NINJA DART BOARDS

One staple of martial arts mail order that not only made the transition from the kung-fu 70s to the ninja 80s was the dart board. What started as “Chinese throwing star target boards” quickly transitioned into the profoundly more successful “ninja shuriken target boards.”

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“Chinese Throwing Stars” were popularized in Western world by scenes in the Bond film You Only Live Twice and later the Kung-Fu TV series, and were sold by Chinatown junk shops and martial mail order mavens long before the ninja boom. This “dragon design” target board was little more than a cheap dart board sans the wire target frame. Variants of this graphical layout were painted onto 15″ boards and sold by most if not all major suppliers until the early 1980s, when THIS happened:

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It might say “Kung-Fu” in the corner, but Asian World of Martial Arts knew damn well who they were selling to in 1982. The traditional dragon design still adorned the opposite side of this new panel, which featured silhouettes of common retail ninja suits, canon “Ninja-To” swords, manji-sais and yes — NINJA THROWING STARS! (And all of these items were available from AWMA, too…)

This had to be one of if not the most ubiquitous items of the 80s craze era. Nerdy teens had them in their bedrooms, every dojo had one on some wall. Luckily for the modern collector, so many were made for so long, they’re relatively easy to find even now. There’s a super cheap vintage boxed one on eBay now in fact, right here!

And yes, there’s even one in the VN office:

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Back in the day, we used to joke that when sensei or sifu was around the dojo, the more respectable dragon side was displayed, but if they were gone and the ninja-boom-era inmates were running the asylum it was time to flip it over to the shinobi side.

Knock-offs and variants of the AWMA ninja board were sold by other manufacturers, too:

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I remember this design being around well into the 90s, and made of much cheaper stuff. Somebody somewhere is probably making them today

The thing was with these boards, they absolutely SUCKED as shuriken targets. The pub dart board material was designed for the needle tips of competition darts, not a wedge-shaped, often dull as a butter knife, throwing blade point. Between the material being too dense and the shuriken being too lightweight, they bounced more than they stuck. Heaven forbid you had great aim and hit the rock-hard red center plug, too, as sometimes that sent the projectile 180-degrees back at you. And if you were a super genius throwing ninja stars indoors, the ricochets got painful and even costly real quick.

We used to use multiple layers of corrugated cardboard nailed to pine planks, and threw outside. Even then, those Chinatown stars (with the holes drilled into them for chains to technically make them necklaces in the eyes of the law) rarely stuck anyway. There was better luck to be had with bigger, better designed blunt-ended stuff originally from Japan:

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Nowadays, a much better idea all around are these super cheap, but rather effective, rubber shuriken and foam-board sets all over eBay and various online suppliers. Where were these in 1982 when cheap stars were pinging around my bedroom and ricocheting into the insteps of my bare feet?

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If only Asian World of Martial Arts would offer this in the 15″ ninja style…

 

We’re still looking for more KOSUGI KICKS

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Vintage Ninja still has an open call out for what we call “Kosugi Kicks” — images of ninja in movie posters, VHS sleeves, toy packaging, advertising, whatever, that are cribbed from the iconic two-sword jump kick publicity shot Sho Kosugi posed for back in the early 80s. This image has gone on to be the most iconic, and most ripped-off, image of a ninja from the Western world’s craze of the 80s.

Read our original article on the subject here.

And a follow up here.

Just discovered this vintage gem from the derivative genre literary world:

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And here’s another from a proposed film that never happened, at least not in this form:

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A better look at the Kosugi-Kick-inspired packaging of the M.U.S.C.L.E-knock-off toy line N.I.N.J.A Mites:

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And outright piracy of the image on some old tabi packaging:

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See any we missed in these three articles? Send them our way!

krainville@vintageninja.net

 

Botan Rice Candy Stickers

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I love me some Botan Rice Candy! I was first exposed to the slightly citrusy chews with their dissolving edible wrappers and souvenir stickers in the 70s by my uncle Hiro, and saved a ninja-themed one from the 80s. They same candy is still being produced with the occasional ninja sticker now.

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Read all about the culinary merits of this superb Japanese confection at The Noodle Freak.

