Japanese Baseball Cards from the Occupation

Game Cards


Diecut Menko

a dagashiya

Rectangular Menko

Round Menko

General Douglas MacArthur and the Occupying Forces purposely used baseball to help reconcile the United States and Japan after World War II.  Only two months after the end of hostilities, they sponsored a series of professional all star games, and they helped reestablish the professional, university and high school leagues in 1946.  In 1949, Lefty O’Doul brought his San Francisco Seals to Japan for a series of goodwill games.  This tour started a traditional of a MLB team coming to Japan nearly every other year. The Japanese professional league continued under a one league format until 1950 when they added seven teams and expanded to two leagues- the Central and Pacific with the winners meeting in the Japan Series.  The Allied occupation of Japan officially ended on April 28 1952.

Despite Japan’s economic turmoil, the occupation period became the heyday of the vintage Japanese baseball card.  The period contains the greatest variety of cards as well as some of the most attractive cards produced on either side of the Pacific.  Menko and bromides still dominated the card industry but candy and game issues also became widespread.  Menko sets tended to contain fewer than ten cards but hundreds of different sets have been identified.  Bromides set were often larger, containing dozens of cards, but once again samples from over a hundred sets have been found.  The manufacturers of most of these sets are unknown and it is possible that many were produced by small printing shops and just released regionally.

Cards were often sold at small candy shops, known as dagashiya.  Some came in paper wrappers but most were probably sold in sheets that children cut into individual cards with scissors.   Round menko are often found in stacks tied with string, suggesting that they were either sold this way or delivered to the store in stacks and ten sold by the card.  Game cards usually came as boxed sets that included the rules and playing field but sometimes came in uncut sheets inserted into magazines.  A popular Japanese card game known as kuruta involves matching a card with a letter from the hiragana alphabet and a written clue to a pitcher card.  Kuruta sets usually came in boxes and were traditionally given and played at New Year.  Since they were made to be gifts, karuta cards are often made on higher quality cardboard than menko or bromides and are among the most attractive cards.