Just after university I moved to Japan to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) in a small city about one hour south of Osaka. I spent a few years there and will always feel like it is a second home to me. I could go on talking and writing about it for hours, but this post is meant to chronicle the next phase of me becoming a stamp collector and in Japan I had my second brush with the hobby.
One of the things that people never explain, but you might understand if you have watched as many vlogs (video blogs on places like YouTube) about Japan as I have is that Japanese people can be very passionate about their hobbies. They spend a lot of money on them and really value organization. A good example would be that a person who loves camping has all the equipment. I don’t mean they have most of it. They have it all. They look like they have bought the whole catalogue. Also, most of it is in great condition.
As for collecting, this is a difficult thing as space is a premium in most Japanese homes. If the items being collected are large, they really fight for space in a home. Luckily, collecting stamps, doesn’t have to take up so much space. Additionally, I was there in the 90’s when the number of new issues was still relatively small.
In the 90’s Japan still had department stores–they still have them now, but suburban malls are also becoming popular. Department stores were incredible. They were ten or eleven stories tall and had several underground floors. They sold an incredible array of products and had knowledgeable people working in each department.
On the top floor of the Hanshin Department store, which was at the end of the Hanshin train line and was also the sponsor/corporate owner of my Japanese Baseball team the Hanshin Tigers, they had a hobby department. There seemed to be lots of action in the hobby corner which sold coins, telephone cards, sumo trading cards, stamps of course, and many other collectible cards.
I decided to take a look and rather spur of the moment I decided to buy some stamps, a stockbook, and a catalogue of Japanese stamps. I didn’t spend that much money because as a nation of readers, Japanese publishing in compact and efficient and domestic books were relatively inexpensive. The catalogue cost about 7 Canadian dollars (at the exchange rate at the time). It is full colour and about 200 pages long. Of course it is Japanese, but is organized quite predictably so that it is comprehensible. In fact, it helped me learn a little Japanese.
I think I bought the catalogue especially because I thought that seeing what a country puts on a stamp really tells you a lot about the country. I had studied Japanese history, but the stamps were really helpful in showing me another side of the country.
I remember the clerk insisting that I buy the stamp of the recent royal wedding. At the time my spoken Japanese was pretty weak, but he did use the word “important’ and he seemed earnest enough that I followed his advice.
My work and social life got busy and I didn’t return to the hobby corner again, but did manage to buy some of the new issues that came out from the post office. I usually did this when I went there to mail postcards to family and friends. I remember buying a whole sheet of stamps for the Olympics which took place while I was there.
Additionally, one of my student’s heard that I collected stamps and gave me her son’s collection. She said that he had finished with it and was happy to see it go on to someone else. It was a collection of mostly souvenir issues and I still have them to this day.
Years later, my wife worked at a company that had a lot of correspondence with Japan. As a result, she brought home a lot of used stamps. I haven’t done anything with them yet, but maybe someday.