Stamped Soldiers on Japanese WW2 Sake Cups

In my last post I took a look at a stunning, hand-painted set of sake cups with a Japanese soldier. This time I’d like to look at the more common stamped designs. Although stamped designs are common on military cups, the patterns with soldiers on them are still prized. The design is obviously more uniform, but the coloring is often sloppy and even though the design may be rare, the beauty is missing. I think even hand-painted flags–the most common of designs–have more aesthetic appeal than any stamped pattern. However, some of the stamped cups have more visual impact.

Here are a few:

In the last picture, the cup on the left is a good example of a coloring deficiency. These patterns were stamped in, and workers would paint them in, assembly-line fashion. When I find one like that above, I imagine it was made later in the war years when skilled painters were few. Perhaps school children or older people were hired to do this. I am not sure, though. Still, there are so many examples of nicely colored (i.e., staying in the lines) cups that there must be some reason for this lack of attention.
One thing that puzzles me is the rarity of some of these cups. One would think that since the pattern has been stamped in, a large number would have been made. But this doesn’t seem to be the case for all of them. For example, three of the cups above show the Banzai pose (arms upraised). These are rather scarce, especially compared with the design showing a soldier holding a rifle near the Great Wall, or superimposed on a map of China or Manchuria.
Perhaps simple economics is the answer. Certain patterns were more popular among the buyers, so more of these were made. As to why some were more popular than others, well, any answer would be merely a guess. Banzai poses were common in the WW2-era magazines, but maybe the image wasn’t suited for a sake cup. The following pictures shows another Banzai post that was probably based on a photograph.
But this kind of cup rarely appears on the market.
The next cup is from the Kutani kiln in Ishikawa Prefecture. Famous for vibrant colors and somewhat showy (some say gaudy) designs, this kiln produced a great number of military cups.
Notice the lines around the helmet. You can see the pattern. This kind of painting seems to be a cross between a stamped design and a hand-painted one. The basic design was stenciled in, and then the artist would draw the actual shape, including the outlines. The cups had the outline stamped in and then colored. This Kutani cup, though, has more beauty to it, which is a direct result of the artist’s labor. I imagine it was a more expensive item.
So while a treasure like the Taiwan set (see my previous post) can be found every so often, other less ambitious designs also have a lot of appeal but are a bit easier to find. Even among the stamped designs, though, there is a great variety.
Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 5:33 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hello Rich,

    Thanks for absorbing reading and excellent pictures.
    You are perfectly right when you say that even simple but hand-painted image is more beautiful than any stamped pattern. One of my hand-painted cups has the painter’s fingerprint. Someone would say that it is defect, but I think it puts a bit of human soul in this cup.

    Best wishes,

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