While one of the ways that we identify the age and edition of shin-hanga prints is by the ever-changing publisher seals, another way is by looking for a more simple seal, “Made in Japan”. Typically found in a variety of formats stamped on the verso, this simple seal can provide us with some very interesting information, especially in situations where the publisher seal has not changed.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, enacted in 1930, stands as one of the most infamous pieces of trade legislation in American history. Named after its sponsors, Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley, the Act aimed to protect domestic industries by imposing extremely high tariffs on imported goods. However, instead of achieving its intended goal, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act exacerbated the Great Depression by triggering a wave of retaliatory measures from other nations. In response to the heightened tariffs, many countries raised their own trade barriers, leading to a sharp decline in international trade and worsening economic conditions globally. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act is often criticized for its role in deepening the economic crisis during a time when cooperation and open trade were crucial for recovery.

One noteworthy aspect of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was its requirement for products to state their country of origin. This provision aimed to provide consumers with information about where products were produced, ostensibly allowing them to make more informed purchasing decisions. The intent was to encourage consumers to choose domestically produced goods over imported ones, thereby supporting American industries. However, this provision did little to alleviate the economic challenges and proved to be a relatively minor aspect of the overall legislation.

As a result of this Act, Japanese prints made for export (which was most shin-hanga prints) carried a variety of “Made in Japan” stamps on their verso.

“Made in Occupied Japan”

Japan began using the “Made in Occupied Japan” marking on products shortly after the end of World War II, during the Allied occupation of Japan. The Allied forces, primarily led by the United States, occupied Japan from 1945 to 1952. During this period, which followed Japan’s surrender in 1945, the country was under the control of the Allied powers, and various measures were implemented to oversee the rebuilding and restructuring of Japanese society.

One specific requirement imposed by the occupying forces was the use of markings like “Made in Occupied Japan” on products manufactured during the post-war period. This labeling served to indicate the origin of the goods and was part of the efforts to distinguish products made during the occupation from those produced before or after this period. The practice of using “Made in Occupied Japan” labels was not unique to a particular industry and was applied across various types of products exported from Japan during the occupation years. Once the Allied occupation officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951 and its entry into force in 1952, the use of such labels ceased, and Japan regained its sovereignty.

No Seal & Disappearing Seals

The lack of a seal, unfortunately, can have conflicting meanings. The “made in Japan” seals were often done with water-soluble ink (red or black) and on the verso, and not always firmly applied. Because one of the primary methods of restoration for woodblock prints is a distilled water rinse, this ink can very quickly run and then dissolve in the water bath… completely erasing this bit of information. At the same time, later edition prints post 1952 aren’t required to have “Made in Japan”, so it’s rare that a publisher would choose to add the stamp. This means that the absence of “Made in Japan” gives conflicting information and cannot be definitively used for dating purposes.