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Book matches lose their flame in Japan amid rise of lighters, e-cigarettes and smoking bans

Takahiro Ono, who runs the Tarumi Match Museum, holds up a matchbook in the city of Kobe on June 2, 2022. (Mainichi/Tsuyoshi Kosaka)

TOKYO -- Matchbooks, small cardboard packets containing paper matches, will soon stop being made in Japan. Though eateries, traditional inns, and other establishments had passed them out for free, they have been in low demand amid the rise of smoking bans.

    Hyogo Prefecture-based Nittosha Co., the only matchbook maker in the country that oversees the whole manufacturing process, including cutting the paper and filling boxes with matches, decided that it will end production with the orders placed for June. Large specialized machines are necessary to create matchbooks, but the one at the company is apparently the only one still in operation in Japan.

    Book matches, which used to be distributed at eateries and hotels across Japan, are seen in the city of Kobe on June 2, 2022. (Mainichi/Tsuyoshi Kosaka)

    Since 1977, when records remain, domestic production of book matches reached a peak -- 11,000 match tons (1 match ton is the equivalent of 300,000 to 400,000 matches) -- in 1982, but saw a continuous decline due to the spread of lighters, the emergence of electronic cigarettes, and the rise of the move to ban smoking. Makers across Japan quit matchbook production one after the other, and the amount created fell to 25 match tons in 2021 following the coronavirus outbreak.

    Nittosha decided to end matchbook production in 2021. The company issued a notice on its official Twitter account on May 23, 2022, which read, "The flame of book match production will die in Japan." The tweet gathered an unexpectedly large response, with social media users commenting, "I'm sad" and "They're good items though." A user even posted a photo of book matches kept at home, along with the caption, "I'll store this with great care." Takahiro Ono, 60, who manages Tarumi Match Museum, which displays around 5,000 matches in the city of Kobe, also expressed sorrow, saying, "I'm really disappointed."

    Makers have also ceased production of the common form of wooden matches, and there are currently only three companies in Japan that are in charge of their entire production process. Domestic match production, including book matches, totaled some 8,000 match tons in 2021, falling to around 1% of the amount produced during the peak in 1973.

    Canned matches for emergency use during disasters are seen in the city of Kobe on May 31, 2022. (Mainichi/Tsuyoshi Kosaka)

    Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, lighting and heating equipment were not able to be used due to a large-scale power outage, and matches were reconsidered as valuable emergency items. The Japan Match Industrial Association has set up a match shop at Kobe tourist spot Kitano Meister Garden, and canned matches for emergency use are said to be popular among visitors.

    (Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Kosaka, Osaka Business News Department)

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