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Last modified: April 2, 1997

In a land where billions of postcards are printed and sent every year, it's surprising that postcard collecting in Japan is a miniscule hobby (if it's regarded as a hobby at all). Sure, everyone must have their own postcard collection because we all receive New Year's cards, summer greetings cards, wedding photo cards, etc., every year. But conscious and deliberate postcard collecting is still a very minor pasttime here.

Stamp collecting and prepaid telephone card collecting are major hobbies in Japan. Yet, the ubiquitous postcard lies unnoticed in the shadows. Of course, those of us in Japan are not really upset or sad by this fact. The fewer postcard collectors there are, the lower postcard prices will be and the better the selection. Perhaps the only disadvantage of pursuing an obscure hobby is the lack of published information. In Japan, there are no magazines on postcard collecting. There are books on postcards, but only very few. There is no vintage postcard price guide, no postcard fairs, and no public awareness of postcard collecting as a hobby.

Serious postcard collectors in Japan who have been collecting for years have much information gleaned from books, articles, and other collectors. However, those of us new to the hobby or not familiar with Japan will have difficulty finding Japanese postcard-related information in a neat little book or magazine. And so we have PostcardGuide Japan to the rescue.

PostcardGuide Japan seeks to offer useful information to collectors of Japanese postcards in Japan and overseas. It also aims to gather people having the same interests. By networking with each other, we hope to exchange information and meet interesting people.

Although utmost efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information presented in PostcardGuide Japan, all information is presented on an "as is" basis. Use the information only at your own risk. The authors shall not be liable to any person or entity with respect to any liability, loss, damage, accident, or inconvenience caused or alleged to have been caused directly or indirectly by any of the information contained in PostcardGuide Japan.
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Japan's Postcard History

Last modified: April 2, 1997

In September 1870, Japan's Finance Office was requested to design Japan's first stamps. The stamps were made in four denominations: 48-mon, 100-mon, 200-mon, and 500-mon. They were hand-engraved and had no perforation on the edges nor any gummed back. Issued in April 1871, the stamps were used by Japan's Postal Service which was established in March 1871. When Japan's monetary system changed in February 1872, the denominations of these four stamps were changed to half sen, 1 sen, 2 sen, and 5 sen and issued in April 1872. Later in September the same year, stamps with 10-sen, 20-sen, and 30-sen denominations were added.

Japan's first postcard was issued in December 1873. (In Europe, the first postcard was issued a few years earlier.) The card was folded in the middle to give the equivalent of two connected cards. It had instructions printed on the inside saying that only the name and address of the recipient were to be written on the front side and nothing else. (Correspondence had to be written on another side.) Such instructions were necessary since postcards were a new thing to people. Postcards to be sent within city limits cost half sen while those for out of town cost 1 sen. Later, uniform postage rates were implemented.

In May 1875, the two-card, folded postcards were replaced by single cards which retained the instructions to "write only the name and address on the front side." (The message was written on the back side.) They were priced at half sen and 1 sen. In September 1876, the half-sen cards was changed to 5-rin cards which were discontinued in 1888. In 1898, the 1-sen cards were raised to 1 1/2 sen.

In 1906, the instructions ("write only name and address") on the front side was deleted and the coloring and design of postcard stamps were improved.

Around 1923 when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck, the postcard size and imprinted stamp got smaller. Rule lines for the name and address were also added. But these cards were unpopular and were discontinued in favor of the old-style cards.

In January 1885, the return-postcard was issued for domestic and international mail. They were two postcards connected as one and folded. It supplied the recipient with a tear-off postcard to send back in response. They cost double the price of single postcards and had a different color (crimson) from ordinary single postcards. In 1899, the price of return-postcards was 3 sen and the color changed to light blue. The color changed again in 1906.

Another type of postcards, called sealed postcards, was introduced in October 1900. Later in 1917 they featured perforations to make unsealing easier.

Japan's postal service thereby issued four types of postcards: Ordinary postcards, return-postcards, sealed postcards, and international postcards.

In the private sector, a revision of the postal act in 1900 allowed private (non-governmental) postcards to be made and used. Picture postcards then became very popular and gave rise to a new postcard culture and a new era in postal history.

In June 1902, the postal service issued its first commemorative picture postcard. It marked the 25th anniversary of Japan's membership in the International Postal Union. (Japan's first commemorative stamps [2 sen and 5 sen] were issued in March 1894. They were for the silver wedding anniversary of Emperor Meiji.)

The postal service later issued more commemorative stamps and postcards for other important events. It also put commemorative postmarks on letters and postcards at the same time. Especially popular were postcards commemorating the enthronement of Emperor Taisho, peace-related events, and triumphs in the Russo-Japanese War during 1904-5.

Postcard popularity reached its peak during the war with Russia when people lined up all night in front of post offices before new war-related commemorative postcards went on sale. People held postcard exchange meetings and many collectors had tens of thousands of postcards. However, after the war ended, the postcard boom waned.

Postcards became popular souvenirs for tourists and an advertising medium for businesses.


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