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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Matchbox Labels Of Japan - Part 5

Today, since Toronto had an ice storm for two days, where the winds blew one meter of snow up to my front door, and it's now +7C, I thought we'd take a look at some weird images on Japanese match box labels.

Things that make one wonder just why such symbolism was chosen.

All these matchbox labels are from the 1880s up till maybe the 1930s. While the matches may have been made in Japan, the companies that produce them may be from other locales... or, despite the matches being made in Japan are for markets outside of Japan, and as such they assume users don't know much about Japan, as I found Chinese dragons and temples on the art, as well as symbolism from India.

Weird, right... then again... in Japan, the most famous adage revolves around "the nail that stands up, get's hammered down", implying that individualism in Japan is not the social ideal. I'm pretty sure that's not what this matchbox art is saying, but why else is it there, except a hammer strikes hard, just like one wants a match head to.. if not that, then I'm lost.
A thumbs up for the two lucky Japanese dragons. A rule of thumb says that Japanese dragons are depicted with three claws per foot, while Chinese dragons have four or five claws per foot. It looks like these dragons could be part of a Where's Waldo book, what with the striped shirt.
Safety Matches with a gun image? For the pro-gun lobby, sure; for the anti-gun lobby, if no one had guns, no one would need a gun, but I suppose everyone might need a knife to protect themself.
Yeah, nothing says safety matches from Japan quite like a typewriter typing out the words 'trade mark'.
Yes, it's not just tobacco that can be smoked, as this stoned goddess floating on clouds shows... or maybe it's just a woman in a kimono with tufts of marijuana wafting about.
Lightly stamped under "The Pipe" line, are the words "Impregnated Safety Matches".. because every time I think impregnated, I'm 99 percent sure I'm thinking not enough safety was utilized. I suppose this brand might be a longer stick match specifically for pipe smokers... if not, then it's just a boring piece of art.
That's the second-biggest cock, I've ever seen... rooster that is. That's a joke, son. A bon mot, a witticism. It's interesting that the brand is "The Cock and Boy" when the boy is actually depicted as an angel... wings and all... and since he has a horn, we could assume the angel is the archangel Gabriel blowing his horn... and when Gabriel blows his horn, Gabriel is announcing Judgement Day... so smoke'em if you got'em. Why the fug is Gabriel riding a giant chicken? I know that would be scary and all, but it's hardly impressive when announcing that Judgement Day is nigh upon us. Oh... right... "nobody here but us chickens." Of course, this horn looks more like a bugle than the elongated English horn type I would expect.
Less frightening, but more confusing, is a monkey in a crib holding a bugle. Mama, baby wants you to clean his spit valve... and a banana would be nice. And maybe a bigger crib. And maybe explain what any of this has to do with matches?
One might look at this image of a white dog with black splotches and immediately think of Nipper, the mascot of HMV (His Master's Voice). It's possible, but in every incarnation I've ever seen of the imagery, Nipper is always on the right side of the gramophone, with his head just about to enter the horn. In the original 1899 painting, Nipper is listening to a cylinder phonograph, while the imagery on the records has Nipper listening to a wind-up gramophone. The gramophone horn is always brass, and not sculpted to look like a flower... as such, to avoid any copyright infringements, I think the Teikoku Match company has done a nice job... using it to capitalize on the new technology.
Robots in Japan? That's one of those iconic symbols of the country that people outside of it think of when you mention Japan. This imagery is geared to the success of Robot Brand.
If anyone out there knows of any books on the subject of matchbox label art, let me know, please. I don't think I want to start a new hobby, but I would be curious to learn more.


Andrew Joseph


  1. Well ... I have no book references, but I found this great article by Hunter Oatman-Stanford from Collectors Weekly. Here’s an excerpt:

    “The blend of traditional Japanese imagery and Westernized Art Deco is what makes these ads so interesting: Geishas and flappers appear like two sides of the same coin.” — From:

    There’s also a great collection on Flickr by Jane McDevitt mentioned in the article.

    We had a beautiful spring day on Saturday and then a cold rainy blustery day on Sunday. Torrential rain yesterday ... truly schizophrenic weather!

    1. Hey... thanks, very much! I checked out McDevitt's Flicker stuff, and am going thru the article at lunch. Cheers!