Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Some of the most interesting (to me anyway) Japanese card sets were those produced by the Yamakatsu company in the late-1970's. Yamakatsu produced 10-20 sets between 1976 to 1981 - I'm giving a range rather than an exact number as it's not entirely clear what should constitute a set vs what would be considered "premium" cards associated with a set. Gary Engel's latest Checklist lists 15 "regular" sets along with 5 "premium" sets - earlier versions of the Checklist have listed a different number of sets (including a set called "Super Giants" from 1977 that is no longer thought to have been produced by Yamakatsu).

One of the hallmarks of the Yamakatsu cards is mostly beautiful pictures on a "pure card", often borderless format. One of the weaknesses of the cards (in my mind) is the frequent repetition of pictures between sets and the use of blank backgrounds occasionally.

Most of the confusion centers around the large cards Yamakatsu produced in 1976 and 1977.  The first set Yamakatsu produced is believed to be the "Blue Box" set from 1976 (getting its name from the color of the box the cards were sold in).  This set (referred to by Engel as JY1) contained 21 cards, 3 of which were denoted as "winner" cards, although I have no idea what (if anything) was won.  The cards were 6 3/4 inches by 9 13/16 inches in size and were blank backed (expect for the "winner" cards which had a couple lines of Japanese text on them which was unrelated to the player shown on the card).

The pictures on the cards are simply gorgeous:

1976 JY1 Makoto Matsubara

1976 JY1 Takeshi Yasuda

The JY1 set had a three card Sadaharu Oh "premium" set (JY2) associated with it - one card in each box.  Each card is mounted on a board and sealed with plastic (kind of reminds me of a photo album page) and is gold embossed.  The card I'm showing here is labelled 715 but it does NOT show Oh's 715th home run - it's obviously batting practice (with Shigeo Nagashima in the background):

1976 JY2 Sadaharu Oh

Apparently, Yamakatsu issued two more blank backed card sets in 1976, both sold in a green box. One was a 29 card set with cards slightly larger than the original, blue boxed set (JY1a). The other was a set of at least 16 cards that were the same size as the JY1 set (JY1c). I don't have any of either of these two sets but they look the same as the JY1 cards (and in fact many cards use the same photos). The JY1a set had a "premium" set associated with it know as JY13. It was a folder with a Giants logo and a postcard sized card of Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto attached by tape on the outside. Inside were two additional postcards - one of Oh hitting his 700th home run and one of Harimoto getting his 2500th hit, along with a yellow sheet containing both of the player's batting records.

1976 JY13 Isao Harimoto

It looks like Yamakatsu issued another set (JY1b) in late 1976/early 1977 that used mostly the same pictures as JY1, but the cards had text on their backs with biographical and statistical information about the players. There was also a "premium" set associated with it (JY15) that consisted of 8 huge (12 inches by 18 inches) cards. Four of these cards were placed in each box of the regular set. Unfortunately, I don't have any of either the regular or premium cards for this set.

I do, however, have cards from the next set, known as JY3 or the Green Box set. This set contained 29 cards with player information on the backs. The cards were still 6 3/4 inches by 9 13/16 inches in size. There does not appear to have been a "premium" set associated with this set.

1977 JY3 Daisuke Yamashita

1977 JY3 Shigeru Kobayashi

The next set from 1977 was the JY4 "Photo Wrapper" set, so named (obviously) because the card wrappers had photos on them. At 6 9/16 inches by 9 3/4 inches, these cards are slightly smaller than the previous issues. Again, the backs contained biographical and statistical information about the players.  The set is listed as having 29 cards, but I believe the Takashi Yamaguchi card I'm showing below is from the set but is not listed by Engel (and in fact I think it used to be listed as part of the set in earlier versions of the checklist).