I recently scored a windfall collection of 80s era stickers, evocative of kids manga like Ninja Hattori-Kun but generic enough to avoid any pesky licensing.

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You can find more ninja rockers from different eras by digging through the archives of The BRC Gallery.

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Up close on some old SHINTARO cards

How many times, in a jealous fit of childish resentment, have I openly cursed all Australians on this site? Seriously, that continent probably hates me, but dammit, their head start on the ninja craze outside of Japan beat us by two decades and I just can’t get past that so BITE ME!

The Samurai, originally Onmitsu Kenshin in Japan, also referred to by Australian fans as ‘Shintaro‘, was not only the first ninja property exported from Japan to an English speaking market, it fostered the first licensed ninja merchandise produced by any company outside of Asia.  Samurai “swap cards” were sold with Scanlens bubble-gum at the height of the show’s massive boom in Australia starting in 1964. They remained an institution among the show’s multi-generational fan-base for the original 10-season run, then subsequent sequels and repeats in syndication forever. The card designed even inspired the DVD sleeve art forty-odd years later.

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The 72 card Scanlens set was always a highly collectible item down there, but in the early 2000s when DVDs of the old show finally became available worldwide (and my jealousy complex started as well) the potential collector base widened considerably and prices shot up. A complete set now commands anywhere between $200-600, which is a shame because, to be completely honest, at least half the set kinda… sucks.

Don’t believe me? Check out a complete set scanned and uploaded here. Seriously, I’m not being a hater here, but as a designer, art director and third generation photographer the choice of images and cropping here offends my brain and artistic sensibilities to a baffling degree. Scantness must have had jack squat to work with if these are the best shots that made the cut.

So yeah, as much as I love the show, I’m not about to shell out half a grand for this card set.

Once in a while I will buy some single gems, though, and here a few recent scores, with some up close and personal views.

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“Certain Death for Tombei” [sic] could have been the title of every other episode of the show. The awesomely cool ninja ‘Tonto’ to the ‘Lone Ranger’ that was Shintaro often existed solely to pad episodes with expositional lessons on ninja gadgets and commando tactics (many comic book level sensationalistic) and then to inevitably get captured by more bloodthirsty and aggressive ninja. None of the hundreds of shinobi who ever captured Tonbei were a tenth the swordsman Shintaro was, though. You’d think at some point these shadow clans would have recruited a proper long-swordsman to specifically wait around to duel the big guy when needed…

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As much ‘legit’ ninjutsu as was presented in the show, some episodes leaned on entirely silly fare like Dragon Submarines made of bamboo, and magical wizardry notions left over from previous decades’ image of ninja. This snow-storm attack, filmed using soap flakes and paper confetti way too big to be ice crystals, is a pretty goofy moment actually captured quite nicely in this pic.

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Onmitsu Kenshin is, arguably, the single media property most responsible for the shuriken fetish ninja would be saddled with from the 60s boom onward. They perfected the technique of actors posing against wooden walls, then holding still as throwing stars were lodged into the surface between quick takes of 3-6 frames of film. The result, with the right sound effects, looked like a handful of blades were thrown at a target at once. As the show went on, they got more astute in filming this and did so in reverse, starting with several stars in the wall, plucking them out one by one then reversing the resulting film for a smoother action.

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If you haven’t checked out any of The Samurai, do so for both the legit good ninja stuff and for its place in ninja pop culture history. The English-dubbed episodes are widely available, including legit release DVDs easily found on eBay.

More KOSUGI KICKS…

Last year we put out an open call for images knocked-off from the iconic “Kosugi Kick” dual sword jump kick pose.

Read the original post here.

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We got some nice entries, from comics to cheap merch to costume catalog photos. Much of it is contemporary to the original pose’s proliferation during the 80s ninja craze, but some of these are newer — the pose is that eternal…

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Now, a true KK is one where the jump-kick pose, originally made famous by Bruce Lee, adds both the ninja suit and two short swords of some type to become the icon of the 80s ninja boom. The Shadowmasters cover left is a pure example of that (much of that figure looks root-scoped off the original photo!), whereas the items on right are more shinobi-fied kung-fu fare.

