Stamp Rallies

Families - August 22nd, 2009
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by Brett Iimura and Iona Macnab

Every summer children in Japan take part in all sorts of ‘stamp rallies’ as a sort of memento of places been or activities completed. This customary summer activity find its origins in traditional pilgrimages, which for centuries have seen pilgrims in Japan traveling traditional fixed routes of temples or holy places, hoping to atone for their sins in this life and gain merits in the next. It is common for the pilgrims to collect stamps (shuin) in a special stamp book as a record of each of the temples or holy sites visited. These ornate red-ink stamps are often accompanied by beautiful inscriptions from the temple’s priest. Over the years, pilgrimages have become more commercialized, and all manner of souvenirs are now available for the pilgrims, but the collection of shuin remains popular even for tourists. Seeing pilgrimages as a way to attract business to local areas, many parts of Japan now have their own special temple circuits to attract visitors.

In summer, when many families are traveling with children on trains, the stations often have stamps as part of a ‘stamp rally.’ The kids can collect the stamps in special books sold at the stations, or just on pieces of paper to be added to scrap books later. The stamps are a simple and fun way to remember the places visited over the summer. There are thousands of photo blogs online updated regularly by JR stamp rally enthusiasts, with pictures of old and new stamps for different stations around Japan.

JR East is offering a Pokemon stamp rally until August 9 at 95 stations in and around Tokyo. You can choose which stations to get your stamp according to your favorite Pokemon character by checking out the map here: www.jreast.co.jp/pokemon-rally/pdf/pokemon-rally2009_ 20090717_map.pdf.

Once you have collected six stamps, you can collect a small prize at one of the goal stations: Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno, or Matsudo. Tokyo Metro has collaborated with popular kids’ TV show Kamen Rider Decade with their summer stamp rally until August 28. There are 12 different stamps to collect, one each at Akasaka Mitsuke, Shimbashi, Ginza, Ueno, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Ikebukuro (Yurakucho line), Iidabashi, Miejijingumae, Kita Senju (Chiyoda line), Toyosu, and Kinshicho stations. After collecting five or more stamps, a small prize can be collected from Ginza, Shinjuku, or Iidabashi station.

Just before summer holidays begin, elementary schools hand out stamp cards for rajio taiso (radio exercises), an early morning exercise program held on school grounds and parks across Japan over the summer. Hundreds of families attend each morning at 6:30 in a custom that dates back to pre-World War II. Everyone does his or her ten minutes, collects a stamp, and at the end there may even be a prize for those with full stamp cards. Pick up a card at your local post office or print it out from this site: www.jp-life.japanpost.jp/health/pdf/090703radio-card.pdf.

Sometimes other events have stamp rallies too, like this year’s NHK Disaster Awareness Campaign. After collecting one stamp in each of the bosai and ‘lifeline’ courses, children can then go to the special disaster awareness event in the grounds of NHK in Shibuya from August 29–30 and collect four more stamps and enter the lottery for prizes related to safety in emergencies. More information (in Japanese) is available here: www.jizo-image.jp/event/bousai_park2009/stamp. So pack your obento (lunch box), sling your suito (drink flask) over your shoulder, and get involved in one of these stamp rallies with your children. It will leave you with an unusual and lasting memento of summer in Japan!

Brett Iimura ICCE, mother of two, is the director of the Childbirth Education Center (CEC), serving parents-to-be throughout Japan since 1997. Iona Macnab IBCLC is a lactation consultant in private practice in Tokyo and a mother of three. They have over thirty years of combined experience in Japan, and much experience raising bilingual, bicultural children!

Brett Iimura ICCE, mother of two, is the director of the Childbirth Education Center (CEC), serving parents-to-be throughout Japan since 1997. Iona Macnab IBCLC is a lactation consultant in private practice in Tokyo and a mother of three. They have over thirty years of combined experience in Japan, and much experience raising bilingual, bicultural children!