspective). That is kind of an interesting niche area!

  2. The Occupied-Japan era is one that really fascinates me and one that I'm always trying to read more about. I hadn't thought about the illegal production of them before. Are you thinking the paper, which was intended for some other purpose, was siphoned off and used to print menko? There were dozens of baseball sets printed during this time so it must have been a lucrative and thriving market. The sparse menko sets during this time really does reflect the occupation as the goods were likely marketed toward soldiers (baseball was big during this time....sumo was not) or kids who had an interest in trying to speak English better. Good stuff for sure and thanks for the comments!

  3. Probably they didn`t have to siphon it off from any legitimate source. At the end of the war there were actually huge stockpiles of some commodities that the military had been accumulating to prepare for the invasion that never came, I`m not sure but paper might have been among them. When the war ended these almost immediately "disappeared" into the black market, so almost all goods being produced and distributed in the Japanese economy were technically illegal, though nobody was enforcing the rules at that point so it all took place out in the open.

    Another interesting point is that once the occupation itself started a lot of the black market came to be controlled by Chinese and Koreans, many of whom had been brought over as slave labor during the war. This is because the occupation authority deemed them to be allied nationals and thus applied different rules to them than they did to Japanese nationals. One effect of this was that they had access to goods brought over by the Americans (such as chocolate, etc) which Japanese could not acquire themselves, but were in extremely high demand. So they had a competetive advantage in the black market, and some of them became major entrepreneuers in the post-war era (Lotte, now one of the world`s largest confectionary companies and of course owner of a baseball team and sometime producer of baseball cards, was founded by a Korean in Japan at the end of the war who started out on the black market like that).

    So its possible that the paper for these might have been acquired by a Korean or Chinese entreprenuer from an American source (which might also explain the use of Romaji). This is pure speculation on my part, I might be way off would be kind of an interesting thing to find out though.