Saturday, April 25, 2015

Yamakatsu Taba - Star Wars, Voltron and Space Runaway Ideon

 Japanese baseball card collectors will be familiar with the post-card sized Yamakatsu cards from the 1970s, which are among the more attractive vintage sets out there.  One of my side-hobbies is collecting non-sports Yamakatsu sets from the late 70s/early 80s, in particular those with a sci-fi theme. I thought I would do a little post about them here because they are....just really awesome.

One of the more famous of these are the Star Wars cards.  The copyright on the back says 1977, but I believe these were actually released in 1978 (the film itself was originally released in spring of 1977 but would have come out later in Japan).  Topps had the license to produce Star Wars cards in the US and entered a joint venture with Yamakatsu to distribute these.  This actually makes these cards an oddity in trading card history - they are a Yamakatsu set but they do not have the Yamakatsu logo or name anywhere on them, the back just says Topps Chewing Gum Inc

There are 36 cards in this set, which all feature either scenes from the film or publicity photos of the stars in character

They were released in taba, pull-off envelopes which came 30 to a bundle and were sold individually for 20 yen each (kids just ripped one envelope off at a time).  Typically these taba would be displayed with a sample card taped to it, like mine here which is about half full (15 envelopes left on it) and has a Jawa card taped to it

I have a few others.  The popular animated series/toy line from the mid-80s known as Voltron was originally known as Beast King Five Lions in Japanese and was quite popular.  I have a mostly full taba of cards from that series which is in pretty beat up shape:

I actually remember watching that show when I was a kid and I had one of the lion toys (Yellow lion!)  If you had all 5 you could make the complete Voltron but nobody I knew had parents rich enough to get them all.

Space Runaway Idion is another early 80s animated series that got the Yamakatsu treatment. I am under the impression it was some sort of  Gundam spin off.  It must not have been too popular judging by the condition of my Yamakatsu taba, which is complete and looks like nobody even touched it back in the day:
There are quite a few other series out there and they make for a kind of interesting thing to collect, especially if you are someone like me with a fondness for 80s sci-fi kitsch.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fun Stuff: A big pile of 1985 Calbees

Among my favorite recent purchases has been a stack of 52 cards from the 1985 Calbee set.  This is one set I only had a handful of cards for so I figured this would be a good way to get a start on building the whole thing.

The lot had some beauties in it, like this card with an excellent in action photo of the Iron Man Sachio Kinugasa:

Or Randy Bass in those awesome 80s Tigers uniforms with the white helmets:

What surprised me most on receiving these cards (they were a Yahoo Auction purchase) was the condition.  Every one of them looked brand new like they had just come from the bag.  This almost never happens with Calbee cards from before the mid-1990s, especially not in big lots.  I had bought them assuming they were the typical somewhat beat up lot that usually appears (the photos were a bit out of focus and the seller, who doesn't specialize in cards, didn't mention the condition int he description).

This is what the stack (left) looks like in comparison to a typical stack of 80s Calbee cards in my collection (right):

One thing I really like about the 1985 set which sets it apart from others is that a lot of the cards have hand drawn artwork of the players that was sent in by kids on  them.  These were winners of a contest to draw the best picture of each player and I think it is absolutely fantastic that Calbee did that.  Not only are the color drawings a big improvement on the normally bland card backs of their typical 1980s sets, it is also quite endearing that they would do that.  Its something it would be hard to imagine a card company doing today.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The New Holy Grail of my Collection: 1974 Calbee Frank Howard

With the new season underway my enthusiasm for collecting has been taken to a higher level, buoyed in part no doubt by how well the Dragons have been doing so far.

I have made quite a few acquisitions over the past couple of weeks, mostly Calbee cards from the 1970s, and I hope I`ll have the time to do a few posts about them (I have a 6 month old son bouncing on my knee as I try to type this so spare time for blogging is in short supply these days).

Today`s haul was the above card - Frank Howard`s 1974 Calbee #70!

This is by far the most valuable Japanese card in my collection.  Or perhaps I should say it is by far the card I have paid the most for, I`m not sure which card I own is the most `valuable` which is something hard to measure when there are so few sales out there to go on.

