The enduring Umakubi (Horse Head) brand

1) Product of Kita-Kou and Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership, registered in 1889 (55 x 35 mm)

Exhibitor : Takeshi Yokomizo

Click here for Japanese language version


It has been a while since a box of matches had a role as an essential item of our everyday life. But in Japan, we still see it alongside candles and incense on the household-goods shelves in supermarkets. It sits there because the main occasion for us using matches nowadays is to light incense – for family altars at home, or when visiting ancestors’ graves. In general, a box of matches is kept unused at home as an emergency item, but during the summer when kids play with fireworks in the evening, adults need to accompany them and a box of matches is often in their hands.

The sales of matches dropped significantly but there are still 12 manufacturers in Japan, and about 45 different brands are in circulation today. Each brand-label was very much loved by the manufacturer’s local customers, and the label design has been handed down throughout the ages. The example here is the label design of the “Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand” which has been almost unchanged for 130 years. It still is a very familiar and known brand throughout the country.

Tracing the design transition

“Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand” has been taken over by many manufacturers over the years, and when the hand-over happened, it required a renewal of the label.  Even though the overall design was maintained, the name of the manufacturer had to be amended. The woodblock was hand-carved by an engraver so that the expression of the horse’s face was altered slightly each time of the renewal. In the past, the original wood-engraving was replicated by electroplating many times and printed by letterpress. Today, the label is printed by offset printing on card-paper using skillet box packaging technique. It allows the same printing plate to be used repeatedly with a simple name replacement.

Notes on the designs :

  1. 3) The design was registered in 1904 by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership

    Product of Kita-Kou and Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. The design was registered in 1889. Originally, Mr. Nobumatsu Kita owned the trademark then he passed its rights to Mr. Benzo Takigawa of Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership founded in 1901.

  2. Co-produced by Ewa-Yokou and Chinese company Bakushoho.
  3. The design was registered in 1904 by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. Colouring Limited Registration was filed in 1910.
  4. Export label made by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. The word “Lucky” was featured on the label as horseshoes symbolised good luck in Europe.
  5. Product of Toyo Match Co. Ltd. Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership merged with another company and founded Toyo Match Co. Ltd in 1917, and continued to produce “Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand”.
  6. Product of Daido Match Co. Ltd. Toyo Match Co. Ltd merged with several other companies in 1928 and founded Daido Match Co. Ltd. due to the inflow of Swedish capital.
  7. Product of Nissan Norin Co. Ltd. Swedish capital pulled back in 1932 due to the impact of the Great Depression. Daido Match Co. Ltd was taken over by Nissan Norin Co. Ltd.
  8. Product of Nitto Co. Ltd. Nissan Norin Co. Ltd ended the match manufacturing and handed over their brands to Nitto Co. Ltd in 2016. Currently, the company uses skillet box packaging technique for manufacturing their products.
  9. “Souma Teitetsu (Pair of horses and horseshoe) Brand” was a version of “Umakubi (Horse Head) Brand”. Product of Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership. The design was registered in 1911. This brand was in circulation until Nissan Norin’s take over.
  10. “Teitetsu Abumi (Horseshoe and Stirrup) Brand” was another version. The design was registered by Riosui (Ryosui) Limited Partnership in 1906. It is unknown whether this brand was actually launched.

Click here to return to the Exhibition Catalogue.

© Copyright BML&BS 1945 - 2024

Powered by Everything WordPress theme