Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Non-Existence: Finding Information on Japanese Cards

Reader Greg Dunn asked a great question the other day:
You mention finding cards that have not been catalogued. I assume (like all non-Japanese collectors) you rely on Gary Engel's work as a resource. But in your time in Japan have you ever come across a Japanese language version of a catalog? In several years of reading and collecting Japanese cards, I don't recall anyone mentioning it. So do Japanese collectors rely solely on BBM (the magazine) as a reference source? 
I ask only out of curiosity since being Japanese illiterate such a catalog would be of no use to me. I'm just asking to get a better understanding from the Japanese collector viewpoint (and your descriptions of card shows there in Japan was very informative from that standpoint as has your blog been overall). Is Engel the only person (Japanese or foreign) to publish a comprehensive resource?
I thought this was important enough to address here. I'm going to expand on the question for those who aren't as "in the know" as other collectors of Japanese cards.
I do rely heavily on Engel's catalog as a resource. I have the 7th Edition, which owners know is complete through early 2008. It's proven invaluable in identifying cards, and even just knowing what's out there. The same could be said for the almanacs issued by Beckett and SCD. There are errors and omissions, and the prices aren't always accurate. However, I think the disclaimer in the guide is pretty accurate about prices: "...the price for each card listed in this Guide now reflects the retail value in the U.S. or Japan--whichever is higher." And retail value is just like the HI column in Beckett, what the highest price you could expect to pay for the card at a store in Japan or the U.S.

As an example, most BBM commons are listed at 50 cents in the guide, which essentially is 50 yen in Japan. When visiting most card shops in Japan, singles start at 50 cents, so this "base" price is pretty accurate. There are some shops that have singles starting at 30 yen. Most stores price older Calbees starting at $1 (for the 1990s) or even much higher for cards in the 1970s and 80s, but look around enough and you'll find them far below "book" price.
So, now, what else do I use as a source? When it comes to historic cards, I have yet to find another source. Actually, I really need to update to the 8th edition of Engel's book in hopes of identifying some of these other oddball cards I have in my collection.

NPB Card Guy's site (Japanese Baseball Cards) is a big help for more recent cards. It's not a guide or a complete listing, but sometimes I can identify a set's name through his descriptions. The SCF Set List Inventory has also helped a bit, though it's incomplete after 2007 (due to the lack of a full source).

Calbee's website has a complete checklist (excluding parallel information) on their website. This certainly has come in handy in creating lists for sets over the past six years. It only goes back to 1998 and is in Japanese, but with a little bit of work I can figure stuff out.

There is a Japanese Sports Card Forum website which has a lot of information about autograph and memorabilia issues, though it's hardly complete. 
BBM issues a magazine price guide similar to Beckett. I have issue 100 (the latest one) and while it contains prices for Calbee from 1973-present (excluding 1977-1979) and some other major "oddball" sets (TOMY, Lotte, etc - but no Takara), there is no listing in this issue of BBM cards prior to 2013. I'm curious if they rotate older information between BBM and others on a month-by-month basis - any help from anyone out there? I'll be able to find out in a few weeks when the next magazine comes out but I'd rather know now.

Now, to address Greg's main question: Are there any other comprehensive guides beyond Engel's?


The Japanese market for old cards is almost nonexistent, and as with almost everything in Japan, only the "best" is worth collecting, which is Calbee and/or BBM. Card sets issued for gaming (CardGen, BBH, etc) and by other manufacturers (such as the OB sets by Epoch) are generally considered second-tier, much like Panini's cards are without logos. So these cards just don't get cataloged in Japan. The same goes for team issues, promos and special issues, and other minor sets.

In my quest to reach (as close to) 100% on a Japanese type collection, when I find new cards I do my best to identify them. But I don't have the time, resources, or knowledge to really determine manufacturers, dates, or anything else that isn't included on the actual card. Once I get myself fully organized, now that I'm over 50% completion of known issues, I hope to start reporting on what I've found. While Engel's guides provide the most-complete information, including prices, for vintage sets, I'd like to expand on the information and catalog the current issues as well. My "Cardboard Zoo" blog might be the location for that, or an entirely new blog might be created. Or I could post it here. It was one of my goals to start posting Calbee set information this year, but there just haven't been enough hours in the day!

