One can find out much about Japan’s Hikosuke Tamasu, founder of the famous Tokyo-based Butterfly Company, from his (1993) Songs of International Friendship. In 1945, Tamasu as a young soldier was only two kilometers away when the atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima. In caring for the injured, he first began to feel the soul-stirring need to become a peacemaker. He named the family business he began in 1946 “Butterfly” because the butterfly was “an image of peace throughout the world”—indeed, the ancients regarded it as an emblem of the soul. In the decades that followed, in building up his extremely successful table tennis company, now run by his son Kimihiko, he’s tried very hard to diplomatically maintain friendly relations with all the nations in the world. This for him has been quite an Odyssey.
Tamasu tells us that he was only one of two Japanese who used rubber in the 1946 All-Japan Championships. He got a British racket from a friend, and, on removing the rubber regarded it as his “treasure.” By 1946 he was making such rubber for himself. Some time after the showing of Butterfly products at the Japan Industrial Exhibition in Peking in 1953, many of the Chinese world stars, as well as the top European players, were playing with Butterfly equipment. In Songs Hikosuke tells us some of the problems he had in establishing his business, and the difficulties he encountered in his repeated attempts to mediate a brotherly understanding among sportsmen in all countries.
His working relationship with the U.S. Association began at the onset of the 1960’s when Norman Kilpatrick (“We must learn from the Japanese”) was first Editor then President of the USTTA and, appreciating the quality of the Butterfly sponge and pimpled rubber products, had formed with Bowie Martin the Martin-Kilpatrick Co.
The first “Butterfly” ad to appear in Topics was in Editor Kilpatrick’s Nov., 1961 issue and began:
“Pimpled Rubber players! Now you can hit through the spin and chop of the sponge players! Use BUTTERFLY #A-63 SPECIAL PIMPLED RUBBER for more speed and lift on your drives. This is the answer of Japan’s 250,000 pimpled rubber users to sponge….”
This ad—from American distributor Bowie G. Martin of Greenville, N.C.—was followed by a Christmas one in the Dec. issue extolling the virtues of the NEW YORK STYLE racket, “designed by Mr. Hikosuke Tamasu in honor of America’s Leah Neuberger of New York. This style racket comes with six different types of regular sandwich rubber surfaces.”
The Oct., 1962 Butterfly ad referred to Bowie Martin as the “Manager” of the Martin-Kilpatrick Co., “Sole American Distributor for Butterfly Goods,” and offered a free brochure. By Apr., 1963, Martin-Kilpatrick had branched out from selling rackets and rubber to the Detroiter A table and the USTTA-approved German Hanno ball that had been used in the 1962 European Championships.
By Feb., 1967, Bowie, having moved from Greenville to Lanham, MD, and now to Wilson, S.C. where he and his wife Melba will settle permanently, sells Stiga as well as Butterfly rackets and various brands of tables and balls. His ads continued to appear monthly in Topics.
In the Mar.-Apr., 1971 issue, a classy new ad appears, “born of competition”: it’s for the Schildkrot Olympia ball, from Martin-Kilpatrick, that was used in the 1971 and ’73 National’s. With the following issue, the Co. begins to run both the old and the new ad—a double-exposure first. New graphics are added for the Sept.-Oct., 1972 issue.
Bowie, popular President of Martin Kilpatrick, runs for USTTA Vice-President in the 1973 election, but is not elected. Four years later, he will be.
In 1974, Kimihiko Tamasu, Hikosuke’s son, attends the U.S. Open, likes what he sees, and in a June 10th letter to me (I was then the USTTA President), suggests accommodating a young American player for a five week training stay under the supervision of 1969 World Champion Shigeo Itoh. A week later he writes our International Chairman Bob Kaminsky that all hospitality will be taken care of. The USTTA selects the U.S. Open Under 15 Champion to train at Senshu University, and Dick Miles volunteers to collect contributions to a Dennis Barish Fund for the California boy’s air travel.
A Mar.-Apr, 1976 racket ad is wittily worthy of note. The headline reads: “World Champions Agree…Having The Butterflys Can Help Your Play.” The Copy says that the 1975 World Champion Hungarians won “without a hint of uneasiness because they had the Butterflys” (Jonyer and Gergely used Sriver rubber). Apparently the Canadian distributor for Tamasu’s Butterfly products really did get the butterflies, for, as a full-page bankruptcy sale ad in the Sept.-Oct., ’76 Topics made clear, all his stock went to the U.S.’s Paddle Palace. In the next issue, Martin-Kilpatrick countered with an ad saying such equipment “is not guaranteed because the products are too old.” To which Paddle Palace counter-countered with an even more reduced sale of said products, guaranteeing them.
The Tamasu Co. made a generous contribution to the U.S. Team to the 1977 World Championships—completely outfitting everyone. Bowie and Melba Martin, working in tandem with Tamasu, paid import duties and provided accessories—shoes, carrying bags, and racket cases. Also, Bowie would now begin to sponsor the “Butterfly Boys”—Scott and Eric Boggan, Rutledge Barry, and Mike Lardon. In October, 1977, Bowie opened his new Butterfly Table Tennis Center in Wilson, N.C.:
“This complex houses executive offices, showrooms, and shipping facilities servicing over 3,000 sporting goods retailers, and table tennis clubs in the U.S., Central America, and Puerto Rico. The new facility also features a playing room for equipment demonstrations, product research and development, clinics and tournament play” (TTT, Nov.-Dec., 1977, p. 18).
Martin-Kilpatrick continued to put forward ads that showed leading European players—Surbek and Stipancic, Jonyer, Gergely, and Klampar, and Secretin—all playing with Butterfly rubber. If these Champions used it, shouldn’t you? Though the great majority of U.S. players wouldn’t have access to it, Tamasu was putting out a monthly Table Tennis Report, excerpts in English from a much larger Japanese version that’s of particular interest to the aficionado. In a 1970’s issue, for example (one that shows an action photo of ’75 World Champion Jonyer stamped with the Sriver logo), we learn of Hasegawa’s varied trials and tears on his herculean way to becoming 1967 World Champion. Here in the States, Butterfly honors its own: two-time U.S. Champion Danny Seemiller gets a full-page ad in the Jan.-Feb., ’79 Topics, and will soon be winging his way to Japan, courtesy of Butterfly, to train and tour with World Champions Hasegawa and Itoh. Since this is only Part I, I’ll have to do some space/time traveling myself in the next 25 years to catch up with Tamasu father and son, as well as Bowie and Bowie, Jr.