Anyway, NPB Card Guy did a post about Howard`s two cards from the 1974 set which is partially what got me interested in tracking one down.  1974 Calbee is one of the harder to find sets out there and it is the only one with Frank`s cards in it.  The other Howard card,#127, is the more valuable of the two and way out of my price range but this one, which Engel values at $300, was a bit more do-able.

My copy isn`t in the best of shape, which is why I was able to afford it.  I picked it up off of Yahoo Auction for about 3500 yen including shipping.  The front looks presentable but there is a heavy crease in it which you can notice on the back (which also has some tape remnants on it), which explains why I got it that cheap.  I`m not overly fussed about the condition of cards so long as the fronts look OK, so this was perfect for me.

Howard is of course one of the most famous major leaguers to ever play in NPB, having had an all star career in which he hit 382 homers.  In contrast, he may have the worst career numbers of any player in NPB history, having exactly one at-bat for the Lions in 1974 in which he struck out.  He injured himself while doing so and ended up retiring shortly thereafter.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lights Out Meiji Jingu Stadium

I am not sure if this has made the English language news or not, but there is some extremely disappointing news for Japanese baseball fans out there.  Meiji Jingu Stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows and, along with Koshien Stadium, one of only two historical baseball stadiums still in use in NPB is slated to be demolished.

Built in 1926 it is the oldest baseball stadium in Tokyo and in addition to the Swallows it has also hosted countless high school and university tournaments in its long history.  To most baseball fans it is considered sacred ground (Robert Whiting in You Gotta Have Wa in fact uses that exact phrase to describe it).

According to the news report I saw, the stadium is going to be torn down as part of a larger plan to redevelop the area in the run up to the Tokyo Olympics.  The Stadium which hosted the 1964 Olympics, an important historical landmark in its own right, stands quite close to Jingu.  Or perhaps I should say stood, as the Olympic Stadium is in the process of being demolished to make way for a bicycle helmet that will host the 2020 games.
Jingu will remain in use until the 2020 season while a Rugby stadium located next door is demolished (in keeping with Tokyo`s apparent determination to obliterate its historical landmarks, that stadium is also historically valuable).  A new baseball stadium will be built on the site of the former Rugby Stadium and after it is completed in 2020, Jingu will be destroyed.

As someone with a love for Japanese baseball history I find this both sad and a bit angering.  I have never been to Jingu but it is the one stadium that I want to see a game played at. 

The news report didn`t include any artists conceptions or other description of what the new stadium will look like.  If it is a Dome like  we have here in Nagoya I will be immensely disappointed.  The design of the new Olympic Stadium fills me with dread that whatever they have in mind will be awful.  If they do, however, build something like HIroshima`s Mazda Stadium, I will be somewhat mollified as that actually looks like a fun place to watch a game.  Either way though, I am really upset about the upcoming loss of an important piece of Japanese baseball history.

Friday, April 3, 2015

2015 Calbees are here! And the set seems to consist of 2 cards.

Spring is here, the season has begun and the Dragons just swept a series against the Giants.  I am a happy camper.

And with the new season has come the annual ritual of visiting multiple convenience stores trying to get that first sighting of this year`s Calbee cards.  After taking in a few I finally found a 7-11 which had them last week at lunch so I bought a bag and brought it back to my desk at work.  I got Yamazaki and Higa.

The next day I bought another bag.  I got Yamazaki and Higa.

I wonder what the odds of this happening are. Probably pretty slim.  If only I had placed a bet on this happening beforehand, I could probably retire off the winnings.

Anyway, except for getting the exact same pack, which I assume is related to the way Calbee packs these (though it has never happened before to me), I kind of like the new set.  They made a slight change to the design this year, the player`s name is in a larger font and in black lettering with a thin white border.  While by no means a major change, it actually does give the cards a somewhat bolder look than previous sets with the solid white lettering, so I give them high marks for it. 

So I am looking forward to pack #3 and hoping it will have somebody - anybody - other than Yamazaki and Higa (though Ido  love the photograph on Yamazaki`s card).