Recently an acquaintance I’ll call Eric gave me a chrome-plated naphtha lighter similar to a Zippo. The lighter was manufactured by Atomic. Engraved on the bottom were the words, “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN.” Shiny as a trophy, at 60-plus years, the relic still functioned like new.
Inquiring as to how he came to possess the lighter, Eric explained he had stolen it from an old man.
“Won’t he notice it’s missing?”
Eric reasoned that because I smoke cigarillos, I would want the stolen lighter. He was correct.
“How much do you want for it?”
Did I mention Eric can be generous?
I asked Eric if he was aware of the lighter’s history. He said he was, explaining how, once, military brass routinely presented Allied soldiers with lighters just like this one in order to commemorate their heroics in the Pacific campaign.
A war medal in the guise of a lighter? Ridiculous. Fearing Eric would demand its return, I wisely kept this opinion to myself. At times Eric can be fickle.
He asked me to estimate its value. Shrugging, I told him I was unsure.
Allied powers occupied Japan between 1945 and 1952. For Japanese citizens, occupation had advantages, as well as disadvantages. Occupation brought democracy to the island nation. Land reform was implemented. Trade unions formed. However, organized crime gained a toehold, the black market thrived and occupying soldiers were implicit in a pandemic of rape.
Under the terms of surrender, Japanese industry was required to demilitarize. Factories once manufacturing weaponry now produced a plethora of chintzy goods like ceramic figurines, pinking shears, porcelain pigs, tacky bisque dolls and lighters like the one Eric had stolen from the old man. The global marketplace was flooded with cheap, disposable wares. Trade agreements required a “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN” label on all Japanese exports. In Canada, Eaton’s and Simpson’s carried these goods. By the early 1980s, some considered the items collectibles. Their value was artificially inflated. Today on eBay, the opening bid for a pistol-shaped lighter made in occupied Japan is $4.99.
I’ll keep all this to myself. Knowing Eric, he’ll be disappointed.
Edward Brown is a writer with a preference for H. Upmann cigars.
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