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Post Card Collecting In Japan

By Raymond W. Milling

( Article orginally published September 1962 )

Having spent quite a bit of time in Japan since July 1947, I would like to make the following observations regarding post card collecting in Japan. First of all, I think it is safe to say that in post-war Japan, post card collecting does not exist as an organized hobby. The potential could well be here though, because the pen pal columns of the English daily papers carry requests for view card exchanges.

As I am also a stamp collector, I frequently attend local stamp club meetings in Tokyo. The major portion of each meeting is devoted to an auction. Every auction finds a trickle of Japanese post card material for sale. Most of the cards bear commemorative stamps and special postmarks. Also most of these picture cards are official government printed cards, which I shall describe later on.

In addition to the stamp clubs, there is another club that meets monthly in Tokyo. It is an all (collecting) hobby club. The members of this group bring such items as match book covers, cigarette cards, buttons, sword hilts, and post cards. The items are displayed, and discussed, and sometimes put up for sale.

The amount of post cards just about holds its own with the other items at these meetings. Attendance at the stamp club, auctions, and at the all (collecting) hobby club is good. All of the members of the all hobby club are men, a few being students. Most of those attending the stamp clubs are also men, and in fact those few women that do attend are usually wives of the men present. Following the Japanese custom, the wife shares the husband's interests.

In Japan you do not buy post cards at every dime, drug, and novelty store like you do in the United States, Here you may have to ask in many "likely" stores before you can find a store that sells post cards. Cards are most often found in large book stores and in the arcades and booths of railroad stations.

One thing I have never seen here is a card rack where individual cards may be purchased. Post cards are always sold in sets, such as 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, or 16, with 8 being the most common number.

The sets are put up in colorful little envelopes that usually depict one of the scenes enclosed. iSets cover certain subjects, usually geographical areas, and sometimes types of scenery, such as mountain, trees, or flowers.

Most of the cards available now are kodachromes. Five years ago ordinary color, and black and white cards were common. Cards are also used for advertising as I have seen kodachrome cards picturing store fronts.

Since cards are only sold in centrally located places the variety available is limited. It might not be too far fetched to venture a guess that there are only several thousand different cards available in Japan.

From all appearances the number of different cards available must have been much greater in pre-war Japan. I have seen and have in my collection iJapanese comic, patriotic, royalty, transportation, and many other subjects issued before World War II, not currently !available. In pre-war Japan the securing of commemorative postmarks (large scenic type postmarks about the size of a silver dollar) on a stamp on the face of a post card was a popular hobby. Every post office had such a scenic type postmark for use upon request. The postmarks contained a scene appropriate to the local area.

If lucky, one may have the good fortune to locate an old collection of these cards, as I have done.

The Japanese Post Office has issued three sets of government postal cards with pictures printed on the backs. One set consists of a single card, and the other two sets have three cards each. One other postal card has a picture printed on half of the front with the back clear.

In addition to the foregoing postal cards with pictures, there are 27 sets of official government picture post cards, without stamps attached. The number of cards in each set varies from 1 to 6, and the total number of cards is 72. These seem to be the gems of post cards in Japan and the most sought-after cards by foreigners and Japanese stamp collectors.

Current Japanese government postal cards are often found with pictures printed on the backs (other than stamp side). This is especially true around the New Year's season. Because of the poor quality of paper used in the domestic postal card, the pictures are usually not good.

Many types and varieties of New Year post cards are sold around the end of December and early January. These are distinct from the regular year round scenic post cards.

The subject matter of these New Year post cards are usually drawings of children at play, rising suns, Fujiyama, bamboo stalks and evergreen bound together (a favorite Japanese New Year's decoration), and the animals of the coming year. There are, in all, 12 different animals, each one assigned to a year. Every 13th year the series starts again.

I hope these few words have served to point out a few facts about the post card situation in Japan.


Nine Post Cards of Japan

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