Cartographic Curiosity
Brass Tray with Map of Japan and Airplanes, 1934
Brass tray
Detail of inscription
Detail of military emblem Map of Japan
Sumitomo Aluminum Co. and Sumitomo Copper & Steel Pipe Co.
Japanese Obon -- Map of Japan with Aircraft
Japan: c. 1934
Brass tray
10.75 inches diameter

Japanese obon, i.e., tray, engraved with a map of central Japan, including central Honshu around Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya, over which military aircraft fly in formation. Below the map is an inscription with the name of the Sumitomo Company, aluminum and copper and steel pipe divisions, and the number 2594, which corresponds to the year 1934.

The aircraft are likely the Mitsubishi Ka-14 of 1934, for which Sumitomo provided at least some of the metals used in its construction. The Ka-14 was a predecessor of the A6M of 1939 -- the famous Zero/Zeke fighter plane. According to scholar Stephen Davies, the Ka-14 was commissioned for the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, but also was employed by the army division of the Japanese Air Force (Davies). Above the map is an emblem combining a Japanese Imperial Navy anchor and Japanese Army star surmounted by the Sumitomo Company mark -- a modified diamond shape -- against a geometric wing shape. The map shows the region where Sumitomo’s operations and the Mitsubishi production facility in Nagoya were centered. According to a company history “only in 1936 did the military demand for steel become an important factor in keeping profits flowing” at Sumitomo (Bowman). However, the emblem combining the company mark with Japanese military symbols, and the presence of aircraft in military formation, promotes a slightly earlier link between them. It may be surmised that this tray was issued as a presentation or commemoration relating to the company’s military production

The Sumitomo Corporation, as it is now known, is a family of companies which began in the late 16th century as a copper mining and smelting business. From the turn of the 20th century, the company was a major producer of metal products, including copper, aluminum and steel. Since 1935 it has been known as Sumitomo Metal Industries. This tray was made at a time when Japan had begun to act on imperialist ambitions, having invaded Manchuria in 1931 and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo the following year.

Transcription of inscription with translation: Sumitomo Aruminiumu Kabushikigaisha [Sumitomo Aluminum Co.] - 2594 [the Kouki year corresponding to 1934] - & Sumitomo Shindoukoukan Kabushikigaisha [Sumitomo Copper & Steel Pipe Co.].


Bowman, Jim and Christina M. Stansell. “Hoover's Profile: Sumitomo Metal Industries, Ltd.” (25 September 2008).

Davies, Stephen. “Re: Japan, not China [MapHist] Need help identifying map, possibly Manchukuo.” Posts to Maphist Discussion List and off-list e-mail. 27 and 30 September 2008.

Horikoshi, Jiro. “I Designed the Zeke.” Air Trails. November 1950. Online at The Combat Report. 2 June 2008. &Itemid=91 (10 October 2008).

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