Column 06: Memoir of "Match Wonderland Exhibition" at the Tomakomai City Museum

Tomakomai City Museum Museum Entrance

Recently, we do not see matches so often. I know it is because of the influence of the disposable lighters and social tendency of no smoking, but I think the reason is also because automatic kindling and electrical appliances have been regularly furnished in the kitchen, therefore big match boxes are of no use at home now.

Under such the circumstance, a special match exhibition named, "Match Wonderland - History/Design/Tearoom Culture" was held at the Tomakomai City Museum.

Before Oji Paper Company came to the town at the end of Meiji era, Tomakomai City had been prosperous for production of match sticks by many factories. Those factories were manufacturing semi-finished products for matches, such as regular match sticks with doronoki (populous, species of salix), small box's sticks with ezomatsu (species of picea) and small matchboxes, etc. Especially from around 1894 to 1907, semi-finished match sticks and small matchboxes made in Tomakomai were carried to Kobe Port, where the products were completed, and 80% of the finished products were exported from the port to many countries like China, Korea, India, and Russia.


  • [Column 1] Sweden, the match country that actively pursued the world market share
  • [Column02] Cherry flowers, the symbol of Japan, were the first design of Shinsuisha Co., Ltd.
  • [Column03] No. 1 label made in Japan
  • [Column04] Iwaya's cigarette labels of Tengu
  • [Column 05] The Match Museum in Sweden; the only match museum in the world
  • [Column06] | Memoir of "Match Wonderland Exhibition" at the Tomakomai City Museum
  • [Column07] | Kobe University's Auxiliary Library: Explore the source of modern Kobe, Suzuki Shop and 'rise and fall' of match industry

Although Tomakomai City contributed to the match industry for only short period of time in Meiji era, it was meaningful that the Match Exhibition was held in the city.

Promotional Ad Murayama Factory for Match Material of Small Boxes Maruki Match Stick Manufacturing Factory

Invention of Matches

Maikiri Method Fire Creation Gadget Doronoki (populus, species of salix) and Ezomatsu (species of picea) Match Ignition Chemical

The@museum hall was partitioned into three themes; the first exhibition was the transition of the technology. The fire creation methods from Jomon/Yayoi era were shown, i.e., such as "hikiri," a simple tool using a wooden disk and a stick, and a little advanced gadget named "maikiri method tool," etc.

Further, there were explanations about "hiuchi," which was the fire source made by flint stones, and about development of matches, from rudimental matches, to friction matches, yellow phosphor matches, and matches that red phosphorus was painted on the side of matchbox.

I think the invention of matches is epoch-making, because matches enable human beings to create fire easily, which had been a dangerous work in the old time.

This historic invention in 19th century was first performed in Europe; John Walker, a pharmacist in Britain, invented the friction match in 1827, but this ignition tool didn't generate the fire easily and the smell of chemical was awful.
Then, in 1831, a French chemist named Charles Sauria (1812 - 1895) devised a method of making yellow phosphorus matches that had a lower fire point. This yellow phosphorus matches soon became popular throughout Europe and the demand was high; however the toxicity of yellow phosphorus generated the serious health hazard and social problems as a small impact lighted the fire and fire accidents happened from spontaneous firing because of the low degree of the kindling temperature.

Thus, there was a discovery of a new type match that solved those problems; it was the red phosphorus match of which the kindling temperature was high but had no toxicity.

It was 1955 when Johan Edvard Lundström of Jönköping Co.,in Sweden developed the new match, in which combustion chemical (potassium chlorate) and ignition chemical (red phosphorus) were separately used, respectively on the end of match stick and on the side of match box. This was named "Safety Match," and the patent was held. Since then, Sweden has been the major match manufacturing country in the world, and still is.

With such development of Western chemistry, European match industry had been thriving, which consequently expedited Europe to take a dominant role in the world match business.

Match Business in Japan

Special Exhibition Room Wooden matchboxes Registered Trademark Match Labels

At the second corner of the exhibition hall, about 3000 pieces of matches that had been popular internationally and domestically from Meiji to Showa era were shown. Many are owned by the Japan Match Manufacturers' Association and writer owns the rest.

Matches made for the purpose to sell were designed by each match manufacturing company, and the designs were registered as trademarks to prevent copying.

Matches that were made for advertising and given away free of charge appeared in 1893, but it was after Taisho era started when the advertising effects were noticed. It is needless to say that more advertising matches were manufactured since then. A label that was pasted on the surface of a match box was exquisitely designed for both versions of matches, i.e. for selling and advertising.

