Possibly the BEST menkos I’ve ever come across…

The somewhat physical card game of Menko (aka Bettan or Patchin) — wherein players ‘fwap’ cardboard rectangles or circles down on each other then claim whatever flips over — isn’t the most conducive to collectible items surviving the decades. These things were cheaply produced and designed to be disposable to start with, and were then physically abused during the normal course of play.

Finding intact gems from our beloved Japanese ninja craze of the 1960s, especially crown jewels like the run below, is a real gift from the shadow gods!

Regrettably the artists are unknown, and the actual properties (oft semi-to-un-officially “licensed” in the first place) can be difficult to decipher sometimes, but concrete info aside, we’re still left with some absolutely awesome vintage ninja imagery here…

These look right off the covers of the best-selling ninja textbooks of the day, portraying shadowy assassins and camouflaged covert agents in bombastic poses and color palettes for maximized sensationalism that no kid or action film fan could resist.

The above piece is my absolute favorite — the spitting image of Ryutaro Otomo from Castle of Owls (sourced from one of the publicly stills seen here), the weird knurled-looking rectangular sword guard, and check out that shuriken-dispensing dowel contraption on his belt!

The tight crop on the below suggests a larger scene of carnage — saboteurs in full night-mission regalia plummeting down onto unsuspecting victims during what could well be a castle conflagration of their own making. So much energy and action from such a small canvas…

Even the backs are cool.

The best thing about these old ‘cigarette cards’ or ‘gum cards’ as they are often mis-identified? They’re easily the cheapest relics of the 60s ninja boom you can easily score worldwide. A simple eBay search will lead you to myriad examples of collectible pulp emblazoned with the likes of tokusatsu supermen, sumo wrestlers, Western film icons, robots, monsters and yes, ninja.

Happy hunting.

Special thanks to Matthew Childs.

 

Kagemaru Tattoos

The rarest antiques are the things that are the most disposable when produced, and its hard to think of anything (outside of ice cream bars maybe) with a shorter shelf life than a sheet of temporary tattoos for kids. Somehow a few of these Iga no Kagemaru sheets survived the gauntlet of childhood body modification for decades and lo-and-behold now rest in the safety and comfort of the VN office/shrine!

With full recognition on its importance in ninja media history, I’m still not the hugest fan of Mitsuteru Yokoyama‘s iconic property, mainly because I don’t really care for his character designs (especially the titular hero) unless they’re fully hooded. Something about those faces… hmm.

But man oh man do I LOVE the pointy hoods!!!

These were sold to me as temporary tats, but the more I handle these five-inch cellophane sheets, the more I think they instead might have been so-called “rub-down transfers” designed for application to paper backgrounds — sort of a ‘make-your-own-scene’ art kit for kids. I grew up with all sorts of those sets, the most popular of which was a line called “Presto-Magix.”

Regardless of what they were originally, the fact that they licensed actual Yokoyama artwork instead of third-party mimicking makes these endure as treasures…

8 ninja vendors I accidentally found on Etsy

I had never even been on Etsy before last Christmas, when a friend who practically lives on there turned me on to some jewelry crafters for Christmas gifts. So while there, I did a quick “ninja” and “shinobi” search and what do you know!

Most of the below vendors sell on eBay and off their own sites as well, but as I found them all on Etsy in one fell swoop it’s there that will serve as a gateway.

Bakezori — Need a custom ninja suit in the Japanese historical tradition? Is that even a question? Well, check out Bakezori — well reviewed by martial artist, historical reinactors and cosplayers alike.

Gaucho Ninja Leather — Where Asian World of Martial Arts meets the fashion runways of Spain, check out Gaucho Ninja Leather’s coture-grade leather tabi!

Ninpo Mart —  I salute weapon-smiths who offer non-lethal variety training gear, and by non-lethal I mean I won’t kill myself using any of it. Probably. Anyway, this is the first place I’ve ever seen rubber training claws.

Siamurai —   “Siam-urai”… see what they did there? Siamese-fusion Tokyo street fashion, a modern version of ancient Japanese dress, or Hammer pants of a less shiny variety? You be the judge. Man, these are so beautiful.

Shinbudo – Know what a $400 wooden sword looks like? I didn’t either until I started poking around at the jaw-dropping wood work and transcendent craft at hand here. Amazing training lumber!!! Make sure to go to their main website for more…

Shinobi Gear — More sharp-pointees in safer rubber for training, including rare, obscure and exotic tools you don’t usually see in the typical dojo.

Ronin Minatures — Great selection of gaming-style 1/32 ninja and samurai figurines, both painted and raw lead. Gorgeous sculpts, and they really did their homework.

Terrible Weapons — Get out your damned credit card right damned now because weapon-smith Jason Blakey is now offering 3D-printer replicas of Lee Van Cleef’s pendant from The Master! I was the first kid on my block with one, be the first on yours…

Happy hunting…

Hear the sounds of REVENGE, meet the crew!

FINALLY – the inexplicably uncommunicative entity known as Varèse Sarabande has gone live with a web page and release date for the Revenge CD! WE HEAR YOU SERIES – Revenge Of The Ninja: Enhanced Edition goes on sale January 20th, but the first street copies will likely be had at an exclusive signing event at the Creature Features store and gallery in Burbank, CA.

Sunday, January 22nd the composer of ROTN‘s signature pulsating synthesizer score Robert J. Walsh will be joined on a panel/signing by the film’s director Sam Firstenberg, stuntman Steve Lambert and other guests to be announced. They’ll be showing clips, discussing the music and the creative process, and meeting and greeting their loyal fanbase. Don’t even try to be first in line though, as that spot’s been reserved for me.

OH… and as for me, as sort of an event co-sponsor I’ll have a modest display of 80’s ninja ephemera from ROTN and the properties it inspired in the gallery, AND Creature Features asked me to design an exclusive limited edition print for the event.

While you’re in the neighborhood, right down the street is the Martial Arts History Museum, wherein you can see the actual screen-worn silver demon mask stunt/fight coordinator Steve Lambert used in the movie, amongst other cool stuff. The museum is always deserving of patronage, so make a day of it!

See you there, and don’t forget your wallet!

For those who can’t make this event, autographed CD’s are available to pre-order from the Creature Features website.

 

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.