When the world was on the brink of devastation caused by the Axis’ powers, Japan was one of the first countries to be conquered. Fat Man and Little Boy thundered from the sky, crushing the seemingly unbreakable spirit of Imperial Japan. Emperor Hirohito watched 2 of his beloved cities melt—first Hiroshima, then Nagasaki—in disbelief, under the new found power of the United States.
In a radio announcement to his people, the Emperor said “the time has come when we must bear the unbearable.” On September 21, 1945 Japan formally surrendered, ending World War II.
The devastation and humiliation of defeat were not easily forgotten or forgiven by the Japanese people. It would take more than a generation for the country to begin to heal the physical, emotional, and spiritual scars of war.
During the Allied occupation of Japan following World War II, millions of ceramic figurines were produced and sold as souvenirs to GIs. These figurines, commonly known as “Occupied Japan Figurines,” were produced until 1952 when the Allied Forces ended their occupation of the country.
Many of these figurines are valuable today, fetching high prices at antique stores and online auction sites.
In this article, we are going to see the most valuable figurines from occupied Japan. If one of your older relatives happened to be stationed in Japan, or visited it during the occupation, then you might have one of these in your possession.
Identifying an Occupied Japan Figurine
Identification is the first and most important step in determining the value of your figurine. Both to figure out whether it has any value, and if it’s worth anything beyond that.
If you want to start your collection, then you must exercise care as to not incur into any fraud. There are, unfortunately, people selling fakes out there. But with some practice, you will be able to tell them apart.
There is only one way to be sure a collectible actually comes from occupied Japan: its mark.
Mind the Mark
There is only one way to determine whether an Occupied Japan Figurine is valuable and that is through the mark. Every figurine made during the occupation will have a mark somewhere on it that says “Occupied Japan” or “Made in Occupied Japan.”
The lack of one of these marks means that the piece was not made during the occupation, and therefore, has no value. Even though sometimes these items were marked with only “Japan” or “Made in Japan”. If that’s the case, collectors still won’t consider them as coming from Occupied Japan.
Evaluating the Figurines
Once you have determined that your figurine is, in fact, an Occupied Japan Figurine, the next step is to evaluate it. This will give you a good idea as to how much the piece might be worth on the open market.
There are a few factors you need to consider when evaluating an Occupied Japan Figurine:
- The overall condition of the piece—This is the most important factor in evaluating any collectible. If the piece is cracked, chipped, or otherwise damaged, it will be worth far less than a pristine example.
- The subject matter of the figurine—Some themes are more popular with collectors than others. Figurines featuring children, animals, and floral motifs are typically more valuable than those with more generic subject matter.
- The size of the figurine—Larger pieces are usually more valuable than smaller ones, all else being equal. Particularly, some figurines represent more than 1 person. These are the most valuable pieces.
- The age of the piece—Older figurines (those made closer to the beginning of the occupation) are typically more valuable than newer ones.
- The rarity of the piece—Demand and offer baby. Rarer pieces fetch a higher price on marketplaces, as they are more requested by collectors all over the world.
Warning: As the excellent website Gotheborg recommends, there’s a test to make sure the mark is genuine on porcelain figurines. Try to wash it away with nail polish remover – if it comes off, then you’ve got a fake in your hands.
Most rare Occupied Japan figurines sell for around $120-$150.
Now that we know how to identify and evaluate an Occupied Japan Figurine, let’s take a look at some of the most valuable examples.
The Most Valuable Occupied Japan Figurines
These figurines are the cream of the crop when it comes to Occupied Japan Figurines.
You’ll notice that most of these come from the earliest occupation day, right after 1945. Only a couple are from later years, because that’s when production started becoming more mass-oriented, and less artisanal.
Here are the most valuable Occupied Japan Figurines:
Occupied Japan Porcelain Lady Heads
There is an entire collection of these figurines, all of them representing different ladies. They were made by several manufacturers, but the most valuable ones come from Satsuma.
They all depict ladies with different hairstyles, and they all have a kimono-inspired dress. The level of detail on these is amazing, making them some of the most valuable Occupied Japan Figurines out there.
You can find them for sale online, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny – prices start at around $300, like for this piece.
Occupied Japan Bisque Victorian Man & Woman (12″)
This is a set of two figurines representing a Victorian man and woman. They were made in the first year of the occupation, 1945, which makes them quite rare.
The level of detail on these figurines is astounding, right down to the fabric on their clothes. The level of craftsmanship is what puts this set at the top of our list.
These bisque figurines are in excellent condition, which is another reason they are so valuable. They are also quite large, measuring 15 inches tall.
