Here’s Why Collecting Stamps Is Popular in Japan, According to a Stamp Designer
Special stamps have specific themes.
Due to the boom of the internet and smartphone age, the number of physical mails is decreasing every day. However, postage stamps with unique and cute designs have been increasing in number recently. Young women who collect these stamps or visit the post office of their travel destinations to collect landscape postmarks prove to us how there are other and new ways to enjoy letters and stamps.
How did the use of postage stamps change from being a proof of payment to an item for collection? We talked to one of the eight stamp designers in Japan, Yushi Kusuda, together with Chieko Hayashi, a stamp planner who manages the whole planning, designing, and distributing of stamps.
Stamp designer Yush Kusuda
Privatization leads to diverse ideas. Feminine perspective is key to popularity.
Hayashi of Japan Post Holdings Chief of Stamp and Postcard Office says the number of stamps released has been constant, but the number of special stamps are increasing.
Chieko Hayashi, Chief of Stamp and Postcard Office, Japan Post Holdings
Special stamps refer to those that have designs pertaining to a specific theme or event that is only manufactured at a limited time only. Usually, commemorative events or establishments are the designs of these stamps, but since the privatization of the postal business back in 2007, stamps single-handedly designs by the Japan Post have increased. By considering the feminine perspective, the new themes stood out more from the old ones, appealing to conventional stamp collectors and young women as well.
Happy Greeting (￥82 stamp). It sparkles, reflecting the light when viewed from different angles.
There are only eight stamp designers in Japan who handle the designs of special stamps. They don’t only create the pattern, but they also work on the whole planning, gathering of information from locals, and consulting specialists. One of them, Kusuda, has been in charge of the My Tabi Kitte Series (My Travel Stamp Series) since 2016. It became popular and released its 5th edition last September 2019.
Stamps created by Kusuda have many cute patterns.
Main features include famous tourist spots such as Kyoto, Kamakura, and Kanazawa, local delicacies, and souvenir items like wine and kaisendon (seafood bowl) which are indispensable in every girl’s trip. The idea for this series started when a customer asked how great it would be if there was a stamp that travels.
Kusuda recalled how stamps with pictures of tourist spots already existed, but they were mostly centered on shrines and temples. Because of this, Kusuda thought it would be great if there are more casual stamps that can be made from tourist spots and that was how he started on My Tabi Kitte Series.
Motifs of ancient temples and traditional crafts with a bit more imagination and carefulness in details.
A lot of effort is needed in incorporating traditional architecture and crafts into the stamp designs. The roly-poly doll stamp, for example, is shaped after the curves of the doll instead of the usual rectangular version of it and the Kutani ware stamp has food on the plate instead of just showing the plate itself. One of the features of the recently made stamps is the adding of small details such as playfulness to otherwise serious or formal-looking pictures.
Due to the small size of the stamps, complicated drawings are hard to decipher. So as much as possible, Kusuda says they keep their designs simple. However, they do like to keep them interesting. For example, in the Fumi no Hi (Letter Writing Day) stamp series, they had a girl featured in it posting a letter on her tiptoes. Small actions like this make the stamps more enjoyable for the customers so they give importance to details too.
24,000 post offices across the country support marketing
Theme for stamp designs are narrowed down by professionals including the ideas of post offices from each region. For the 3rd edition of the My Tabi Kitte Series, it featured Mt. Fuji and the peach tree combination from the suggestion of the post office in Yamanashi Prefecture. Kusuda said while cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji are the usual flower, peach flowers might also be a good idea.
Locals of each region have strong feelings about their regional themes and making something not authentic in their point of views, or not symbolizing the true local features is simply a waste of opportunity. Hayashi further expands this by saying there are 24,000 post offices in the country so they exert effort in asking about their opinions as well.
Some designs include drawings of people on the picture.
These stamps appeal not only to collectors, but also to the fans of the themes represented on them. Stamp designers receive feedback through their talk shows for postal fans and post office counters.
In 2018, when the Musical Instruments Series No. 1 was released, trumpet players found out about a trumpet stamp and they expressed their delight about it saying how there was finally a strumpet on stamps. Hayashi thinks it often leaves fans either wondering or amazed that their hobbies ended up on stamps and that is one way to make more people engaged. Stamps are something you can send to another person, so they are glad to create designs that match every receiver’s personality that can hopefully make them happy.
There are many points to consider when designing stamps like the accuracy of the design, the seasonal sense of the stamp, and other criteria. The key to achieve the qualities in making a design that will catch the interest of many people is the marketing capability of the wide network of post offices across the country.
Lighthouse 150th Anniversary ￥82 postage stamp. Even though the illustration has a simplified style, the main features of each lighthouse is distinguishable.
Posting handwritten letters on Instagram
From Heisei era to Reiwa era, landscape postmarks serve as commemorative seal.
The individuality and charm of the stamp designs are loved by collectors for a long time. Hayashi recently said that aside from the conventional collectors, the younger generation has also found a new way to accumulate stamps.
Recently, some customers ask for landscape postmarks of their travel destination to be stamped on a postage stamp limited to that area like when going around shrines and temples for their vermillion seals. For example, when near Mt. Fuji, people would buy a postage stamp of Mt. Fuji for their postcard then have the picture postmark of the summit of Mt. Fuji stamped on it.
Landscape postmarks have illustrations of famous tourist spots in the area, the name of the post office, and the date on it. You cannot have it stamped unless you actually go to the post office so some people send postcards as a reminder of their trip while some do it mainly to collect stamps.
Kusuda further adds that there are some who enjoy posting the letters they receive on social media. He also said how letters are not only for personal exchange nowadays. The letters themselves, or the cute stamps, some of them deliberately matched, are posted on social media, especially on Instagram.
With the use of smartphones, exchanging information has been easier, leading to the photos of personal collections and the process of accumulating them easier to share as well. Letters and postage stamps, which are deemed analog devices, now have a bigger presence as collectibles due to its memorability and uniqueness that you cannot get your hands on without making an effort.
Providing new ways of enjoyment with stamp designs
As the value and function of letters vary, postage stamps are also starting to be seen differently. In the middle of all these changes, we asked our stamp designer and stamp planner for their insights.
As a stamp designer, Kusuda is constantly reminded of how much deeper the world of stamps is. Stamps are a different kind of memorabilia compared to letters so they can be used as souvenirs to friends and families, or to oneself.
When it comes to stamp collection, there are traditional collectors and those who casually enjoy buying them and both are equally interesting. There are many ways to enjoy postage stamps now and Kusuda says it would be great to explore them through stamp designs.
Kusuda explains the importance of details.
Hayashin on the other hand thinks wanting to send letters because of the stamp is a good change. When somebody is encouraged to write to another person because they want to send them a particular stamp, or to simply just use them, it gives their jobs a deeper meaning.
Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (16 December 2019)