A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Big Blue visits Japan

Postal Museum Japan in Tokyo
This past spring, my wonderful spouse and I had the good fortune to visit Japan for two weeks. This was not just an ordinary tourist trip, as we had become friends with a number of visiting Japanese professors and their families. as well as students that we had hosted over the years through the Foreign Friendship Foundation at the University of Oregon.

In turn, we were hosted on this trip at every stop by our Japanese friends- and we were given the opportunity to see Japan through their eyes.

They asked if there was anyplace special we would like to visit- and, beside the not unusual requests to view Mt. Fuji etc, I did mention some philatelic sites. ;-)

Tokyo- what can you say?

I've been to New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou (Canton). That did little to prepare me for Tokyo. The leading megalopolis in the world with 35 million people- teeming day and night- yet it is clean and orderly and safe.

Shinjuku Station during non rush hours
The public transportation system of trains, trams, and subways is simply unbelievable. But, I kid you not, it is highly intimidating for first time foreigners. And not just us. Professor Takada, our host, mentioned that he has used the Shinjuku station for 30 years, and he still can get lost.  But the signs are also in English, and with a little bit of experience, it is possible to use the fabulous transportation system. We found the JR railroad Yamanote line (Circle Tokyo loop) and the JR Chuo line (through the city) to be the most useful.

And if one does get confused or lost, a  Japanese passerby always seems willing to help one get out of the mess.

Cherry Blossom Time
I mentioned we went to Japan this past spring- and yes, it was during cherry blossom time!

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossom time holds a very special place in the Japanese psyche. The transient nature- only a week for an individual tree which bursts forth in glory and then sheds it's blossoms to the wind- touches the Japanese soul.

One will find hordes of Japanese in the parks with cameras trying to capture that impermanent beauty.

1940 Scott 269 20s ultramarine 
"Mount Fuji and Cherry Blossoms"
What is the iconic image that comes to mind when thinking about the landscape of Japan? Besides cherry blossoms, it has to be Mt. Fuji.

Sunset on Mt. Fuji
The problem is Mt. Fuji is often enveloped in clouds, and only offers views about 100 days/ year. But, as we drove towards the Five Lakes region with Professor Yoneda and his wonderful spouse Machiko, the clouds parted, and Fuji-San was revealed!

Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi
The next day, a trip around the five lakes region  afforded post card views. I was also treated to a Japanese onsen experience. The bathing trunks I brought along were not necessary. ;-)

Tokyo "Skytree" 
Back in Tokyo, time for a philatelic treat! I was told about a new Japan Postal Museum that had just opened up March 1 by Dave F. (Philatarium), a fellow poster on The Stamp Forum, and a member of the International Society for Japanese Philately. Thanks Dave!

The museum is located in the "Skytree" town complex; easily found, as the "Skytree", built in 2010, is the tallest tower in the world ( 634 meters/ 2,080 feet), and the second tallest structure in the world.

Imperial Mailbox
The museum encompasses a history of postal services in Japan- with many exhibits and artifacts- and a  museum store, where one can buy many philatelic souvenirs ( I bought a tie with Japan's first stamp illustrated).  But, more important, it houses the former Communications Museum 330,000 world wide stamp collection, the largest collection in Japan.

I must admit I was much more interested in viewing the collection, and not so much the exhibits.

Mail Pouches
Mail Pouches.

Mail sorting boxes
Boxes for sorting mail.

Mail Truck
An exhibit of toy mail trucks.

Postal hats
Postal hats through the decades.

Persia collection
Now onto the collection. ;-) Close-up flash photography was not allowed, but I did take this one pic without using a flash with the ipad.

The collection was sorted by region, then country, and was housed in vertical frames that could be rolled out from the wall cabinets. The stamp frames were protected by a clear covering. The stamps are all unused, although there were a number of "specimen" stamps.

The stamps appeared to have been mounted many years ago.  Initially, I was concerned that either some type of thick hinge or glue kept the stamps mounted. I spotted a bit of tape? or thick hinge holding an early French stamp. But the curator assured me that only stamp hinges were used. ( I still would like to examine the back of these stamps just to be sure ;-)

I must admit that seeing a 330,000 unused stamp collection was wonderful to behold. In fact, I would have loved to have spent several days viewing the collection. But I only had an hour. 

