Sunday, May 6, 2012

Samurai on Parade - Jidai Matsuri Kyoto 1960

During my tour of duty with the U.S. Navy, while stationed in Japan, I took leave to visit the historical former capital cities of Nara and Kyoto. The year was 1960. I timed my visit to coincide with a major annual festival, the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages or Epochs), which I had researched. The primary feature of the festival is a parade of reenactors in historical costumes portraying significant personages in Japanese History. Many of the costumes seen in these images are authentic antiques from museums and private collections, carefully borrowed for the day.

Included are Samurai lords and warriors both mounted and on foot. It was October, and the weather in the ancient cities was postcard perfect. I was able to obtain a press photographers set of credentials, and as a result had unlimited access to the entire procession. It was a significant event in my life, and I would like to take a brief opportunity to share some of parade with you. At one point I could recall each historical personage by name and date. Today I have recovered my 35mm slide archives (since converted to CD-ROM), and have incorporated all the titles I'm able to find.

At the time I had purchased the state of the art in Nikon cameras, a Nikon S3 (now a classic), and in addition to the standard Nikor 50mm lens, had a 35mm Wide-angle and 105mm Telephoto lens. I was not a trained professional photographer, so composition may be lacking, but for a rank amateur the results were acceptable. By clicking on the images they may be enlarged (book cover excepted).

For anyone with further interest I would highly recommend trying to find the following book; SAMURAI, Arms, Armor, Costume, Mitsuo Kure, Chartwell Books Inc., Edison New Jersey, 2007, ISBN 13 978-0-7858-2208-0 or ISBN 10 0-7858-2208-9. Still available new or used on

Following are photographs from the Jidai Matsuri of 1960. Note seeming differences in venue with the video of the event in 2011. This is only due to the fact that I was at the start of the parade which originates at the Imperial Palace. In my personal opinion this is the best viewing location (gravel path versus paved street). It seems a lot more authentic as the recreation of history is better than when the procession is later marching through the modern streets of Kyoto, complete with automobile traffic. If interested also please see associated link on the Jidai Matsuri in the Links section of this blog.

An Officer of Lord Oda-Nobunaga's Army
 showing detail of gomaido style armor (~1570)

Lord Kusunoki Masashige (1393-1573)

Detail of shoulder guard ("oosoda") of
armor of the late Heian to mid-Kamakura

The Lord Kusunoki Masashige's brother Masasue

Yabusame Archer of the Kamakura Period (1186-1392)

Another of the Lord Kuunoki Masashige Warriors

Tomoe-Gozen Famous Lady Samurai Heian Period (794-1185)

Yabusame Archer of the Kamakura Period (1186-1392)

The Lord Kusunoki Masashige's brother Masasue

A drum of  Lord Oda-Nobunaga's army (1570) Note newly
styled armored vests made with iron plates ("Gusoku")

Lord Oda-Nobunaga leads his army in pilgrimage
to the Emperor in Kyoto (1570)

General Sakanoue Tamuramaro Heian Period (1794-1185)

Yabusame Archer of the Kamakura Period (1186-1392)

The Lord Kusunoki Masashige's Banner

Lord Kusunoki Masashige (1393-1572)

Another Officer of Lord Oda-Nobunaga's Army (1570)
Consecration of holy palanquins of Emperors Komel and Kammu
 prior to commencement of the Procession

A Group of Lord Kusunoki Masashige's Samurai (1393-1572)

Procession of the Warriors from the Enryaku Period (782-805)

Procession of Court Nobles Enryaku Period (800) 

Izumo-No-Okuni (1572-?) 