Colonial Couple Figurines
There are more than one type of colonial couple figurines. They always represent a couple doing couples things, usually hugging or holding hands.
This specific type was made in 1945 and is very rare. The level of craftmanship that went into these is quite remarkable. The hand-painted pieces look gorgeous.
Since there are multiple versions of this style of figurine, it’s hard to give an accurate estimate of prices. Generally, you’ll find these are priced between $200 and $300, depending on the seller and the figurine’s condition.
For example, here’s a listing for $195, and here’s one for $265. The first listing is for 2 different statues, and as you can notice, all 3 of these look slightly different, despite depicting the same thing (a colonial couple).
Occupied Japan Bisque Victorian Man & Woman (10″)
Similar to the other Bisque figurine, this is a set of two, representing a Victorian man and woman. The big difference here are the size, as these are only about 10 inches tall, and the pose, with these two holding a less elegant one.
Still, the level of detail is amazing, and the age (made in 1945) puts it high on our list.
Here’s a listing for $125. The description says there’s a minor nick on the girl, so make sure to check that out before buying it.
Occupied Japan Kitty Cat
Humans weren’t the only subject of occupied Japan figurines. Animals, and especially cats, were also popular.
An example is this cat figurine that goes for around $200. As with all other items on this list, the age (it was made in 1946) and the level of detail are what make it valuable.
Not only the cat, but also the flowers it carries are all hand-made, and in this particular piece, you can see they are still in pristine conditions, despite almost 80 years have passed. That is a true mark of quality above everything else.
Occupied Japan American Style Lady Figurine
This is one of the least valuable items on our list, not because it’s bad, but because it’s smaller size and only features 1 person.
Still, the level of detail is nothing short of astounding. The pose, the hair of 2 different colors, the folds in the dress. Everything creates a pleasant visual experience.
Occupied Japan Pixie Elf
Japanese folklore is rich and varied, with all sorts of creatures populating it. It makes sense that Japanese people made figurines of them, since they are among the most fascinating things of Japanese culture.
hings like Yokais, Oni, and of course Pixies have been turned into figurines.
Pixie Elves are usually associated with nature, although not all figurines feature nature-related decorations like leaves or flowers.
You’ll find these selling for about $50, like this one. Despite being quite tiny, only measuring about 3 inches, this figurine is still quite valuable. The level of detail, once again, is what makes it so special.
Buying Occupied Japan Figurines Offline
Now that you know a bit more about the most valuable Occupied Japan figurines, it’s time to start shopping for them.
The best way to find these offline is at antique stores or markets. You might be able to find some online, but it’s always better to see them in person before making a purchase.
That way, you can inspect them for any damages or imperfections, and of course, haggle for a better price.
Here are a few tips for shopping for these figurines offline:
- Always inspect the figurine before you buy it. Check for any cracks, chips, or other damage.
- If possible, try to find out how old the figurine is. The older it is, the more valuable it will be.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. Antique store owners expect it, and you might be able to get a better price if you do it.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to find the perfect Occupied Japan figurine for your collection.
Conserving Occupied Japan Figurines
Even if you don’t have any of these figurines, chances are you know someone who does. If that’s the case, it’s important to know how to take care of them, so they can be passed on to future generations.
The first thing you need to do is make sure they are clean. The easiest way to do that is to use a soft, damp cloth. Avoid using any harsh chemicals or cleaners, as they might damage the figurine, and especially the paint job.
Once you’re done cleaning it, make sure to dry it immediately. Water can damage these figurines quite easily, so you need to be careful.
After that, you need to find a safe place to store it. A cool, dry place is ideal, as it will prevent the figurine from deteriorating.
You should also avoid exposing it to direct sunlight, as that can also damage it. If you have to store it in a sunny place, make sure to use a UV-resistant glass case.
Finally, you need to be careful when handling it. These figurines are quite fragile, so you need to be careful not to drop them or bump them into things.
If you follow these simple tips, your occupied japan figurine should last for many generations to come.
Occupied Japan produced a lot of unique and gorgeous figurines. While some of them are more valuable than others, they all have one thing in common: they’re fragile and need to be handled with care.
And also, they deserve to be proudly displayed for everyone to see and enjoy. After all, that’s what they were made for. There are many different styles of figurines, all handmade, which shows ho much care went into them. Nowadays, with mass production of everything, part of the figurines’ magic has been lost. Which is a shame, because they’re such beautiful pieces.
But at least we still have the ones that were made back then, and as long as we take care of them, they’ll be around for many years to come.