Friday, January 27, 2017

Vintage Discoveries #5: Amazing 1950s Japanese Menko Sheets

With their long, rich tradition in Japan, menko trading cards deserve more attention than they get. The subject matter on the cards says a lot about what was popular with kids at the time. In a way, menkos represent time capsules that teach us about cultural trends from 50, 75, or even 100 years ago. They're also very cool collectibles.
I find this grouping of menko cards fascinating for a few reasons. Just on the surface, the offset printing is magnificent. Whichever printer was responsible for the task took it to heart, mixing a bold and vibrant color palette that stands out and does justice to the dynamic characters. The paper stock is also thick and well made.
The back of menko cards had weird, esoteric numbers, symbols, and games on them that few can decipher anymore.

These uncut sheets are also interesting because they were probably "lottery prizes" at shops. Kids bought little packs of 5 or 10 menkos for a few yen. If there was a lucky stamp on the back, they would show the card to the shopkeeper to redeem this sort of prize.
I also love the variety of characters on these sheets. You have everything from samurai to cowboys & indians to soldiers and roman soldiers!
 More after the jump:

Western shows and characters from the USA enjoyed popularity in Japan in the 1950s.

What a grouping! You have an Iron Man (Tetsujin), Pirate (Dokuro), Centurion, and Tarzan!

Another interesting note is the presence of both Japanese and US soldiers. Soon after World War II ended, Japan produced large numbers of war-related toys and books. Rather than functioning as political or propaganda statements, though, the soldiers were like any other characters. Not everything was a-political, of course, and some could argue that the heroification of soldiers has deeper connotations, but in the greater scheme of kids' culture in the 50s, soldiers were just there right alongside tokusatsu heroes like Organ Bat, along with Mickey Mouse and sumo wrestlers.

One of my favorite cards from the group

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