Japanese Postcard FAQ

Updated: Feb. 3, 2016

I have vintage Japanese postcards about 50 to 80 years old, how much are they worth?
As with most antique items, the value is determined only by how much the seller is willing to sell it for and how much a buyer is willing to pay for it. The value depends not only on the postcard (rarity, condition, etc.) itself, but also on the seller and buyer. Remember the old adage, “One person’s trash is a another person’s treasure.” (And vice versa.)

Also, when you want to sell postcards, you can either sell them to a postcard dealer or to a direct customer. A postcard dealer will buy your postcards only at a fraction of the price he would resell the cards for. So it would be smart to sell directly to someone willing to buy your cards.

If you are really serious in judging the worth of your postcards, you should attend one of the many postcard fairs and shows held in the U.S. and Europe. This is where postcard dealers gather to sell to collectors. Look for dealers who have Japanese vintage postcards and browse through their stock and note the prices. You can get a fairly good idea of current selling prices.

In Japan, postcard dealers gather at stamp shows and antique fairs. If you happen to be in Tokyo during a stamp show, you could browse through the stock of vintage postcards and get a good idea of prices. Generally speaking, landscapes, scenics, temples, shrines, and other non-people postcards have the least value unless they are hand-painted or hand-tinted. Japanese beauties (Nihon bijin) such as geisha with hand-tinting seem to have the highest prices. For a single postcard, a price of 3,000 yen to 5,000 yen can be considered very high. It is rare to see any postcard priced higher than this. On the low end, black-and-white, vintage postcards of unimpressive landscape and scenics may sell for a few hundred yen or less.

So where can I sell my vintage postcards in Japan? Can you list a few postcard dealers?
Internet auction sites like Yahoo! Japan Auctions (Japanese language required) and eBay would be best. eBay’s postcard section probably has a larger selection than any store in Japan.

So when and where are those stamp shows and antique fairs where I can buy vintage postcards in Japan?
One large stamp fair is JAPEX, held in autumn in Tokyo (Asakusa).

How much do postcards cost in Japan?
For vintage postcards, normally anywhere from 100 yen to a few thousand yen. New postcards issued by the Japan Post Office are 52 yen (with stamp).

How much does it cost to send a postcard in Japan?
It costs 52 yen for domestic destinations. Also see International Postal Rates.

What types of postcards does the Japan Post Office sell?
There are several types of postcards which the post office sells. Besides the plain postcard which sells for 52 yen (including the printed stamp), there is a variety of postcards with pictures:

Picture postcards (e-iri hagaki)
These postcards have full-side or large pictures on the front side. 

Hometown postcards (furusato e-hagaki)
Sold by the local post office, these cards feature small pictures of the local area’s sites and scenes. 

Seasonal greeting postcards
Four types of seasonal postcards (all include a printed postage stamp) are issued by the post office: 

  • New Year’s postcards (nenga hagaki)
    These are the most popular since they are like Christmas cards in the U.S. These cards have lottery numbers for various prizes. The cards sold by the post office are plain with no pictures. But private companies also buy these cards and resell them after printing a picture or message on them. Photo labs also buy them and make photo New Year’s cards. Sold in November. 
  • Spring greeting cards (Nicknamed “Sakura mail”)
    Postcards for school entrance congratulations, graduation, and employment. The cards typically have a picture of spring flowers, etc. Sold in February. 
  • Summer greetings cards (Nicknamed “Kamo mail”)
    These postcards have lottery numbers. They number a far second to New Year’s cards. Sold in June. 
  • Fall greetings cards (Nicknamed “Heart mail”)
    Mainly for the Respect-for-Aged Day on Sept. 15. Sold in Sept. 

Economy postcards (Nicknamed “Eko hagaki”)
These cards feature advertising on the address side and they cost 5 yen less than usual. 

International postcards (Kokusai yuubin hagaki)
These cost 70 yen for any place outside Japan via air mail. 

You can see the different types of postcards sold by the Japan Post Office here.

What are New Year’s postcards (nengajo)?
Japanese people send each other something like three billion New Year’s postcards (as of 2015), the equivalent of the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. This works out as an average of about 30 New Year greetings mailed for every Japanese person. They are usually decorated with pictures of the animal representing the coming year, according to the 12-animal Oriental zodiac. 2003 was the peak year with over 4.4 billion New Year’s postcards printed by the Japan Post Office. This number has been steadily declining since then with a little over 3 billion issued by 2015.

