Navy Torpedo cup 1915

This week I found a group of cups that were given to the same sailor. They were all lacquered wood cups, and all really nice. One in particular stood out from the rest because it has a torpedo in the design. Now there is a multitude of different symbols used when decorating a sake cup, but for some reason some fairly obvious images are rarely found. For example, motorcycles, trains, submarines, and torpedoes.

Although one reason may be the difficulty in drawing some of them, I have come across some really intricate artwork (hand-painted and stamped) that discounts that theory–in part, at least. Perhaps the aforementioned images just don’t convey the proper military ideas that the makers of cups wanted to promote. A combat helmet, for example, is much more visually striking than a torpedo–and much more connected to the human being who was wearing it.

Anyway, I found a torpedo cup. These are really rare. In the past ten years I have seen less than 10 cups with a torpedo design. Here it is:

torpedo cup

torpedo cup

 The design is quite impressive: a Navy anchor and blossom in the center and behind that is a cannon (artillery) and a torpedo, crossed. The gold gilt here is thin, but some detail has been drawn in:

torpedo detail

torpedo detail

Very nice, isn’t it? It is interesting for a couple of other reasons, too, and they have to do with the inscription. On the reverse it reads ‘Taisho 4 [1915] October 31st, Maizuru Naval Base’ and in the base of the cup is a name: ‘Takahashi.’ When one finds a name in the base, that is generally the name of the person who received the cup. However, in this case Mr. Takahashi is the person who gave this cup to another. How do I know that? Well, here is part of the inscription in the bowl:
Presented to Mitate

Presented to Mitate

The first kanji is the key. It means ‘gift’ or ‘presented to.’ The next two are a personal name (Mitate). It is quite nice to know the names of both the giver and receiver, though we don’t know much about either person.
Another interesting thing about the inscription is this rank:


Before this are two kanji that read ‘1st Class’ and then these two. It is a rank I wasn’t familiar with, and I couldn’t find an exact translation. (Any help here would be great!) But I found something that alludes to it, and it appears to mean someone who takes care of the supplies. I think it is read ‘heisou.’
What a wonderful find! I’ll keep posting more cool cups that find their way into my hands.
Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 5:10 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A very interesting entry. Thank you for sharing this cup with us.

    I find this particularly interesting because of the meaning “mitate” has in the context of ukiyo-e and art history. Is your interpretation that “Mitate” is a given name, or a surname? I certainly trust that that is very likely the correct interpretation, but if you don’t mind, I thought I might share my own thoughts.

    Are you familiar with the term “mitate” as used in the ukiyo-e context? It is sometimes translated as “parody”, but really refers to images where figures are juxtaposed with situations they normally would not be associated with, or dressed up as, drawn as, figures they would not normally be. Very frequently, this is seen in the representation of geisha or courtesans dressed up as kabuki characters, famous warriors in history, or religious figures such as Bodhidharma.

    Mitate can also simply refer to images in which a kabuki actor is represented playing a role he never actually played, alongside actors he never actually performed alongside.

    In essence, mitate is all about play. About bringing “high culture” subjects such as Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen and an all-around sacred figure, down to a very “low culture” level by showing him as, or with, a courtesan. It’s about seeing your favorite actor in the role you wish he had played.

    Anyway, I don’t know how any of that relates to this torpedo cup, but I just thought it an interesting point. I look forward to seeing your future posts.

  2. Hello. Thanks for the interesting information about mitate. All new to me! However, Mitate on this cup is certainly a name. One of the main difficulties in identifying cups is finding out how to pronounce personal and place names. Two people could have the same kanji for their names but they would be read in different ways. And place names are notorious for having difficult (i.e., obscure) readings.

    From the context of the inscription (preceeded by ‘Gift to’ and followed by a rank), Mitate must be a family name. It could be read Mitatsu, too, though.

    Kabuki is a world unknown to me, though I have seen a performance of Super Kabuki. (Only one…)

    Cheers, Rich

  3. Rich,
    You are right about kanji: it reads ‘heisou’ and it’s a navy rank.
    ..All warrant and commissioned officer ranks had the same names as their army counterparts. For non-commissioned officers and enlisted, the naming changed in 1942. The first name is before, the second after that date. Both of them were different from the army names, but were equal in rank.
    Non-commissioned Officers (Kashikan) selected from conscripts and given one year of training in sergeant’s school.
    一等兵曹 (Ittōheisō) / 上等兵曹 (Jōtōheisō)
    二等兵曹 (Nitōheisō) / 一等兵曹 (Ittōheisō)
    三等兵曹 (Santōheisō) / 二等兵曹 (Nitōheisō)

    Best wishes,

  4. I couldn’t resist commenting. Ѵery well written!

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