Pre-War Japanese Baseball Cards

From SABR member Rob Fitts at Seamheads on November 15, 2011:

I was writing an update for my web site on the history of Japanese baseball cards when I realized that American fans might enjoy seeing this baseball eye candy. So, I’m posting this short history of pre-World War II Japanese cards here on Seamheads. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history; it’s just an introduction for beginners.

Baseball came to Japan in the 1870s when Horace Wilson, a teacher at Kaisei Gakko in Tokyo, introduced the game to his students in 1872 and Hiroshi Hiraoka, an engineer for the national railways, returned from studying in American and organized the Shimbashi Athletic Club in 1878. The game quickly spread and soon kimono and geta clan young men could be seen batting balls throughout Tokyo. By the end of the nineteenth century, high school and college teams existed across Japan.

There is just one known nineteenth-century Japanese baseball card. It is a round menko dating to 1897. Casting or flipping menko is a game that dates from the Edo period when the pieces were made from clay, wood or metal. There are a variety of different menko games but in the most basic, players attempt to flip over their opponent’s menko by tossing their own menko at one lying on the playing field.

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Originally published: November 15, 2011. Last Updated: November 15, 2011.