The period of occupied Japan produced some whimsical collectibles


This bird is a pipe holder from the period of occupied Japan after WWII.

What is this little wooden bird that is about 7 inches tall?

His head comes off, and there is a deep dug area and a hole in his hindquarters.

This is a tobacco pipe holder made for export to occupied Japan. Which brings me to a fascinating time of cross-fertilization, from the winter of 1947 to the spring of 1952, when American forces occupied the defeated Japanese country and economy. The period is called occupied Japan.

You will see the following items from this period, and they feature a kitschy, whimsical look made for the early US military. Then the products were exported to the US dime industry as the Japanese economy and industry developed.

The period produced thousands of reproductions of Hummel figures and thousands of toothpick holders of all shapes. And many of those toothpick holders would be considered politically incorrect today.

Japanese industry produced figurines that looked a bit like Meissen (18th century German porcelain ladies’ figurines and their courtiers), tea sets, sets of mitasses, vases, planters, Toby Mugs à la Royal Doulton manner, cheap ceramic head dolls, metal lighters, metal toys in thin cardboard boxes, ashtrays, black Americana in ceramic figurines (I said politically incorrect, didn’t I ?), kitsch lamps and table services with European floral motifs.

In essence, it was a mass of what we called Five and Dime material.

What happened to Japan, once the world leader in the porcelain industry, was that the economy after the war was horrible. US forces were tasked with helping rebuild the Japanese economy, and the headquarters of the US occupation force, the administrative arm of the force, clarified that US interests would help rebuild the ceramics industry. in Japan. For this reason, half of all items produced would be exported to the United States, with the “Made in Occupied Japan” seal.

Sometimes these goods were stamped (still under the glaze) simply this: “Occupied Japan.” If you have an export from Japan and it is pre-1945 ceramic or porcelain it may be written “Nippon” and if it is after 1952 you will see a paper label of aluminum indicating “Japan”.

One of the most fascinating lines of items to come out of occupied Japan were items designed to capture the interest and wallets of GI’s stationed there. This is an area that is collected by those who collect material from occupied Japan, and it features tobacco related trinkets, as GIs tended to smoke.

So we find pewter lighters with erotic images, and little wooden birds made to hold pipes. Ashtrays with all kinds of scenes were also popular, and for a few dollars a GI could collect souvenirs to take home. And boy, did they take these things home – en masse.

This era was fascinating because of the cultural overlap between the ancient art of porcelain and ceramics in Japan through the ages, and what the United States administration believed to be bought by Americans.

Thus, porcelain – a treasure of Japan – was, during the period of occupied Japan, degraded to form toothpick holders and ashtrays, often with images and scenes that would appeal to the American market.

So, after the first wave of souvenir materials made for GI’s, Japanese ceramic factories made items that flooded Woolworth, Kresge’s, and the like stores in their country.

It was a bit before my time, but I remember my older cousins ​​collecting small Dutch Girl figurines at Woolworth’s in Deerfield, Illinois. They were marked “Made in Occupied Japan”.

These little trinkets were so inexpensive that the term “Made in Japan” tended to mean that something was made cheaply.

Not anymore. And it’s a good thing.

Today, the best designs, the best porcelain brands, and the best in ceramics (not to mention automotive technology and design) come from Japan.

But the earlier period of occupied Japan, with its many forms of artifacts made for American consumption, tells the story of a heavy occupation of sad images and forms of a once wonderful art form.

It was a sad period, but short-lived. Collectors would pay $ 150 for the small pipe holder.

And the era of collecting this material, because of the politically incorrectness of many images and forms, is over. The 1980s were the heyday of the collection.

Today, materials marked “Occupied Japan” make up half of what they did in the 1980s. Fortunately!

Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears on Mondays in the News-Press Life section.

Written after her father’s diagnosis of COVID-19, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin ‘Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humourous collection of five short “what if” stories that end in personal triumphs over current constrictions. It is available at Chaucer in Santa Barbara.

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