Thursday, June 2, 2016

Japanese collecting traditions: Calbee

Calbee potato chips with giveaway 2016 baseball cards

When going about one's daily life in Japan, one of the things that stands out is the strength of certain brands, not to mention their longevity. You can be in an antique mall and see a box of 50-year old Glico  toys. Then you cross the street, go into a 7-11, and there are new Glico snack products on the shelves. The same thing goes for many lines, and that isn't surprising since there are two truths about Japan: traditions are important, and things are slow to change.

Quite a few snack makers, including Glico, Morinaga, Meiji, Calbee, and Lotte (A Korean company that was originally founded in Japan) have been bundling premium cards, stickers, and toys with their products for decades. I thought I'd write about some, to show how traditions going back half a century (or longer) carry on today.

Let's start with Calbee. The company was formed in 1949 under the name Matsuo Food Processing Co. That was changed to Calbee Foods and Confectionery Co. in 1955. Fortunately Japanese companies are fine with using shortened forms of their names, ala Calbee.

Calbee is known for its shrimp crackers as well as potato chips, which dominate many snack sections in convenient stores.
Selection of Calbee chips at a convenience store

Long ago, in 1971, they released a line of Kamen Rider branded snacks, with cool packaging and a pack of bonus Kamen Rider cards attached. 
Wall of vintage Calbee Kamen Rider cards from the 1970s
These are highly collectible - possibly the most widely collected cards in Japan along with vintage baseball cards.

Here are some closeups of rarer cards:
 More after the jump:

20,000 yen for this card

This one is 100,000 yen.

And this fine card will set you back a cool 110,000 yen (about $1,000).

Even the cases used to distribute the snacks to stores are collectible.
Calbee went on to make a lot of other cards, including many series of baseball cards. They also created specialized lines, such as one for the 1989 Batman film:
Unopened pack of squid snacks

The pack of cards came attached to the back.
Here are a few cards from the set. Say it with me now. Where does he get those wonderful toys???

Back side
 Fast forward several decades, Calbee is still selling snacks with packs of giveaway cards.
The card pack is very firmly attached to the pack of potato chips.

And here's what the cards look like.
And that's a look at Calbee, a company with legions of fans and collectors. After all this time, they're still going strong, And those baseball potato chips were pretty tasty, too!

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