Kobe, the sixth largest city in Japan, is world-famous for its exported delicacy, Wagyu beef. But there's another product that hails from Kobe - Kobe Charms. They are little treasures made of celluloid with pop-out eyes. These delightful charms were made in the late 1920s through the 1930s. They come in hundreds of shapes and colors with many of the most popular based on traditional Japanese designs, including temples, lanterns and Daruma (a figure without arms or legs). Equally popular are the western motifs such as totem poles, Mickey Mouse (go figure!), animals, and ghosts. The common element is the pop-out eyes.
There is some evidence that the Kobe charms were redesigns of Japanese mechanical toys made as early as 1890.
Kobe Mechanical Toy from Japanese Toy Museum
Kobe charms were attached to a string or cord, or in multiple groups of three or more hanging from a celluloid ring. Many designs also sported dangling feet or legs.
Only one Kobe charm is in this photo. Did you spot it?
Production of the Kobe charms moved from Japan to Hong Kong in the 1950s. This period of production saw charms made with a cheaper, molded plastic but they retained the Kobe name.
Thanks to Tresa Batson, Pam Burton and Colleen Abbott for the use of their photos.
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