Seto Novelty

Seto Novelty
Exhibition of postwar novelties rare window into Occupied Japan

SETO, Aichi Prefecture--An exhibition here of items engraved “Made in Occupied Japan” is providing a rare glimpse into Japan’s history immediately after its defeat in World War II.

About 170 pieces, including ceramic figures, plates, cups and wooden toys, are rare and of historical importance as only a limited number of them have survived in Japan. Many manufacturers apparently destroyed them after the end of the Allied occupation in 1952, because they regarded their products engraved with the mark as insulting.

The exhibition, held at the Seto novelty club, marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Allied occupation, and will be held until Sept. 9.

Seto, famous for its ceramics since the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), was the main manufacturing site for novelties for the U.S. and European markets in postwar Japan.

Japanese exports had to bear the “Made in Occupied Japan” mark in line with the requirement the occupation forces announced in February 1947, two years after Japan surrendered.

In 1949, it was no longer a requirement to include the word “occupied,” but many ceramics manufacturers kept using the mark until the occupation ended.

Yoshitomo Nakamura, the 62-year-old head of the secretariat of the association of preserving novelty culture, which runs the Seto novelty club, learned of the products with the occupation mark when he was working on a program on the Showa Era (1926-1989) as a director at Japan Broadcasting Corp (NHK).

One of the manufacturers he interviewed said a large cache of “Made in Occupied Japan” items had been buried in a factory’s backyard. Many were then later excavated.

“Those products were buried because manufacturers found it humiliating to have to engrave its products with the ‘occupied’ mark,” Nakamura says.

But there are many collectors around the world, mostly in the United States, who find the “Made in Occupied Japan” items highly collectible.

American collectors recently gathered to show off their collections and mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the occupation.

Many of the items at the Seto exhibition come from collectors in the United States.

Nakamura says the items once considered "humiliating" are now important windows into Japan's recent past.

“I have heard that many collectors are of advanced age and have to decide what to do with their collections,” he says. “(Seto) city officials and others should preserve them as historical assets.”