The custom of sending postcards at New Year became common only after 1871, when the Japanese postal system was established. If they are mailed by a certain date (after December 15th of the previous year), the cards are given a January 1st stamp and will be delivered on the first day of the new year, something to aim for! New Year cards are not only exchanged between friends, but also sent to business acquaintances, people who have done you a favor or kindness in the previous year, and those with whom you wish to establish good future relations.

The official New Year’s cards are lottery postcards; this was started in 1950. The drawing is held on January 15th and various prizes are given to those who received cards with the winning numbers. Traditionally each card are written carefully by hand, using special brushes and ink. Nowadays, many cards are printed with a personal computerat home, made easy with many software for this purpose. New Year cards are often highly individualized, containing news of personal events that occurred during the previous year or photos of the sender’s family.

Can I write correspondence on the address side of the postcard?
Yes, you can write your message on the lower or left half of the address side as long as the name and address are clearly legible.

What are those red boxes which I see on Japanese postcards and envelopes?
Those boxes are for the postal code (equivalent to the zip code in the U.S.). Japan postal codes have 7 digits (it used to be 3 or 5 digits before Feb. 2, 1998). So you will see seven red boxes printed on most postcards and envelopes.

I want to make my own postcards. What are the required size and weight?
In Japan, postcards must be 9 cm to 10.7 cm high and 14 cm to 15.4 cm long. It must weigh 2 g to 6 g. (Postcards issued by the Japan Post Office measure 10 cm x 14.7 cm.)

Can I put on stickers, etc., on a postcard and send them?
Yes, you can stick on thin stickers or paper as long as the total weight does not exceed 6 grams.

I bought 40 postcards from the Japan Post Office, but I accidentally dropped them in a muddy puddle. They are ruined. What should I do?
You can return any postcards that you ruined (by ink spills, bad writing, etc.) to the post office and exchange them for new postcards for a fee that is cheaper than buying new replacement postcards. You can also do this for stamps.

I have an old Japanese postcard which has a stamp on it. How can I check the age of the stamp?
Get a copy of the Japanese Postage Stamp Catalog (Nihon Kitte Catalog published by JSDA). This wonderful annual booklet has a color image of all the stamps that Japan’s postal service has issued since the very beginning. It gives the stamp’s issue date, quantity printed, and approximate value. Although it’s in Japanese, the issue dates and stamp names are also given in English. The catalog costs only 700 yen.

Are there postcard fairs in Japan?
No, but there are stamp shows and antique fairs where postcards also sold. There are also flea markets held at shrines on weekends.

Are there postcard auctions in Japan?
At Yahoo! Japan Auctions (Japanese language required). However, eBay has a much larger selection.

Are there postcard collectors clubs in Japan?
Yes, but they all speak Japanese only.

Are there postcard collector’s magazines or publications in Japan?
No magazines but there are a few books on Japanese postcards.

What’s Kokkei Shimbun?
See Andrew Watt’s article on this subject.

PhotoRepairs FAQ

Updated: Mar. 30, 2020

NOTICE: Due to the coronavirus, walk-in camera repair centers are usually closed. Check before you go.

CAMERA SERVICE CENTERS IN JAPAN
For English information on repairing your camera in Japan according to manufacturer, click on the links below.
CanonCasioEpsonFujiFilmKenko-TokinaKodakKonica-Minolta |Kyocera/ContaxMamiyaNikonOlympusPanasonic LumixPentaxPolaroidRicohSigmaSonyTamronIndependent Repair Centers

How to Repair Your Camera in Japan
Almost all the official information from camera makers on how to repair your camera in Japan is in Japanese. If you can take your camera to a camera service center in Japan, you can probably somehow communicate with the staff in simple English.

However, in recent years, most camera manufacturers have closed their service centers in provincial cities (Sapporo, Sendai, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, etc.). So now the service centers are concentrated only in the largest cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Unless you live in these cities, you will have to send in your camera (or lens) for repair. There is usually an online form or a phone number to request the pick-up and delivery of your camera for servicing. However, the online form and telephone support are only in Japanese. If necessary, find someone to help you communicate in Japanese.

If you bought your camera in Japan, you can also take your camera to the retailer in Japan to request repair. If you purchased an extended warranty, you will have to take your camera to the retailer (not the camera maker) for any repairs under the extended warranty.

Besides camera repairs, you can also have your camera cleaned and inspected for a few thousand yen. If you want a detailed inspection, it can cost around ¥15,000. For a camera overhaul, it can cost at least ¥60,000.

