The little stack of books above doesn’t look like much, but of all the Japanese things I’ve collected over the years they are the most precious of all. Each book contains stamps collected from train stations, attractions, and temples or shrines around Japan we visited during our two navy tours and other trips. Encouraged by my English students, I began collecting stamps during our first tour (1980-1983), and dutifully wrote the name and date of each station or place visited on the page to remember the visit, and one of my students wrote “memories of Japan” on the front of my first book (the green one). For the most part the books went everywhere with me because I never knew when I would be somewhere and able to collect a new stamp.
There are over 9,000 train stations (eki) throughout Japan. Most of these stations have a unique stamp (or even two) that highlights a particular attraction or novelty that the town or area is known for, from festivals to bridges to food. The stamp designs are detailed, and are a fun to way to collect memories of places visited. The stamp is usually located at the entrance to most train stations, but sometimes I had to do some searching to find it. One other issue that popped up now and again was the provided stamp pad was dry, and I could barely get a print in my book (some hard-core collectors supposedly carry their own stamp pad). Occasionally I would come across a stamp but I did not have my stamp book on me, but many places had a stack of paper that I could use and I would glued the stamp into my book later. Eki stamps are not limited to train stations though. Most tourist attractions, including castles, museums, amusement parks, hot springs and so forth, have stamps as well.
A special kind of stamp are goshuin, obtained at Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines. There is usually a special window at bigger temples or shrines where a small fee ($3 or so) is paid, and a monk or priest puts a stamp in the book and then writes the name, date, and maybe a blessing in beautiful calligraphy over the stamp. There are literally thousands of temples and shrines around Japan, and goshuin can technically be obtained at most of the bigger ones. Some people collect goshuin exclusively, but others, like me, mix them with their eki stamps.
Stamp collecting in Japan is very, very popular among all ages. There is often a “stamp rally” going on somewhere in Japan, where special books can be picked up and a prize earned for filling all the spots with stamps. Our grandson participated in one a couple of years ago, filled his book and earned two tickets to see Moana! I think I paid around $4 each for my books back in the day, but the traditional silk-covered accordion books are available for sale at most temples and shrines for around $10 now. Other stamp books, some of handmade paper, can be found in souvenir shops. It’s a small price to pay though to develop a wonderful collection of memories of places visited in Japan.