JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when traveling.

Meiji Era postmarks. When you want to know how old your postcard is, the first and obvious thing to do is check the postmark if there is one. A postage stamp or written date in the message are also a great help.
Because Japan bases its years on the Emperor's reign (besides using the Western world's Gregorian calendar), the year of the postmark could refer to the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Taisho Era (1912-1926), Showa Era (1926-1989), or the current Heisei Era (1989-present). So if you see "1" as the year, it could be Year 1 of any of these eras (1868, 1912, 1926, or 1989). (See the [url=http://photojpn.org/PPC/gui/year.html]year conversion table[/url].)

So how do you determine which era the year refers to? In normal Japanese documents, you would see an initial before the year to indicate the era. For example H.1 for Heisei Year 1 (1989). Unfortunately, none of the postmarks provide an initial for the era. But it is not so hard to determine the era.

Look at the postmark images above. The left postmark is in Japanese with the numbers "36-9-12." The first number indicates the year, followed by the month and day. Above the date are the kanji characters for "Yokohama." Below the date is the time the postcard was accepted at the post office (6:20 pm).

Fortunately, right next to this postmark is the English version. The date is September 12, 1903. This matches Year 36 for the Meiji Era in the Japanese postmark. (See the [url=http://photojpn.org/PPC/gui/year.html]year conversion table[/url].) In case the English postmark were not provided, we could still determine the era. If you look at the year coversion table, you will find that only the Meiji and Showa Eras have a Year 36. Showa 36 is 1961. And if you look at the card and the postage stamp, it is obvious that it is not as recent as 1961, so it must be Meiji 36 (1903).

Now look at the right postmark. This postmark is also in English with the words "Yokohama Japan" in English. The date is "25.2.08." If the postmark has the location name in English, the date's format is day-month-Gregorian year, different from the Japanese postmark. So it is February 25, 1908.

Other tidbits about Japanese postmarks: 

- In the early years until 1879, postmarks were used to indicate the date of collection and the date of receipt from out of town. Stamp cancellation marks were also separate from postmarks. They could be a series of dotted lines or text like "Postage Paid" (in Japanese). Some postmarks were square in shape. Each postal district had their own postmark system and style.

- In November 1879, the Communications Office issued official recommendations for postmarks. In September 1888, the name of the local area was included in the postmark. By 1909, postmarks became standardized nationwide. 

- Up to September 1912, postcards and letters had two postmarks (except for special mail). One was imprinted when the postcard was mailed (canceling the stamp), and another was imprinted when the postcard was received. 

- Until 1911, postmarks were imprinted by hand (at a rate of 100 pieces per minute). Automatic postmarking machines were introduced in this year. At the end of 1919, the latest postmarking machines were imported from America and used in Tokyo.

- Stamp collecting is a major hobby in Japan. All the stamps that have ever been issued are documented in a number of comprehensive Japanese stamp catalogs issued every year. You can identify the issue date of any stamp by referring to the stamp catalog. 
Keywords: japanese vintage old postcards stamps

Meiji Era postmarks. When you want to know how old your postcard is, the first and obvious thing to do is check the postmark if there is one. A postage stamp or written date in the message are also a great help.

Because Japan bases its years on the Emperor's reign (besides using the Western world's Gregorian calendar), the year of the postmark could refer to the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Taisho Era (1912-1926), Showa Era (1926-1989), or the current Heisei Era (1989-present). So if you see "1" as the year, it could be Year 1 of any of these eras (1868, 1912, 1926, or 1989). (See the year conversion table.)

So how do you determine which era the year refers to? In normal Japanese documents, you would see an initial before the year to indicate the era. For example H.1 for Heisei Year 1 (1989). Unfortunately, none of the postmarks provide an initial for the era. But it is not so hard to determine the era.

Look at the postmark images above. The left postmark is in Japanese with the numbers "36-9-12." The first number indicates the year, followed by the month and day. Above the date are the kanji characters for "Yokohama." Below the date is the time the postcard was accepted at the post office (6:20 pm).

Fortunately, right next to this postmark is the English version. The date is September 12, 1903. This matches Year 36 for the Meiji Era in the Japanese postmark. (See the year conversion table.) In case the English postmark were not provided, we could still determine the era. If you look at the year coversion table, you will find that only the Meiji and Showa Eras have a Year 36. Showa 36 is 1961. And if you look at the card and the postage stamp, it is obvious that it is not as recent as 1961, so it must be Meiji 36 (1903).

Now look at the right postmark. This postmark is also in English with the words "Yokohama Japan" in English. The date is "25.2.08." If the postmark has the location name in English, the date's format is day-month-Gregorian year, different from the Japanese postmark. So it is February 25, 1908.

Other tidbits about Japanese postmarks:

- In the early years until 1879, postmarks were used to indicate the date of collection and the date of receipt from out of town. Stamp cancellation marks were also separate from postmarks. They could be a series of dotted lines or text like "Postage Paid" (in Japanese). Some postmarks were square in shape. Each postal district had their own postmark system and style.

- In November 1879, the Communications Office issued official recommendations for postmarks. In September 1888, the name of the local area was included in the postmark. By 1909, postmarks became standardized nationwide.

- Up to September 1912, postcards and letters had two postmarks (except for special mail). One was imprinted when the postcard was mailed (canceling the stamp), and another was imprinted when the postcard was received.

- Until 1911, postmarks were imprinted by hand (at a rate of 100 pieces per minute). Automatic postmarking machines were introduced in this year. At the end of 1919, the latest postmarking machines were imported from America and used in Tokyo.

- Stamp collecting is a major hobby in Japan. All the stamps that have ever been issued are documented in a number of comprehensive Japanese stamp catalogs issued every year. You can identify the issue date of any stamp by referring to the stamp catalog.

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