Sumo Menko Basics
by Ryan Laughton
|purist to some degree I like to use sumo menko instead of sumo card.
In fact, menko has a much deeper meaning than simply a card.
It’ll take a little while to get used to, but soon it’ll be flowing off
your tongue. So let’s get started….
Menko refers to a piece of cardboard or thick paper with some sort of picture on its face. Menko literally means “small object with a face.” Menko can be traced back to the Edo period - the 1700s when they were small circular or square game pieces made of clay or lead. The production of paper or cardboard menko can be traced back to the late 19th century. These menko were block-printed, blank-backed and round. Some were even hand tinted. In 1900 Japan banned the use of leads in ink used on menko for health reasons - a result of several poisoning cases in Osaka, after children had licked their menko. Lead-free cardboard menko were produced for another 60 years or so.
In the 1920s and 30s all sorts of new pictures began to appear on menko such as religious subjects, cartoons, exotic animals, silent-era Japanese theatrical stars and sports figures. Menko also took on new shapes during this time due to advancing techniques in manufacturing. Some were long rectangular strips so kids could take them to school to use as bookmarks. Others were die-cut into the shapes of rikishi, or animals, and later planes which could be flung or shot through the air with rubber bands. These were known as flying menko and usually had notches cut into them for the rubber band.
thousand yen is all it took to get me started on collecting sumo
menko. This is the amount a kind old lady at a little
old-fashioned toy shop in Kyushu charged for an unopened box of 1958 Dash 7-8
sumo menko. There were actually two boxes there, but my brain
tricked me into only buying one. I’m still keeping the location a
secret in the hope that I can make it back there someday and reclaim my
first loss. It’s been seven years, but I am still holding out on
the chance that the box is still there.
Gold-Proof Card from 1958 Dash 7-8 Set: Maegashira Annenyama. One of the first sumo menko I owned.
Greetings from the United States! My name is Ryan Laughton and my passion for collecting sumo menko has led me to write a series of articles to introduce this little known part of sumo history.
For those of you who already
|collect sumo cards, whether new or old, I hope this information will be of use to you. For the non-collectors,
I hope to bring to light what used to be a major part of Japanese
elementary school culture in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.
The meat and potatoes of the stuff I’ll talk about is covered on the
relevant link over in Kokugi Connections but a good portion will also
be “free-handed” elaborations on various topics surrounding menko.
As with any discussion, don’t be afraid to raise your hands and ask questions or perhaps even offer suggestions.
In what I hope will be an enlightening and informative journey along the road to increased awareness of sumo menko, this first article will naturally be about the history, the game, and the rules of sumo menko. These are the basics. In the next article, I’ll write on methods of collecting sumo menko and the basic layout of a sumo menko. We’ll also talk about the printing and construction techniques, and how that affected game play. In the third article of the series I will cover set identification techniques and the “lottery” aspect of sumo menko back in their heyday.
Before I dive into this discussion, I want to note that the word ‘menko’ and ‘card’ can be used interchangeably, but being a