The beginning of match manufacturing in Japan was 1875 by Makoto Shimizu who succeeded in development of yellow phosphorus matches after studying chemistry in France as a scholarship student by the Ministry of Education. He established a match factory named "Shinsuisha" in Yanagiharamachi, Honjo, Tokyo in 1876 and started to sell matches.

Afterwards, the success of Sinsuisha inspired entrepreneurs to start match companies in various places such as Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe, etc. Japanese matches gradually improved the quality and later many of them were exported to all over the world.

Promotional Advertisement

During 1904 and 1919, match industry peaked and became the most flourishing item for exporting as well as raw silk, raw cotton and tea. Especially Kobe and Himeji area was a suitable location for match manufacturing as it was close to Kobe Port and the weather was mild with less rain, i.e., "Seto Inland Sea weather," because match manufacturing required many drying processes. Moreover as many of Kakyo (Chinese) and foreigners lived there, the area was good for a joint venture with them to export matches to China, India and Southeast Asia, etc.

Kobe was the top match manufacturing area producing 80% of Japanese matches at the peak time, and Benzo Takigawa, who was one of most successful businessmen in the match industry, occupied the 70% share and was called "Japanese Match King."

With the development of match industry, typography machines replaced rudimental woodcut and copper-plate printing gadgets for match labels, and from around 1889, the wooden plate printing that had been brought from Europe became popular in Japan. And, then the printing called electrotype (electric convex printing) was developed to make exquisite multiple printings.

Furthermore, lithographic printing was advanced to print trademarks at the end of Meiji era, therefore colorful exquisite match labels were produced by 4 - 7 times printings. Those beautiful labels were symbolic of prosperity of match industry. In other words, the more exquisite the label design was, the more it was sold.

Registered trademark match labels Match companies' posters

Matches for Advertisement

Matchboxes of Coffee Shops in Tomakomai City Advertising Matches in Tomakomai City

At the third partitioned hall, many matches collected by a match fan who lived in Tomakomai City in 1979's were shown; it was the time that coffee-shop business was most prosperous. Displayed matches were all for advertisement and it was considerable that many retrospecting pictures of old towns were shown with matches.

In 1970's when coffee shop business was booming throughout Japan, there were 191 shops in Tomakomai, and about 2,500 shops in Hokkaido. Those matches reminded me of fine music-playing shops, jazz shops, and ordinary coffee shops that had a different ambiance than that in today's café.

Thrifty Household Matchboxes

There were 213 coffee shops in Tomakomai in 1982, but since then the number of shops has decreased and there are only 60 shops at present.

After the defeat of the war, match industry in Japan lost all of the international markets, and the business strategy must have been modified toward the domestic markets, and it was figured out that the advertising match would save the business.

Consequently, the strategy worked out successfully; many matches were manufactured and given away at coffee shops, stores and companies in the malls; even banks and the department stores gave away matches for advertisement. For advertising, the flat type that was the half thickness of the trademark match became the standard size, because it was convenient to carry in a pocket. Labels printed by planography offset printing were pasted on the coated paper of matches; and they became extremely popular and created high effect for advertisement until around 1965's. .

Material for matches was thin flat pine trees named "kyogi" until 1955, and labels were pasted on the flat pine plates, but after that, label designs became being printed on the cardboard directly so that pasting process was able to be omitted. Presently matches are printed in the same method as then.

Trademark matches made for selling have been sold at a tobacco shop or a daily household shop, but lately it does not sell well. So matches are not stocked anymore even at a tobacco shop. Nowadays only a few are sold at a supermarket and a 100-yen shop, and I, as a match lover, feel desolate for that.

To Cope Comfortably with Inconvenience

Thus the domestic match production has fallen down to one third of that of the peak season, in spite of the history of 133 years, but please be assured that a match is a super friendly eco-commodity for environment comparing to a disposable lighter.

The material wood for match sticks is Aspen of poplar species that is a miscellaneous tree; namely, using this tree does not destruct the environment. Moreover, a harmful chemical is not included in the matches, therefore they are harmless even if they are drained in the water, besides more than 90% of matchbox papers are recycled papers.

People may think matches have finished its role as goods in daily life, but after visiting the exhibition, I hope fervently that an "inconvenient," but artistic and elegant commodity such as the match should be kept in this world.