THE TERM “PICTURE SLEEVE” has a specific meaning in record collecting. Basically, it’s a paper envelope with a photograph or artwork on at least one side made to hold a seven-inch, 45 rpm record. Japanese picture inserts for 45 rpm singles are not picture sleeves no matter how many collectors and dealers conflate the terms.
This article addresses the single-sheet inserts commonly packaged with Japanese seven-inch singles which are often erroneously referred to as picture sleeves, especially by Westerners. Before reading this article any further, I suggest reading another article first: “What Is A Picture Sleeve?” To read that article, click here.
A single-sheet insert is not a picture sleeve no matter how many people misuse or confuse the terms!
Now, a bit about Japanese singles: for the most part, actual picture sleeves that hold a record inside were rarely used for Japanese releases. There, seven-inch singles were mostly issued in a resealable, clear plastic sleeve which is often referred to as a “bag.” Inside, the bag held the record—which was already housed in a generic company sleeve—along with an insert.
Exactly when the Japanese record companies started using this arrangement is not known but inserts are the norm from at least the early ’70s.
These are two inserts for the Japanese pressings of the Byrds’ Eight Miles Hight from 1966 and the Kinks’ Victoria from 1969.
Japanese picture inserts
The insert was a single sheet of paper approximately 6⅞ x 6⅞-inch in size. Needless to say, it had two sides: a picture or artwork was on the front while the back usually had song lyrics or liner notes. Those lyrics were usually in English but some inserts also provided a Japanese translation; the notes were in Japanese.
As the ’70s progressed, fewer and fewer standard picture sleeves were issued in Japan. A few picture sleeves were still deployed in the ’80s and ’90s but they were by far the exception. Those that were issued in actual picture sleeves usually also contained an insert.
Most Japanese promotional issues used the exact same picture/lyric insert and company sleeve but were often accompanied by a record with a specific promotional label. Some companies replaced the generic company sleeve with a plain white sleeve with the picture/lyric insert. That is, the insert was never changed to reflect the promotional release.
In very rare cases, a promotional single would be issued with custom artwork on the insert (or, even more rarely, on the picture sleeve). These seem to have been restricted to releases that were only created for promotional use and have no stock/commercial counterpart.
These Japanese pressings of the two EP editions of A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles were manufactured in the early ’70s. Note the Apple logo on each album’s obi.
Japanese EP sleeves
Japanese seven-inch, EP albums were often issued in an actual picture sleeve with a lyric insert and with an obi wrapped around the sleeve—just like most Japanese LP albums. Obi is roughly translated to “sash” or “belt.” The term comes from the traditional broad sash worn with a Japanese kimono.
As most EP and LP album jackets had the same English-language characters as the jackets of the albums from the original country of origin (usually the UK and US), the obi provided information in Japanese about the release. The obi usually included the price in Japanese yen (¥).
Since obis were easily removed, they were often lost or thrown away. In some cases, obis are so rare they are worth more than the album itself!
The insert for David Bowie’s Space Oddity / Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Philips SFL-1244-M) from 1970 is one of the most valuable Japanese inserts. Copies in VG+ condition can sell for thousands of dollars.
Avid Record Collector’s Price Guide
Despite these inserts not being picture sleeves, many of them are highly sought after by picture sleeve collectors. Values vary from nominal to thousands of dollars for the rarest and most desirable inserts.
The Japanese insert for the Grateful Dead’s Good Morning Little School Girl / The Golden Road (Warner Brothers/Seven Arts BR-2227) is a gatefold affair. The front has the same photo collage used on the group’s first LP album while the back has ads for other singles. It opens book-like with liner notes in Japanese and the lyrics to the record’s two songs in English.
A final thought
All of the information in this article came from a series of emails from Mikel Orsborn (of world-renowned Mighty Vinyl fame) to me. I simply “translated” them into a style that fits this blog. After Mikel read the final draft of the text above, I asked him if he had any final thoughts and this is what he sent me:
“Only final thought is that there are always exceptions to every rule, and the information I’ve gleaned comes from observation only and is not definitive.”
To see the Mighty Vinyl website, click here.A single-sheet insert is not a picture sleeve no matter how many people misuse or confuse the terms! Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The Japanese insert at the top of this page is the Japanese insert for the Byrds’ Eight Miles High / Why (CBS LL-927-C) from 1966. It differs from the US picture sleeve for the same titles in that the Japanese used the photo that was originally intended for the Byrds’ intended fourth Columbia single, The Times They Are A-Changin’ / She Don’t Care Bout Time, which was canceled for release and replaced with Turn! Turn! Turn! / She Don’t Care Bout Time in late 1965.
Finally, special thanks to Mikel Orsborn of Mighty Vinyl for his assistance with all things Japanese.