1977 JY4 Koji Ota 

1977 JY4(?) Takashi Yamaguchi

Yamakatsu issed another set of huge cards (JY5) as a "premium set" associated with JY4. This set contained 6 14 inch by 15 1/2 inch cards. These are too big to fit into my scanner, so you'll have to settle for an actual photograph:

1977 JY 5 Masayuki Kakefu (with 2001 BBM Hiroyuki Nakajima for size comparison)

The JY4 set had two related, team specific sets. JY4a is a five card set containing just cards of the Giants while JY4b is a five card set containing just cards of the Tigers. The cards are the same style and size as the JY4 cards but with the exception of a Masayuki Kakefu card, all the photos are different than the JY4 cards. These cards were sold separately.

As you can see, there's really nothing to distinguish one set of cards from any of the others, other than some variation in size (and the cards from 1976 being blank backed).  As Engel says, the only way to really be sure which cards came from which sets is to actually open a box of cards and see what's there.

Luckily, after these initial sets, things started getting easier.  The next set in 1977 was a 37 card set known as the "badge cards" or JY16.  This set consisted of 37 blank backed cards that were roughly 2 inches by 3 inches.  Here's a couple examples:

1977 JY16 Koji Yamamoto

1977 JY16 Yutaka Enatsu

You'll notice, of course, the hole in the center of the top of the card. Each card had a team logo badge with a safety pin back attached through this hole. Here's a picture of a bunch of the badges:

So after two years of either oversized cards or small cards with team badges attached, in 1978 Yamakatsu put out a set (JY6) of 42 cards that were almost the size of "normal" cards (2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches). The backs of the cards had biographical and statistical information about the player on the front. A couple examples:

1978 JY6 Yasushi Tao

1978 JY6 Tsutomu Wakamatsu
There was another oversized "premium" set associated with JY6 known as the "Signature Cards" (JY7). These were 9 1/2 inch by 10 1/2 inch cards that had a player photo surrounded by facsimile autographs of many players. The cards were available through some sort of mail-in redemption of specially marked JY 6 cards.

Yamakatsu returned to the larger size cards for two other sets in 1978 - the JY10 "Blue Bundle" set and the JY11 "Green Bundle" set both featured cards that were roughly 4 inches by 6 inches. (The color corresponds to the color of the "bundle" that the cards were sold in.) Engel lists the JY10 set as having at least 43 cards and the JY11 as having least 32 cards. (Engel lists several cards from JY11 as having the same photo as JY10 - I wonder if the argument could or should be made that JY10 and JY11 are really one set?) Here's the only card I have from either set:

1978 JY10 Sadaharu Oh

From 1976 to 1978, Yamakatsu did at least two sets each year. Starting with 1979, they would only do one set a year. The 1979 set (known as JY8) featured 128 2 inch by 2 1/2 inch cards. This was the only Yamakatsu set to include card numbers. Here's a couple:

1979 JY8 Leron Lee (#11)

1979 JY8 Masaru Tomita (#32)
Yamakatsu's 1980 set (JY12) was a set of 64 cards that were the same size and front design as the 1979 set. This set, however, did not have card numbers. Here are a couple:

1980 JY 12 Isao Harimoto

1980 JY12 Koji Yamamoto

The final Yamakatsu issue was the 1981 "Young Giants" set (JY14). This set contained 30 oversized cards (3 5/16 inches by 4 1/8 inches) of only Yomiuri Giant players (and only young ones at that). The 30 cards only show 7 players - Tatsunori Hara (18 cards - this was his rookie year), Shoki Sadaoka (5 cards), Toshio Shinozuka (3 cards), Mitsuo Sumi, Kiyoshi Nakahata, Takashi Nishimoto and Suguru Egawa. The backs had no biographical or statistical information on them beyond the player's name. Here's one of the Shinozuka cards:

1981 JY14 Toshio Shinozuka

I have no idea why Yamakatsu stop making cards after 1981, but it is a shame. A lot of their cards were beautiful. There are a lot of things that I'd be interested in finding out about them. Why is one of the biggest stars of the 1970's - Katsuya Nomura - not in any of their sets? Why are there no Giants players in the JY16 "Badge" card set - there's a couple cartoon cards with stats on them but no players (the cartoons are of a Giants mascot, not a caricature of a player)?  Is this Yamakatsu company the same Yamakatsu company that made bromide and menko cards in the 1950's?