If anyone has come across another comprehensive guide to Japanese baseball cards, either in print or online, in English or in Japanese, please post about it here!


  1. I spend a good chunk of time this weekend updating the SCF Inventory Manager to add the rest of the sets that have been posted to the Sports Card Jambalaya Yahoo store, so all mainstream issues are included through mid-2013. I focused mainly on modern cards when I piled everything in there, mostly due to limitations of the software I was working with. It just really didn't work well with all those unnumbered menko and bromide sets pre-1975. Along that line of thought, the system doesn't work well as a "guide" like Beckett's online system, but it does work well as an inventory tool. However "completion" is totally dependent on my having time to add sets.

  2. Jason: I certainly appreciate the work you do trying to keep it up to date! It is very useful in finding the mainstream issues (since I can search for all sets with BBM as a manufacturer, for example).

    The only thing I really wish the SCF database could do is filter by league (MLB, MiLB, NPB, etc). The basics of doing it are quite simple, but I'm sure there is a lot of code that would need to be updated, and the existing sets would have to be edited to include the new data as well.

    I'm always appreciative of your efforts to help me and others find and track cards that most people forget about - or aren't even aware of!

  3. It looks like SCM rotates the older cards among sports as well as companies that they list in the magazine. I've got a couple recent back issues (95, 96, 97 and 99) - 95 has soccer cards from 1987 - 2011, 96 has wrestling cards from 1994 - 2011 (both BBM sets and others), 97 has sumo from 1997-2011 and "other sports" from 1995-2011 (includes stuff like "Real Venus" and "Fairies of the Lanes" bowling cards) and 99 has soccer again but from 1994 to 2011 (I think issue 95 has Calbee cards and issue 99 has league issued cards but I'm not sure).

    I thought this was a great question and I asked both Ralph Pearce and Rob Fitts about it. Rob says that Gary Engel's book is all there is on the pre-1973 cards. Ralph says that there were a couple of books he picked up in Japan in the 1990's. One of them showed pictures of cards from the 1950's and 1960's and had checklists beginning with the Kabaya-Leaf set in 1967 - although I don't believe from Ralph's description that there were checklists for every set.

    Engel is pretty much concentrating on the old issues. The new stuff can be tracked pretty well at Sports Card Jambalaya Yahoo. What I'd like to start doing some more of is doing posts showing vintage stuff I have that is uncatalogued and see if anyone knows anything about it. I probably should be contacting Engel as well about them. You might want to consider the same thing.

  4. NPB Card Guy: thanks for the magazine help. Since 100 has Calbee stuff, I'm hoping 101 will have BBM baseball.

    I need to get Engel's latest guide before I start asking about uncatalogued cards. But I do have plenty of cards that aren't found in guides. While Jambalaya keeps track of new stuff for a while, as a shopping site it eventually sells out of limited cards - memorabilia, autographs, and the serial numbered parallels. And while I'm thinking purely as a completist now, it doesn't include information about non-major releases. You have mentioned the victory cards, plus there are team issues and other oddballs that come out from time to time.

  5. And just for the record, CURSES BE UPON BBM! For some irritating reason, they are posting their set information in the form of large graphics instead of as text on the page. Last year, it was easy to just copy & paste the whole page into Google Translate and work out all the autograph and GU insert listings. Now I'll have to do it all by visual comparison. If they were really clever, they would have run a banner ad for the Japanese edition of Rosetta Stone to taunt me.

  6. Jason: agreed. Maybe you'll learn some Japanese kanji that way, though - which incidentally is how I'm learning some characters (from older cards mostly).

  7. Thanks for the response, Ryan, and Jason's and NPB Card Guy's comments as well!