The Japan collection appeared magnificent. The early Japan stamps were represented by sheets of four.

In a cursory examination for forgeries (such as the Persia collection above), I detected none.

I would characterize the classical era collection for a country, though, as "simplified". 

I noticed the U.S, Scott 2 10c black "George Washington" was missing.

And a note to Bob Skinner of "Filling Spaces" blog fame: The "rarest" (that is to find) stamp in the Big Blue album- the Syria 1923 Scott 106c 25c on 10c green (error) stamp was not present- I checked! ;-)

Temples in Kyoto
We then moved on to Kyoto, home of 1600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As this was also cherry blossom season, we did not have the rich architecture to ourselves.  To avoid (most) of the crowds, viewing in the early morning was best.

Picking up blossoms at a Temple
A word about the grounds and trees around Buddhist temples, as well as the traditional Japanese garden...

Wild nature it is not, as the trees are shaped and "disciplined" into an aesthetically pleasing form. And every morning, workers are found picking up the cherry blossoms that have fallen.

Byodoin Temple, Kyoto
The Byodoin Temple (recently restored) dates from 1052 (Hesian Period), and was built with the desire to obtain Gokuraku (Nirvana).

"Phoenix Hall" is the main structure for the Byodoin Temple, and has affixed atop the roof two phoenix statues, now restored to a golden color.

1928 Scott 202 1 1/2s deep green "Phoenix"
The mythical phoenix (ho-o) was originally derived from China.  In Japan it was adopted, especially by the empress, as a symbol of the imperial household. The phoenix represents fire, sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity.

Tenryuji Zen Buddhist Temple, Kyoto
There are different disciplines of Buddhism. One of the "more severe" forms is Zen Buddhism.  The Tenryuji Temple in Kyoto is the head temple for the Rinzai Zen Buddhism branch in Japan. This "Temple of the Heavenly Dragon" was established in 1339.

The Deer of Nara
On a visit to Nara, we encountered the Nara Deer (which cannot be hunted, as they are sacred), and, much like the bears in Yellowstone in past times, they beg and nudge for food along the paths before the temple grounds.

Great Buddha, Todaiji Temple, Nara
The largest Buddha in all of Japan is found at the Todaiji Temple in Nara. Magnificent!

Shinto Shrine
Many Japanese have both Buddhist and Shinto beliefs- often in a casual or nominal way. But the native "religion" is Shinto ("way of the gods"). 

The Shinto shrines became independent (from Buddhist temples) during the Meiji Restoration (1868) that returned imperial rule.  Many homes will have a small shrine (Kamidana- "God-Shelf").

Kasuga Shrine, Nara
One of the more interesting Shinto shrines is found in Nara- the Kasuga Shrine, established in 768. 

One first passes through the Japanese gate (torii), which separates the common space from the sacred space. Surrounded by woods (Kasugayama Primeval Forest), a path moves gradually uphill for several blocks, and is lined with three thousand old stone lanterns.

1938 Scott 268 14s rose lake & pale rose
"Kasuga Shrine, Nara"
The Kasuga Shrine was featured on this 1938 stamp.

Kasuga Shrine, Lanterns, and Nature
I find the difference between a Shinto shrine and a temple quite stark. Note here wild nature (Kasugayama Primeval Forest) pushes right up to the shrine. With a Buddhist temple, nature is "disciplined".

Central Tokyo Railroad station
Back to Tokyo, and we are coming out of the classic railroad station in central Tokyo.

The Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Across the street from the railway station, one has a glimpse of the Imperial Palace- which is almost always off-limits.

Of interest, though, part of the imperial grounds are open for one week during cherry blossom time. And we watched, as some 90,000 people took the tour for that last day of cherry blossom week. 

Central Tokyo Post Office
On the left as one exits the central Tokyo railway station is the central Tokyo Post Office.