The Princess Kazuno-Miya Maids from the Edo Period

Yoshino-Tayu Edo Period

Lady Murasaki-Shikibu (973-1014 or 1025) and Seisho-Nagon

Madame Fujiwara Tameie (~1277)

Ohtagaki Rengetsu (1850)

A short video of the Jidai Matsuri in October 2011.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Collecting Toy Soldiers/Military Miniatures; The State of the Hobby

The following “observations” were recently presented to the membership of two popular toy soldier forums. I would like to take the opportunity to reiterate and refine them, incorporating the additional thoughts of the membership of the forums. I'm including a few photographs from my personal collection in this post, and would invite the interested reader to explore elsewhere within the blog for additional pictures. Please excuse the "miniaturized sands of time", i.e. dust, from the Arizona desert.

Formation of both 'Armies of the World' and 'Regiments of
all Nations'; all vintage Wm. Britains Ltd. the majority dating to
the 1950's.

An assortment of vintage Wm. Britains, 'New Britains' and
Toy Army Workshop figures and vehicles

Have had the good fortune to be able to collect militaria, including “toy soldiers”, for almost six decades commencing in the late 1940’s. College major was in architecture, however my work in the real world, for over four of those decades, was in defense systems engineering /threat analysis, and as a naval intelligence officer. Suffices that I’m also an amateur historian. From that vantage point and perspective I would like to venture some limited observations, and my personal perspective, on the evolved hobby of the collection of toy soldiers/military miniatures. Recently I started a review of my library, for my own re-education, of the hobby/industry. In an attempt to maintain objectivity, any multiple listing or reference will be in alphabetical order. This review, while far from inclusive, included the following representative sample of makers and manufacturers:

W. Britains (Vintage 1893 -1966)*
Greenwood and Ball*

The Battle of Rorke's Drift, 22 January 1879 as produced
by Imperial Productions of New Zealand, themselves survivors;
 Note miniature of the Victoria Cross, South Africa (Zulu)
 Medal 1879, a Martini-Henry cartridge, cap badge of the
24th Regiment of Foot (South Wales Borderers) and two
pieces of rock from the battlefield.

Highland Regimental Games including operable caber throwers,
and the regimental band of the Royal Marine LIght Infantry in
concert. Lower shelf includes the Gurkha Rifles and the 92nd
 Gordon Highlanders at the Heights of Dragai; All produced by
Wm. Hocker. 

I then turned the review to again a representative sample of what have been defined by some as “new toy soldiers”, and their makers/manufacturers. In both lists my advanced apologies for any individual favorites that I may have excluded, it was due solely out of my ignorance, or not having observed their significant presence in forums and auctions. Have also indicated by asterisk, those makers that I presently have within my collection. The vast majority of the collection being “nominally” 1:32 Scale (~ 54mm) or “nominally” 1:30 Scale (~60mm).

All the Queen’s Men*
AeroArt St Petersburg*
Ballantynes of Walkerburn (Not really “toys”, due to size)*
Beau Geste
British Bulldog*
Chota Sahib*
Collector’s Showcase
First Legion
Honour Bound
King & Country*
Monarch Regalia*
New Britains*
Oz Made*
PNF Figurines*
Tommy Atkins*
Toy Army Workshop*

Although present in my collection, I have not included makers of principally armored fighting vehicles (Forces of Valor, Corgi,, or aircraft (Corgi, Franklin Mint, Showcase, Skymax, et. al.).

Some examples of the excellent die cast/plastic scale armor
produced by Forces of Valor and Corgi
Would like to state from the outset that these observations are prefaced as my personal opinion as opposed to universally acknowledged fact. Having started as a child collecting W. Britains the reader will have to indulge my frequent use of their product as a “benchmark” of comparison. Also recognize that some observations may seem self-evident, if not trite, yet still relevant:

•  Initially, after W. Britains ceased production effectively about 1966, there seemed to be a hiatus in the hobby while remaining existing stock was assimilated by collectors. A somewhat arbitrary date of 1973, marks the commencement of the era of the “New Toy Soldier”. From that point forward an extensive “cottage industry” developed in the United Kingdom, as well as other parts of the world where collectors lived. In the intervening time the vast majority of these firms have come and gone. Only the most hardy, truly artisan, and innovative makers remain today.

