Learning about military sake cups: Books

Now that imperialjapansakecups.com is no more, I feel it is perhaps necessary to write a series of articles to replace and also update some of the information contained in that website. This will both be meant as an introduction to those who are new to the hobby, but also hopefully offer something interesting to those who have already been collecting for some time. 

The first thing that is worth talking about is - what are the books out there on the subject? Militaria collectors and military history aficionados in general tend to like books - they are at once more authoritative and offer more permanence. In the case of sake cups, they also offer valuable photos. 

There are four books on this subject that I know of. Among these, Richard Fuller's book, published in 2001, seems to be extremely difficult to locate due to the small print run. So, discounting that, here are the ones you can still find with reasonable effort:

1) Dan King's Japanese Military Sake Cups, 1894-1945, published by Schiffer Publishing Co, 2003. This is the standard reference work in English, and remains, to this date, the only book in English aside from Fuller's. Easily obtainable through Amazon. Dan King probably needs no introduction - he's the author of A Tomb Called Iwo Jima and The Last Zero FighterThis book on sake cups is a good primer to the hobby, although there are things that perhaps need some updating. More later.

2) The only book in Japanese that I know of on the subject is Kato Mutsuki's Heitaipai (Military sake cups). I sold a copy awhile ago here. Out of print but you can still find it in second hand book market in Japan. 

3) This one is a relatively new entry - Kan Chi-hao's Ribenjun Taiwan junbei (Japanese Military Taiwan Sake Cups). You can buy it on eBay here. This book is in Chinese and only focused on Taiwan-related Japanese military sake cups. Has a lot of really rare Taiwanese unit sake cups that you won't see anywhere else. Not as useful though if you can't read the text or the kanji very well.

As with all books there are strengths and weaknesses. Dan King's, which is probably one that most people have access to, is a very good beginning primer to the hobby. It introduces basic elements of the collecting aspect of sake cups, and lays out good arguments for why this is both a hobby that is interesting - because of almost infinite variations - and also relatively safe because of the low value of the items (vs most militaria) compared to the high cost to reproduce them successfully and thus the lack of fakes. There are obviously areas of the subject that could be expanded upon - and I intend to do it here at this blog in the near future - but one thing worth noting is that the prices he listed in the book are, I believe, somewhat outdated. The range of prices on the book is quite narrow - I think currently the low end is lower than his for the more common cups, whereas the high end is higher than his for the really rare stuff. In other words, the range of prices for cups is far wider than the prices in King's book would suggest. Nevertheless, you are probably not buying his book (and you should if you are interested in the subject!) for the price estimates anyway.

Kato's book is more complicated - he was a Japanese diet member and he basically got this book published to showcase his own collection of military sake cups. His collection is rather random - he claims to have 10,000 items. The book is organized into different military campaigns and types, and the cups and other items he shows range from very common to quite rare. The first section of the book includes 37 soldiers whose full names are displayed on the cups, which he claims are the only ones out of 10,000 he owns that have full names. It's an interesting book with a unique take on the items and remains, from what I can see anyway, the only Japanese book on the subject.

The last of these books, by Kan, is a more recent publication. It's a very good example of what you can do with a focused theme of collecting - there are a number of Taiwan based collectors who only collect items related to Japan's military history in Taiwan. The book showcases one man's effort in collecting these items, including really rare finds that are hard to see anywhere else, like items related to the Tainan air corps and various garrisons in Taiwan, as well as cups related to the Japanese suppression of aborigines tribes in the mountain areas of Taiwan during the Taisho period. 

I'll talk more about the contents of each of these books as they related to themes and topics that I will explore in upcoming months. Suffice to say, if you are a serious collector of Japanese military sake cups, you should probably try to get all three books in question.

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