The Lobby
Naturally, Professor Takada and I took a tour of the extensive lobby. As one would expect, though,  the major mail processing facility has been moved elsewhere.

Mt. Fuji stamp issue presentation folder
A presentation folder for a Mt. Fuji issue called to me, and bought it. ;-)

Japanese Garden, Nara
Buddhist and Shinto inspired, Japanese Gardens, whether of moss, gravel, pebbles, boulders, sand, or water, are ideal for contemplation. Every turn of the path presents a different visage. My wonderful spouse loves gardens, especially Japanese gardens, so it became a a quiet daily respite

Mother and Child Memorial, Yokohama
We finished our trip in Yokohama, a brawny port city just south of Tokyo. My Father had been here some 70 years ago during the occupation.

There is little, at least in the areas I visited, to remind one of the effects of WW II. But here, in a small park on a hill overlooking Yokohama Bay, is a Mother and Child Memorial, necklaced with peace cranes. Enough said.

Our Hosts at farewell dinner in Yokohama
Chinatown in Yokohama is the largest enclave of resident Chinese in Japan. The pocket restaurant was off an alley, then up a narrow staircase, where a low table and cushions awaited. Good food and beer, laughter and tearful goodbyes.....

Sunrise over the Pacific at Yokohama harbor...and farewell
As the sun rises over Yokohama Bay, time to say farewell to Japan...

Hope you enjoyed this somewhat unusual Big Blue blog post!  :-)

Comments always welcomed.


  1. Amazing photos. I just wonder how on earth you were able to walk out from such an magnificant worldwide collection in one hour...


  2. Jim that was a great little travelogue. Looks like you and your wife had a lot of fun. Loved reading it :-)


  3. Keijo- Well, I can tell you one hour was definitely not enough. ;-)

  4. Thanks aragorn- it was a pleasure meeting old friends again and see Japan through their eyes.

  5. Very beautiful and well taken photos. I guess that is your other hobby.
    That cherry blossom stamp overprinted during occupation of Northern Borneo is my favourite from those years.

  6. myNBstamps- sure enough, the cherry blossom -Mt. Fuji stamp was used with an overprint for the North Borneo occupation- I didn't know that!

    I'm also quite impressed with your North Borneo blog, and will be added it to the recommended links here.

    As far as the photographs- that is no hobby, but I do like to look for good composition in the pic- thanks!

    1. Thanks Jim. the link to my post on the blog with this adhesive is:

  7. I suspect that many of us find connections between our stamp collecting, not to mention our travels, and the folks we've hosted in our homes. Over the years we've hosted over 75 people for a month up to two years, many of them from overseas. (Being connected with higher education helps make these contacts.) We maintain contact with them, visit often, especially in South Africa. Visits often provide all-too-brief philatelic excursions.

  8. Bud- I'll bet you have some nice stories about the people you have hosted, and the visits you've had with them in their home country

  9. Note: I received a request for use of a stamp image for educational purposes - I granted permission provided an acknowledgement of this blog as the source was made.

    Here is the note - the requester was deleted for privacy purposes...

    I found your blogspot via a Google Search for . I am a Social Studies teacher who is creating a lesson page to be published (non-commercial) in a Geography Workbook for 7th graders. The workbook will be published hardcopy for free dissemination to schools in Arizona and housed on the Arizona Geographic Alliance website for free access to any educator or student internet-wide. I am interested in using the photo of the Mt Fuji stamp (1940 Scott 269 20s ultramarine "Mount Fuji and Cherry Blossoms") as part of the lesson. WHO might I contact for permission to use the image? I am assuming the image is a photo by the owner and not one taken from a stamp catalog? From my research, I believe images of Japanese stamps are public domain 70 years after publication or death of creator. I have an official letter that I can send from the educational organization publishing the Geography Workbook.

    PS Your blogpost is amazing!! My love of Geography stemmed from my stamp collection days many years ago when I started collecting in the 5th grade. My father, may he RIP, was a philatelic wholesaler during 1960s-1980s. His company was called Eddicks. I have fond memories of him sharing glimpses of rare stamps with me.