Ryan L. said...


A couple of answers to your questions.

1. Yamakatsu also printed menko in the 1950s and 1960s and this is the same company.

2. JY2 cards were given out as prizes to kids who pulled Winner Cards from the JY1 set.

3. JY15 cards were given out as prizes to kids who pulled Winner Cards from the JY1b set.

4. JY6, JY8, JY12 are mini card sets.

5. JY1 had 5 winner cards, not 3.

I hope this helps!

NPB Card Guy said...

Thanks for the information. Some questions about your answers:

Engel says that the JY2 and JY15 cards came in the box with the cards (JY1 and JY1b respectively) and I've seen this with a box of cards that I opened. Was the intent that the shopkeeper give one of the premium cards to who ever pulled a "winner" card?

Egel lists only three winner cards for JY1 - Harimoto, Hoshino and Shibata. Who are the other two?

The Yamakatsu cards are very confusing but I really like them. Any idea why they stopped making cards? Any idea why Katsuya Nomura never showed up in any of the sets? Any idea why there's no Giants players in the badge set?

Ryan L. said...


A little bit about my background: I collect Japanese sumo wrestling menko and cards as well as Japanese 1970s and 1980s mini card sets. These are facinating pieces of Japanese history. I'm scouring hundreds of auctions everyday and often run across Yamakatsu baseball stuff. Although, I don't focus in the baseball area I do see some additional checklist stuff that Gary Engel doesn't have incorporated in his book yet.

Premium/Prize Cards and other various prizes were packed in the boxes with the sealed cards. The Winner Cards were always packaged seperately in the box(usually in a plastic bag). This way the shop owner knew which cards were the Winner Cards. Shop owners would randomly pack the Winner Cards in the box or sometimes slow-roll the Winner Cards and only keep one in the box at all times to keep kids coming back to buy more cards...Basically lessoning the odds of pulling a Winner. Anytime a kid pulled a Winner Card the shop owner would give the kids a prize/Premium cards. Then the shop owner would cancel the card by marking out the Winner Stamp on the back of the cards. That is why 90% of the time you see Winner Cards with writing ont the back of them. There were numerous prizes throughout the 1950s-1970s. Most were albums to hold the cards, but some were giant cards like Yamakatsu packed with their baseball sets.

Engel does list 3 winner cards for the JY1 set. I have photos of the 5 together. Harimoto #10 Giants, Hoshino #20 Dragons, Shibata # 7 Giants, Awaguchi #3 Giants and Yazawa #41 Dragons.

Video games killed the card industry in Japan in the early 1980s just like television killed menko in 1964. Kids were spending all their money on the next big games, not the next set of cards unfortuntely.

I wish I could tell you why Nomura didn't show up in any of the sets. The only thing I can venture to guess is some sort of contract dispute on having his image on the cards.

No idea why the Giants weren't issued in the JY16 set. I'll poke around and see if I dig anything up.


NPB Card Guy said...

Thanks. That's a lot of great information.

Ralph said...

Nice post and comments, very informative. I've always been a fan of the JY6 set (1978 42 card set) and just recently put one together for about $350, though I pieced it together which will usually cost more. With a number of stars like Sadaharu Oh in the set, the most expensive card was Willie Davis at $100 because of it being a short print.
I like the occasional solid color background, it breaks things up and gives the set a distinct character. Another beautiful set is the 1989 Lotte set which features Cecil Fielder. Popular in Japan, the faces are also borderless, and the small, black Japanese printing almost goes unnoticed.

NPB Card Guy said...

I've been needing to do a post on the Lotte sets. Maybe after I get back from Japan...