If your camera is five years old or older after it has been discontinued, you should check with the manufacturer on whether it is still repairable. They usually provide an online list (or search form) of cameras and other products that can no longer be serviceable due to a lack of spare parts. Digital cameras are especially difficult or impossible to repair without spare electronic parts.

For older cameras or classic cameras, you can try repairing it at an independent camera service center.

PhotoRepairs FAQ

What is PhotoRepairs?
PhotoGuide Japan’s English list of camera repair centers in Japan organized according to camera manufacturer. This is where you can find your nearest camera service center in Japan or find out how to send in your camera for repair.

Note: Repair centers sometimes close or move, so you might find outdated information here. Contact us if you find any outdated information so we can correct it.

I live outside Japan and I need to repair my camera or lens in Japan. Can you help me?
Camera repair centers in Japan do not accept camera repair orders from overseas. They will not ship your repaired camera overseas. You need to be in Japan to receive your repaired camera. You need to contact your dealer or authorized camera service center in your country/region. Or you can visit Japan and have it repaired here. But your warranty might not be valid in Japan. If you are outside Japan and want to repair your camera in Japan, you will need to find a friend in Japan who can accept your camera, give it to the camera repair center in Japan, then ship the repaired camera to you. In this case, contact my friend Bellamy who offers such a service: https://www.japancamerahunter.com/services/camera-repairs/

I bought my camera outside Japan and it’s still under warranty. Can I repair it for free in Japan?
In the case of Nikon, camera bodies and accessories (flash, etc.) have only country-specific warranties. So the warranty will be valid only in the country where you bought the camera. Only Nikkor lenses have worldwide warranties. As for Canon, both camera bodies and lenses have country-specific warranties. Most other camera makers would have similar warranty conditions. Whether your warranty is valid or not in Japan, you can still have your camera checked out at any repair center in Japan for free. They can tell you what’s wrong and give an estimate for the repair cost. If you bought your camera at a US military base in Japan, it will likely be considered as a purchase in the US.

I don’t speak any Japanese. Will the people in Japan understand me?
Major camera repair centers in Japan will usually have someone who can understand English. Just speak slowly and don’t use any difficult words. However, telephone and online support are only in Japanese.

How long does it take to repair a camera?
It usually takes one week for digital cameras. Certain manufacturers offer a quick repair service or same-day service depending on the camera model, the type of repair, how early in the day you bring in your camera, and how busy they are that day. Call to check. If you are a tourist visiting Japan, you will need to make sure whether the camera will be repaired fast enough while you’re here. Call to check.

Also, if you are registered at a pro service center, you can get it back much faster and at cheaper rates. To be eligible to receive services from a pro service center, you must register and show proof that you are a full-time pro photographer.

What about cleaning my D-SLR’s sensor?
You can usually have it cleaned on the same day you take it in. But if they are busy, it may require overnight service. Best to take your camera earlier in the day, by early afternoon so it will be ready the same day. Or you can call them to ask how long it will take. They might charge for cleaning the sensor, especially if the warranty has expired.

How much will it cost to repair my camera?
For expensive SLR equipment, expect to pay an arm or leg or both. Compact digital cameras usually cost around 8,000 to 13,000 yen to repair. Most service centers have a Web page listing their repair prices (in Japanese only). You can also ask by phone for an estimate.

Can I pay by credit card?
Note that camera repair centers do not accept credit cards. Prepare to pay in cash. Even when you send in your camera for repair, it will usually be delivered to you C.O.D. so you will have to pay the delivery person in cash upon receiving the repaired camera.

How should I send my camera to a repair center in Japan?
If you live in Japan, you should first check the manufacturer’s website on how to send in your camera for repair. (Information will be in Japanese only.) They usually use a courier service called takkyubin (宅急便) available at most convenience stores. Or go to a post office and request Yu-Pack. You fill out the address label with the address and stick it on to the box. You will then receive the receipt that has the package tracking No. in case it gets lost. Better to not send anything via parcel post or regular mail.

What are independent camera service centers?
These are companies that are independent from camera manufacturers. They specialize in repairing old (classic) and discontinued cameras and often manufacture their own spare parts after the camera maker runs out of parts to fix your camera.

In other words, if your camera is too old to be repaired by the manufacturer, then you can take it to an independent camera repair center if it’s worth repairing.

I forgot to bring my warranty card!
If your camera is a new model introduced less than a year ago, it will be obvious that it is still under warranty (usually 1 year), so they will likely repair it under the warranty even if you don’t have the warranty card. But try to bring the warranty card just in case, especially if you have an international waranty.

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