Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Charm of "Made in Japan" Dogs

My mother's mother lived in a very rural area of the southern Appalachians. It was nothing to be woke up by the scream of a hunting "painter" (panther) at night and indoor plumbing was a dream until about 1967.
As for the outdoor facilities, besides the user being required to share space with spiders, snakes and other assorted creepy crawlies, it was entirely too close to the well where the washing water was drawn. The kitchen had running water which had to be pumped with a hand pump situated on one side of the sink. The table took up most of the kitchen floor space and because there was a big family there were rough and rickety benches on either side of the table rather than chairs. And on most other flat surfaces there were little ceramic animals that I found fascinating.

If I was very good I was allowed to play with them. On the bottom of many of them was printed "Made in Occupied Japan". When I asked her, my grandmother had no idea what it meant, nor did anyone else I asked at the time. Very likely they knew but didn't want to have to explain a rather complicated subject to an 8 year old. Anyway it left me with a love of little MIJ (Made In Japan) figurines that pops up when I see one that catches my fancy. But the things that I love (just to be difficult) have nothing to do with what has become short handed as Occupied Japan or "OC" (which had an incredible vogue in local flea markets in the 80's) but earlier items made for the Five and Dime import market.

They often showed up at a local amusement park or carnival as prizes so they would appear to nominally have a use like the German Shepherd above that guards an ash tray. The little bulldog with his screwed up, pugnacious face is either guarding a dish to keep spare change and cufflinks in or a small cake of soap. The base of the ash tray says laconically "Made in Japan" without any other type of mark. The little soap dish or change tray has the same legend in black. The ashtray is far more finished. The bottom is unglazed where it sits flat. Impressed on the long edge is Made in Japan A904. The bulldog's base is unglazed. There's a bit of an art deco look to the shape of the ashtray's base as well as the deep colors. The bulldog has an opalescent glaze that suggests it was made prior to World War II. I need to admit that nothing I have a picture of belonged to my grandmother. I have no idea what happened to her things after she died. I suspect they simply stayed where they were as some of the relatives continued to live in the house. I haven't seen it in decades but I understand that family members still reside there although the outhouse was long ago pulled down and filled in with dirt.

However I do have one item that she would never have owned.
There was definitely a market in the USA for slightly rude little items. Now they actually command higher prices than the more sedate MIJ figurines. Anyway, I could not resist this particular bull pup anointing a fire hydrant. Standing on the back of an ashtray his little serious scrunched up face suggests concentration on marking his territory. I don't know if the colors are cold painted rather than under glazed but the stray specks of orange which I attempted to remove with a thumbnail are definitely under a clear coat.

The succinct "Japan" on the bottom as well as the colors used argues that this was also a pre-WWII item. The theory of dating items by this simple mark is fraught with possible errors. Prior to about 1921 the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 required items made for export to be marked with their country of origin as in "Nippon". After World War I a few things were still marked Nippon but mostly the items were marked simply "Japan" or "Made in Japan". From December 1941 (attack on Pearl Harbor) until 1948 direct imports from Japan to the United States were forbidden. Between 1948 (or 1946) and 1951 (or 1952) most Japanese imports were marked "Made in Occupied Japan." Japan formally surrendered in September 1945 and in September 1951 the San Francisco Peace Treaty marked the end of Allied Occupation. It went into effect on April 28, 1952. This explains some of the confusion on sites about when the occupation began and ended. Some people will also argue the the items marked simply "Japan" are older than those marked "Made in Japan" based on a strict reading of import rules but this is more in the way of an urban legend and lacks scholarly support.

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