Legend of the Golden Bat
Golden Bat cigarettes found in Mitaka cemetery, left on a headstone as an offering to the dead. I found another pack on the grave of Dazai Osamu – a kind of sake-soaked Salinger in terms of the number of misunderstood souls who dig his stuff (check out “No Longer Human” for some post-war Japanese laughter in the dark).
First time I saw Golden Bat cigarettes in a convenience store, off to the side with the other old brands – “Peace” and “Joy “(unapologetically filterless nicotine delivery systems promising speedy passage to a pleasant afterlife), I knew I was in the presence of some heavy cultural signifier. Sure enough, the name “Golden Bat” resonates throughout Japan history and googles like a house on fire. Just to get this out of the way – there is in fact an animal called a golden bat – it dwells in Mauritius and it is reputed to be a “calm and introspective bat” on the brink of extinction by The Organization for Bat Conservation. Here in Japan, the Golden Bat (or Ogon Batto as he is known here) is usually understood to be a bat of greenish hue that morphs into a skull-headed crime fighter. Created in the 1930s by pulp novelist Takeo Nagamatsu and later turned into a manga character, he is Japan’s first super-hero. He’s one of those complicated Japanese creations that tends to terrify friend and foe equally. Known as Phantoma in the U.S., his main source of super-power was a high-voltage energy stick capable of emitting a death ray, cracking planets etc. Can we think of this as a big magical cigarette? Sure, why not. The Golden Bat had a few cinematic incarnations including “Ogon Batto Ga Yattekuru” (1972), which I’m sure is really ominous in Japanese, but the English title, “The Golden Bat Shows Up”, probably won’t give anyone nightmares.
The Golden Bat has been honored with a postage stamp, the name of a Tokyo jazz club and most recently, by Flickerite fo.ol www.flickr.com/photos/forresto/126922/
When exactly did death’s head super-hero become cigarette? I dunno. However, as a fag, the Golden Bat made for one sinister smoke. During Japan’s occupation of Manchuria in the 1930s, Golden Bat cigarettes were sold to the local population with heroin-spiked tips, just to keep them extra-distracted from rebellion. Lip smacking good. (from Mitsui: Three Centuries of Japanese Business, by John G. Roberts, Weatherhill, New York, 1991, pages 312-313).