•  As a follow-up exercise, the reader, if so inclined, only has to scan the pages of Stuart Asquith’s book, The Collector’s Guide to New Toy Soldiers,  S. Asquith, Argus Books, Hemel Hempstead, Herts., 1991, ISBN 1 85486 051, or The World Encyclopedia of Model Soldiers, J. Garratt, The Overlook Press, F. Muller Ltd., London, 1981, 0 87951 129 X.  The casualty list is extensive, however significant new makers have since arrived on the field.

• W. Britains castings dating from the early to mid 1930’s were (are) greatly superior to the painted end product (even custom painted sets). By this I mean anatomically (perhaps slightly elongated, stayed, limited poses until late 1930’s) and in level of detail.

• Facts be known Britains vehicles, guns and aircraft were not accurately scaled to their toy soldiers, nor were they intended to be (primarily WWII motor transport), with exceptions such as King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, horse-drawn RAMC ambulance and RASC wagons.

A selection of the range of the fine artillery pieces and other
 ordnance produced by W. Britains Ltd. over the years 

• The integration of scale model armor, transport, aircraft into the hobby, and the emergence of dioramists has raised a lot of new issues with regard to consistency of scale and compatibility of figures with armor, vehicles and aircraft.

• Toy soldier collectors today are physically and chronologically no longer children.

•  The overall population of toy soldier collectors is declining due to age and younger population's interest in other hobbies. Extremely realistic computer simulation and reality computer games seem to predominate today.

•  Another aspect in the evolution of the hobby I had neglected, primarily a contribution of the dioramists, is the level of attention now being given to attaining absolute historical accuracy in the totality of their efforts. The spectrum of this detail covers everything from terrain and foliage to correct tactical markings on vehicles.

• The hobby has seen a significant movement away from the classic toy soldier (Britains and Mignot) towards military miniatures. Conscious exceptions being Wm Hocker, Asset, and Hiriart, to cite three examples, all which far exceed Britains standard normal painting in quality and detail.

• The introduction, development and resultant popularity of 1:30 Scale figures, has provided a tremendous boost in the animation and detailing of figures being offered today. However, there is the contention among some collectors that the same enhanced detail can still be achieved in 1:32 Scale (54mm). I personally contend that the required skill and intensity of labor, with the resultant cost incurred, limits feasibility.

•  In an attempt to reduce both the cost, and to a lesser extent weight of their products, manufacturers have introduced the use of polystone as a substitute for diecast metal. To more discerning collectors there is a loss of detail resulting from the use of this material. It also has its limitations in detailing complex shapes and small parts, principally in armored fighting vehicles and aircraft.

• When King & Country, Figarti, Collectors Showcase, et al., changed the scale of figures from 1:32 to 1:30 scale their figures ceased to be toy soldiers, and became semi-connoisseur military miniatures.

• W. Britains wounded figures, such that there were, laid on stretchers at attention with all wounds carefully bandaged showing no blood. Care taken not to offend either child or parents. Suffices such is no longer the case.

• The level of artistry achieved by highly skilled painters such as Aeroart St. Petersburg, elevates these masterpieces to objects d’art, far removed from the relatively crude classic toy soldier, even including such past masters as Courtenay and Stadden. The accompanying prices corresponding to their quality, placing them out of the range of the wallets of the majority of collectors.

• In the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s the level of artistry achieved by skilled painters in the People’s Republic of China was significantly superior to more recent production. That group of artists have either retired/died, or have because of their skills moved on to better paying jobs. Compare for example the King & Country Crimean Series or early Streets of Old Hong Kong, to newer production. This has to a degree been off-set/compensated for, through the development and use of micro decals.

• Unless they collect vintage W. Britains or Wm Hocker sets (perhaps Imperial and Steadfast or equivalent), individuals no longer collect toy soldiers, they collect semi-connoisseur military miniatures.

