Circa 1930s Japanese matchbox labels are my only foreign collection. My attraction is mostly to the labels' irresistible design, as well as the occasional U.S. note. Especially striking is the amiable admixture of Western design, themes and language. They seem to portend a future very different from the catastrophes that followed the labels’ 1930s heyday.
The ones shown here come mostly from bars, which often were also tea/coffee houses. This double option made them acceptable destinations for modern young Japanese women, for the first time able to go out unescorted. Competition among these numerous venues, coupled with sophisticated Japanese design and a mature matchbox industry, resulted in abundant numbers of labels such as the samples from my collection shown here.
In one of them, the black figure drinking through a straw advertises a fermented yogurt drink, Calpis
, a brand name surely more attractive in Kanji. One wonders if the racist caricature is a U.S. import or an independent Japanese creation.