Collecting postage stamps might sound like an old-fashioned hobby, but don’t be too quick to judge: philately is also about learning geography, history, and cultures. It can also be a great source of visual inspiration!
Mejiro is a small train station in the Toshima ward of Tokyo. It is mostly famous for the neighboring and elite Gakushuin University. The station is run by the Japan Railroad (JR) and is easily accessed via the Yamanote Line.
The Japanese name of the museum is Kitte no Hakubutsukan 切手の博物館, as a postage stamp is called “kitte” (切手) in Japanese. The museum is also the office of the Japan Philatelic Society (established in 1946) and its affiliated organizations. Originally, the museum was opened in Shinjuku in 1989, but was relocated to Toshima in 1996.
The entrance fee is 200 yen for adults, 100 yen for children and free for the handicapped. On every 23rd of each month the museum can be visited free of charge: it is called “fumi no hi” (ふみの日), meaning “Day of Writing Letters.” Currently, there are two floors and special events take place on the third floor.
The first floor consists of the exhibition halls and the shop. Exhibitions are theme-based, and the themes change every three months. The current theme is “Gods of The World" which lasts until September 30th and to be followed by "The Relationship Between Dogs and Monkeys". The Gods exhibit includes Mythical Gods from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Indonesia and many more. The stamps are collected from different countries, which are illustrated on a wall mural map. Japanese stamps are also exhibited, even though the country is relatively new with its first stamp being issued only in 1871 (the so-called “dragon series”). There are about 350,000 postage stamps in the museum’s collection.
Even though I am not a big fan of mythology, I find the wide range of countries and cultures fascinating. Some of the stamps are very old and some are enlarged on a copy machine to illustrate the details better. It was interesting to see the TV broadcasting Gods from Denmark.
The exhibition space also contains non-themed collections. They feature famous people, events, and even cartoon characters, such as Disney and Star Wars. There is a wide variety of current series from Japan, including natural landscapes and popular mascots. Many can be found in thick catalogues. Don’t worry, there are comfortable seats in case you get tired.
The shop is incredible: you can find both old and modern stamps from all over the world. For example, there are American ones featuring a solar eclipse. If you are looking for a nice album or frame for your favorite stamps, this is the place to visit. There is a place to sell your stamps as well. And even more fun: there is a photo booth to make a postcard designed as a stamp you can design yourself! It costs just 200 yen per piece.
The second floor is the library. It contains 10,000 publications and 1000 magazines that are listed both in electronic catalogue and on the cards in the drawers. The workplace of the museum’s founder Mizuhara Meiso is reproduced and on display.
And finally, don’t miss the little bamboo garden with the hot spring water fountain at the entrance.
Stamp collecting is not for everyone but for those who love to see common hobbies practiced within a different culture when they travel, this museum will show you why even Japan has its stamp lovers. Before you finish lurking around the museum, be sure to buy a letter along with a stamp that really catches your eyes.