• Even if they collect vintage Britains or Hocker, collectors certainly no longer pay "toy soldier" prices.

• Today with the evolved level of detail afforded by the increased size of the figures, collectors have come to expect, if not demand, accuracy in the research and execution in every figure, vehicle, and aircraft. Within that context collectors have begun a cost/accuracy/quality analysis in their buying decisions.

• It used to be that the majority of toy soldier collectors were traditionalists and displayed their figures/sets in mass formations in display cases, not in extensively detailed museum sized dioramas.

• It used to be that the hobby was, for the most part much cheaper, and there were far more collectors. Collectors predominately purchased toy soldiers in boxed sets. If they did purchase individual figures, they were most likely connoisseur figures like Stadden, Greenwood & Ball or equivalent.

• As background I have conducted a “back of the envelope” quasi-statistical analysis of a given forum’s membership. Sample size 299 forum members. Based upon available data 220 would appear gainfully employed (inferring stable or growing income), 63 retired (probable fixed income, except for COLA adjustment if any, recognizing there are exceptions), 11 students (undetermined discretionary income), currently unemployed 5. This would strongly indicate approximately 26% of forum membership (based on this limited sample) are inclined to have little or no discretionary income.

• My observations on vintage Briains sales on e-Bay (Fewer sets of either quality or rarity, going for vastly inflated realized prices) is predicated on a comparison of the prices realized versus recent year’s results at Vectis Toy Auctions and Phillip’s in the United Kingdom and The Old Toy Soldier Auctions in the United States. Offerings at the latter auction houses have been, as a rule, in better condition for an identical set/gun/vehicle (boxed/unboxed), and even with the buyer’s premium, sold for less than prices often realized on e-Bay. You can certainly argue that e-Bay is exposed to a larger population, including many new and inexperienced collectors, however to the veteran collector the other auction houses are equally well known. I certainly will admit that I have not done a detailed in-depth analysis of comparative prices, and it very well may be that “anomalies” have made a more lasting impression than the norm. I totally concur with the assessment regarding that portion of the collecting population who are aging and on a fixed income. I feel very grateful that I was able to collect what I did, when I did it. My only regret is a short detour from Britains to Greenwood & Ball figures during the mid to late sixties, at least from an investment perspective, and what would have been a more complete W. Britains collection.

Note the Scottish Regiments (Highland and Lowland) of the
 British Army by Greenwood & Ball just visible behind the
 beginnings of the Charge by the Greys and Gordons at Waterloo
by King & Country

• Having studied architecture at university, worked as an engineer for over four decades, and collected toy soldiers for seven decades, I would cite the selection of scale, i.e. size, as a very important, if not critical parameter. It allows makers to execute proportion, anatomical reality, and detail (particularly facial expression, armament, insignia and accouterments) not possible in smaller sized figures, yet still small enough to build fairly extensive displays/dioramas in a reasonable amount of space.

The full regimental band of the Parachute Regiment, playing
"Don't Cry for Me Argentina", April 1982, lead by their mascot
Pegasus II and the Pony Corporal, marching out of barracks,
Aldershot, enroute to the Falklands. Figures are from All the
Queen's Men 

For a slightly different perspective, but with many similar observations on the same subject, interested readers are encouraged to get a copy of a book written by a widely acknowledged and respected expert n the field; Collecting Toy Soldiers in the 21st Century, James Opie, Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2011, ISBN 184884373-9. See the Links on this blog for his web site.

Finally a "pot pouri" including various elements of the Royal
Navy and Fleet Air Arm, and a good start at the Charge of the
4th and 11th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, which has
subsequently seen the additions to their ranks including
 Lt-Gen Sir Harry E. Chauvel GCMG KCB, heliograph party
 and Vickers Machine Gun Section, all by King & Country

You may equivocate and debate the finer points of these factors, but are going to be hard pressed to refute their fundamental validity. Will be most interested in receiving any and all comments, be they round shot, grape, chain, even shrapnel.