The following article is reprinted from Japanese Baseball Card Quarterly (copyright
1991 King's Baseball Cards):
In 1900, Japan banned the use of lead in menkos, due to poisoning cases that had
occurred in Osaka from kids licking their menkos (possibly to gain an advantage over
their opponents in menko shooting matches). In any case, with the elimination of
its lead-based competitor, the cardboard menko had free reign to live long and prosper
in the big hearts of little boys, at least for the next 60 or so years.
In the 1920's and 30's, Japan embarked on an era of "cultural renaissance"
in which the country whole-heartedly adopted new Western ways of all types in an
effort to stand tall as a "modern" nation. All sorts of new motifs began
appearing on menkos, such as religious subjects, Western comic characters, exotic
animals, Silent-era Japanese theatrical stars, and figures playing sports such as
baseball and soccer.
Caught up in the quest of the "new", menkos took on new shapes. Some
were made into long rectangular strips so that kids could take them to school in
their books as "book marks". Others were diecut into the shapes of people,
animals, and later, planes which could be flung or shot through the air, such as
with a rubber band.
Baseball got another shot in the arm when Japan lost World War II and General
MacArthur's occupation prohibited the glorification of traditional Japanese heroes.
This meant that the Japanese soldiers and samurai warriors who had once graced the
faces of menkos had to be replaced. Japanese baseball stars and Sumo wrestlers were
a natural, being an acceptable alternative as Japanese "hero figures".
Looking for ways to forget war and its depressing aftermath , the Japanese began
to visit movie houses more frequently to see American cowboy flicks, Mickey Mouse
and Popeye cartoons, and Tarzan adventures. Of course, these cultural "heroes"
also starred on menkos.
A third booster shot to interest in baseball occurred with the popularization
of TV in the late 1950's, and the broadcasting of games, especially those of the
Tokyo Giants and the Hanshin Tigers. Also benefitting from this new recreation device
were programs dealing with outer space and monsters, as well as Japanese TV programs
which also found their way onto the fronts of menkos.
copies of Japanese Baseball Card Quarterly #1 are available for $25 postpaid (within
the continental United States) from:
D. King Gallery
2284 Fulton St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
(please inquire for foreign delivery rates)
Or buy it online by clicking here: