WW2 Japanese Army Soldier Sake Bottle (Tokkuri 徳利)

A break from Manchukuo medals, which I’d like to get back to…

Today, though, I am happy to introduce an interesting soldier-shaped sake bottle. First I’ll show the pics, then a short explanation.

The shape, as you can see, is an Army soldier. He wears a cap with Army star, has shoulder rank tabs, and also buttons and belt. Very nicely made. You may be able to see a series of cracks in the glaze. These do not extend to the pottery. They are done purposefully as a nice textured touch. It is called crazing. I believe it happens when the firing is at a higher temperature than normal.

The soldier stands in some blossoms, and an inscription has been embossed into the pottery. It says ‘Health Bottle’ or Kenkou Tokkuri 健康徳利 in Japanese. Kenkou means health, so this could be (and most probably is) a bottle given to wish one good health or good luck even. It seems an appropriate gift for a soldier newly inducted or even for a discharged soldier. Anyway, a rare item for sure. I don’t think I have seen one like this before, but my memory is getting a bit blurry on some days.

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 11:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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WW2 Japanese Army Infantry Bird Sake Bottle

As well as the embossed figure sake bottles, a few specialty military bottles were made for those who were more flashy in their tastes. One would think that the gaudy or really amazingly different items would not appeal to the traditional Japanese sensibility, but of course in every culture and society there are people with a wide variety of thoughts, tastes, and expressions of the same. So here is a bottle that does not appeal to most modern Japanese, or at least those to whom I have shown it. The most common reaction upon seeing it is dasai, which may be translated as unpleasant or unattractive.

Here it is:

As you can see, it is a bird-shaped tokkuri. What is really interesting about this bottle (in addition to its shape) is that it is a whistling bottle. The removable head is not a separate sake cup; it is a whistling cap. One takes the head off, puts the sake in the bottle, replaces the head, and pours. The sake comes out of the beak, and a gentle chirping comes out of the back tuft of feathers.

This particular bottle was given to an infantryman. Here is a close-up of the painted design on the bird’s breast:

A large gold Army star has been painted on. The inscription reads ’13th Infantry, Yoshizono.’ And a famous poem that is often found on Japanese military items: ‘Your body is lighter than a feather, but duty is heavier than a mountain. Do your duty and you can return home and enjoy the blossoms.’

The last pictures shows the bottom of the bottle, which has a trademark stamp. You can also see inside the head. The circular device is the whistle.

Japanese WW2 era Molded Design Sake Bottles

Some of the most interesting military commemorative items from Japan are the decorated sake bottles, called tokkuri (徳利) in Japanese. You can see a variety of designs on my Imperial Japan Sake Cups website, but I’d like to take a few posts to examine some of the embossed designs on these bottles.

Of course, a variety of images and designs were painted on bottles after they were manufactured, and these are really spectacular when done well. But some of the designs have been embossed onto the bottle and are part of the mold.  Today I’ll show two examples. The first is a discharge commemorative bottle and the main design is probably the painted battle flag and cherry tree.

However, complementing this painted design are embossed figures. On the obverse is a plane, gun, and anti-aircraft artillery. The reverse:

Here we have more images: a plane, warship, and tank. And a bullet-shaped area within which the inscription is written. So on this bottle the embossed figures are important but they seem to be secondary to the painted design.

This next bottle has a large embossed and painted cannon, so this figure is obviously the most important.

The embossed decoration above and below the cannon highlight it nicely.The reverse is here:

The embossed designs here frame the inscription which, though not visually impressive, is quite important: ‘Artillery, 5th Regiment, Discharge Commemorative.’

Published in: on December 20, 2009 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Manchukuo Emperor 2nd State Visit to Japan: Sake Cup

In 1940 the Emperor of Manchukuo made his 2nd and final official state visit to Japan. In 1940 the occasion was the 2600th Anniversary of the Founding of the Japanese Nation, which was dated from the reign of the mythical Emperor Jimmu. Anyway, in an effort to bolster the national identity, celebrations were held all over the country. An official medal was minted and you can still find a wide array of badges, cups, and assorted items made to commemorate this event.

So the Manchukuo Emperor came to pay his respects, as did representatives from other Asian countries like Thailand and the provisional puppet government of Nanking.

Pu-Yi arrived in the Port of Yokohama and was met there by Prince Takamatsu, a younger brother of the Showa Emperor. It is interesting that on Pu-Yi’s first state visit he was met by the emperor himself–and at the common Tokyo Station, no less. This time a person a bit lower in the hierarchy greeted him.

However, the Showa Emperor treated Pu-Yi as an equal, one reason their being close in age. They visited Ise Shrine together on this 2nd visit.

Today I’d like to show you an item from 1940 that commemorated the Manchukuo Emperor’s visit. It is a sake cup, often used in Japan to celebrate important occasions. Here is a picture:

Manchukuo Emperor Pu Yi sake cup

This is a lacquered wood cup. In the center in silver gilt is the Imperial Orchid crest of the Manchukuo Emperor. Very few cups can be found with this crest, so this is really a treasure.

The inscription reads ‘His Imperial Highness the Emperor of Manchukuo, Visit to Japan Commemorative, Imperial Year 2600 [1940].’

On the reverse: ‘Showa 15 [1940] June 30, [zaiin:在院], Tokyo 3rd Army Special Hospital.’

Zaiinmeans someone closely associated with the hospital, either a doctor or nurse, or perhaps someone in an administrative post. It does not refer to a patient in a hospital, which is usually rendered nyuuin (入院).

So either Pu-Yi himself or a member of his Imperial Party visited this Army hospital. On this prestigious occasion, some sort of dinner or other event was held, and probably those who attended were given a sake cup to commemorate the event.

Manchuria (Manchukuo) Army Dispatch Badge

Continuing in my series of Manchukuo-related badges, the next one I will introduce was made to commemorate one IJA unit’s service in Manchuria. Many different regiments and companies made badges for their soldiers as a way to keep their spirits up. Anyway, during the 1930s most Japanese soldiers in Manchuria were in good spirits because the war was going so well for them. The following badge is one of the better examples. Here is the obverse:

manmedals 007

The design is quite impressive. On both sides are cherry blossom branches (a symbol of Japan) and at the top is a gold Army star. The two flags are the Japanese national flag and the Manchukuo national flag, both of which appear on many Manchukuo items. The central kanji say ‘Manchuria Dispatch Commemorative.’ Here is the reverse:


manmedals 008


Although I’m not sure, I think the top two kanji say ‘sincerity’ or something of that nature. The next ones say ‘Gift, 6th Infantry 7th Company Association, Showa 10 [1935].’ I suppose these were given to the men of this regiment. Most likely this kind of badge had a simple paulonia wood case.

Next post I’ll begin to show some of the rare official badges and medals of Manchukuo.

Published in: on October 3, 2009 at 4:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Cherry Blossoms on Japanese Military Sake Cups

There are so many aspects that give Japanese military sake cup collectors pleasure, such as finding rare designs, specific unit inscriptions, specific battle inscriptions, etc. One less-discussed quality of these cups is the artwork. Today I’d like to take a closer look at two cups that have cherry blossoms on them. By examining the artwork, we can understand a bit more about how precious some of these cups are.

First a word or two about cherry blossoms. This flower, called sakura (桜)in Japanese, is almost certainly the most well-worn image of Japan. It has many uses, but the traditional meaning is related to its short life-span (about a week). Since at least the Heian era, and perhaps earlier, the Japanese have equated the short life of the blossom with the short life of humans. It was used over and over again in poems and other literature, so much so that the blossom has gone far beyond mere cliche; it is now entrenched as one of the very essences of Japanese culture.

The news programs follow the cherry blossom as it bursts in bloom throughout the country. People flock to the parks to eat and drink under the blossoms. And when the flowers fall, the whitish-pink fluttering blossoms cause nostalgia and a sense of the transience of life to nag at the hearts of all sensitive people in Japan.

The cherry blossom has a dual role on military cups. It is meant to evoke the feeling of being home in Japan, realxing with friends and family under the blossoming trees. However, it has also gathered the heavy symbolism of a warrior dying at the height of his youth, just as the cherry blossom does. Many of the kamikaze (神風)pilots used this symbol in their farewell letters home, referring to themselves as blossoms fluttering to the ground. This idea is echoed when the image of falling petals is one of death (often premature death).

So the cherry blossom is on a good percentage of the cups. Here is one:

Transport Infantry

Transport Infantry

The design is simple. A cherry tree trunk to the right, branch with blossoms above. In the white space is a poem (somewhat difficult to read) and there is a banner hanging from the branch that reads ‘Transport Infantry.’ I think the poem or saying is the famous one by Motoori Norinaga (本居宣長):

‘If one should inquire of you concerning the spirit of a true Japanese, point to the wild cherry blossom shining in the sun.’

The details on this cup are nice, too. The flowers are delicately painted and the trunk has some depth, albeit fairly simple.

blossom & trunk

Detail: blossom & trunk

The above is a nice example, probably originally a medium-priced cup, the stamped pattern being cheaper. However, some more affluent customers wanted something more. Here is another cup with the same basic layout, but the artistic quality is quite high.
29th Infantry

29th Infantry

What a beautiful cup this is! Here are some close-ups. Note the finely detailed blossoms, the leaves underneath the flowers, and the tree truck with different shades of brown and green in addition to some light stippling.
The Japanese have always been known for having attention to detail and pride in their work. This kind of cup certainly proves that this is true at times. (Although there are also cups with inferior artwork…) This cup, while not having any deep historical importance, is worthwhile to add to any collection because of the aesthetic beauty. And the juxtaposition of a rough soldier drinking from this delicate cup (or at least displaying it) is pleasant to contemplate. (I hope I haven’t offended any soldier by that comment.)
Finally, cups like these are inexpensive, often less than 20 USD.
Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 2:18 am  Comments (2)  
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