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.


Colorized SHINOBI-NO-MONO menkos

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Thought a good follow-up to my anti-Ninja Assassin / pro-Shinobi-no-Mono rant last week would be a look at some rather strange S-n-M related merch – colorized menko cards.



Released contemporary with the 60’s series, these ‘cigarette cards’ used stills from the B&W films, with colors rather awkwardly overlaid. I think the idea was to make the otherwise grave imagery as colorful and kid-appealing as possible, because the color choices are pretty illogical otherwise.





I think for the month of December we’ll concentrate on MERCH, this being the most gloriously commercialized of all holiday seasons. So look to the Collectibles and Toys and Statues categories to bring out the ninja kid in all of us…

Revenge of the Menkos

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Now these are some awesome menko cards! Watari the Ninja Boy, Sasuke, Tange Saezen and more, represented by original art from the card company – hence the slightly off model illos. And do we really need that male nudity???


This un-punched sheet of circular menkos is a lot more off-model. I’m pretty sure two of them are supposed to be Kagemaru of Iga, but the rest are a crapshoot.

arashi menkos

OK, the rectangular Henshin Ninja Arashi cards are pretty good, but that circular ‘POG’-like one in the middle is just awful! But these aren’t the best of the worst…

Kaiketsu Lion Maru my ass… I’m calling total bullshit on the disc on the right! That’s just some nature book painting of a lion’s head with some hastily drawn gloves coming in from the sides. Even the more on-model rectangular card is pretty wonky in the too-human face. Looks more like that old Ron Pearlman Beauty and the Beast TV monster than the white-maned transforming ninja hero of the 70’s.


Enter the Menko

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I absolutely adore the Japanese equivalent of our “cigarette cards” – menko. These collectible cards featured all sorts of popular media, celebrity actors and athletes, historical and nature subjects, etc. I scored a pile of these in 2006 and 2007, many of which feature photos and illustrations of hooded swordsman and ninja.


Menko have been big since the 1910’s, when photographic reproduction wasn’t exactly great, especially on a cheap mass-produced premium.


One really strange thing you run across with vintage Menko is off-model illustrations. Hard to tell if it was a pirating issue or not, but companies often used their own in-house artists to portray hit animated and manga properties, rather than license the actual artwork from the source. You get some really goofy variants…