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The back of a Panosh “NINJA Mites” toy package featured a nice variation with… well, what are those? Cudgels? Light saber handles?

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Thanks for the up-close-and-personal shot of your likely stinky foot mister costume catalog model…

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This vintage VHS has a nice twist — a rare KK with an impact on a victim. Points off for only having one weapon though.

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And I had totally blanked out these late entires into the GI Joe line. The “Ninja Force” figures came late in the craze, and too late to save the Hasbro toy line, as well. Day-glow ninja with idiotic vehicles that were clearly molded for some other purpose just didn’t cut it.

Good stuff peeps, keep ’em coming!

 

Swordgirl promo cards from THREE TIDES

Birthday gift to myself at the beginning of the month — this astounding 8″ sofubi statue done in the style of wooden Netsuke charms, called “Sushi Dokuro.”

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I know… right!?!?!?

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“Sushi Dokuro” was designed/sculpted by Osaka tattoo artist Mitomo Horihiro.

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I’m assuming this little dinner plate is natto (codfish roe). I don’t know the story behind this piece, but I do know that natto is smelly and gross…

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I saw this on a vinyl toy blog and had to have it, but the bonuses in the package were almost cooler than the loot itself. Check out Horihiro’s promo cards!

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These fantastic ninja gals are based on traditional imagery with a modern infusion of tattoos, urban footwear and safe sex messages. The measure about 5-6″, and three of them were included with in my package.

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Shuriken and fishnets? This is my future wife! Check out the rubber on the sheath. Classic…

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And you have to love the artist’s self portrait, with chain & sickle.

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 See more at the Three Tides Tattoo site.

Ninja vinyl

posted in: 4 - Collectibles | 0

No, not a vinyl toy post… this is one for you record collectors.

Spotted on eBay recently:

$_ 57

(Click for full-size versions)

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I know nothing of this “The Ninja” band, and I’m not an 80s hair metal guy by any stretch of the imagination, but my gaaaawd is this not the beast thing you’ve ever seen? Who new simple mail-order ninja hoods could contain such voluminous hair?!?!? Evidently, this wasn’t the only mid-80s band named “Ninja” either.

Meanwhile, a very nice reader sent me these shots of the 45rpm single released in Japan of “The Legend of the Ninja” — the disco-synth-jazz fusion theme song to Ninja in the Dragon’s Den. This cut truly is the apex of music in the civilized history of mankind.

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With lyrics even!!!

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And here’s about the cleanest MP3 of this gem I’ve ever heard, with the jazzy b-side “Silver Moon” as well.

Bless you, wherever you are now, Alfredo Chen and your wonderful singers…

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If only THE NINJA: Warrïors of Rock had done a hair-metal cover of “Legend of the Ninja”…

A Shintaro shinobi… in COLOR!

posted in: 4 - Collectibles | 0

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A neat little menko card, likely from the 60s, featuring characters from Onmitsu Kenshin, the ground-breaking TV series beloved in Australia as The Samurai.

It’s pretty rare to see a color image from this seminal B&W series, and what few exist are mostly colorized monochrome shots like this. Too bad the halftone screens and registrations on photo menkos are always so wretched.

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VN REVISITED – Shinobi-based ‘Sugoroku’ game

Originally published February, 2010

Have owned this “sugoroku” illustrated game board for years but am finally discovering the actual nature of it.

Click the image for a huge-ass scan of this.

Essentially a Japanese version of Chutes and Ladders, these thin paper game boards have been produced for centuries in one form or another (read here about an older version of the game based on backgammon and made illegal twice in Japanese history).

I’ve seen several based on chambara, tokusatsu and boys adventure anime, but this one is a melting pot of various ninja properties – or is at least meant to EVOKE those properties. Yeah, I’m thinking characters owned by multiple studios or TV networks appearing on one product means unlicensed…

Man, some of this art is just precious. Without being able to read the captions, I’m seeing illos that are certainly meant to be Masked Ninja Akakage and Kagemaru of Iga there, and a villain that could be a skull shocker from Lion Maru or a shinobi-fied Golden Bat.

Translations anyone?

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