A large variety of exquisitely designed commemorative Japanese stamps, marking various noteworthy national or international occasions, are issued annually by the Japan postal service. Included in the area of commemorative Japanese stamps are Japan anniversary stamps, commemorative prefecture stamps, and special Japanese stamps.
As is the case with commemorative stamps around the world, Japan commemorative stamps are issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honor or commemorate a place, person, or event. Stamps are usually printed in limited quantities and sold for a shorter period of time until supplies run out.
Japan has quite a long and interesting history of issuing commemorative postage stamps dating back more than a hundred years to the end of the 19th century. In 1894, the first commemorative Japanese anniversary stamps marked the 25th anniversary of the wedding of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The first persons honored on a commemorative stamp in 1896 were the Princes Kitashirakawa and Arisugawa for their role in the first Sino-Japanese war.
For a full selection of our commemorative Japanese stamps, please have a look at the following sites:
Among the many Japanese commemorative stamps and Japan anniversary stamps released over the last century, there are quite a number of Japanese postage stamps that are particularly interesting or noteworthy. They have marked important events in Japanese international and cultural relations and milestones in industrial or scientific breakthroughs.
In 1919, the 'Peace Commemoration' stamp was released to mark the end of World War I. The peace stamp design featured images of doves and olives. It is interesting to note that this Japan commemorative stamp was issued not to celebrate victory, but the end of the war. Further, it was very rare for a dove to be used as a peace symbol at that time. The only case of a peace dove being used in connection with Word War was on a stamp issued by the former Czechoslovakia in 1918. Postal experts speculate that the influence of Western culture on Japan might significantly contributed to the design of Japan's peace commemorative stamp.
During the WWII years, two commemorative Japanese stamps were issued in 1940 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Imperial Rescript from 1890. Basically, Rescript asked the Japanese people to always respect the constitution and observe the laws and, in case of an emergency, to offer themselves to the state to guard the imperial throne. The Rescript was forbidden by the American occupation authorities after the end of the war. Another fine example, of how Japanese history has influenced and has been depicted through Japanese commemorative stamps.
Four years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japan postal service issued two commemorative Japanese stamps in 1949. The first Hiroshima event stamp was to mark the enactment of the 'Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law' and the second Japan postage stamp the 'Nagasaki International Culture City Construction Law.'
The Hiroshima commemorative prefecture stamp was issued in August and shows a seated woman holding a rose against a brown backdrop. Originally, the city of Hiroshima requested a green instead of the brown background to be used to symbolize peace.
However, green already was used for the Nagasaki commemorative prefecture stamp. The Nagasaki stamp, also issued in August, depicted three doves and a famous local sight, the Megane (or Spectacle) bridge.
It is said that the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing were unhappy with the design of their commemorative stamp.
In 1957, the Japanese postal service released a special Japanese anniversary postage stamp commemorating the completion of the country's first nuclear reactor.
Another intriguing commemorative Japanese stamp featuring a peace dove was issued in 1972. This special event stamp marked the ratification of the agreement between Japan and the United States on the reversion of Okinawa (also known as the Ryukyu Islands). The design is interesting in that the Japanese rising-sun flag and the US star-spangled banner are linked by a line with a white dove beneath. Also, the postage stamp itself is labeled with 'Ryukyu Mail' and '5 cents.'
1995 marked the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII and on that occasion, a special commemorative Japan stamp was released entitled '50th Peace Anniversary.' The stamps shows the Hiroshima atomic bomb dome in red color reminiscent of war and blood. The design was chosen out of more than 8,000 public entries.
In 2004, on the occasion of the centenary of the death of noted writer and Japan scholar Lafcadio Hearn, the Japan post office issued a special Japanese anniversary stamp showing the writer in a demure, dreamy pose. Hearn came to Japan in 1890 and, six years later in 1896, became a naturalized citizen after marriage to a local samurai's daughter.
Why is this Japan anniversary stamp so interesting? For one, in honoring individuals, commemorative Japanese stamps usually focus on Japanese persons. When becoming a Japanese citizen, Hearn actually took on the name Koizumi Yakumo (小泉八雲), which is shown in Japanese characters at the bottom of the stamp right above his Christian first name Lafcadio.
What is more, the image on the stamp shows Hearn in seemingly dreamy pose. However, his head is tilted and eyes cast down to hide a facial disfigurement, namely the loss of his left eye.
The flower in the background seems to symbolize a somewhat pinkish shamrock to represent his Irish ancestry.
Indeed, a very interesting and culturally relevant commemorative Japanese stamp.
On March 23rd 2005, the Japanese post issued a stamp commemorating the 'circular loom' as an outstanding landmark invention in the modernization of the country's science and technology.
In March 2012, the Japan Post celebrated 100 years of friendship between Japan and United states by releasing a special commemorative Japanese stamps sheet marking the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of 3020 cherry trees to the United States. The trees can be seen in full flower around Washington's Tidal Basin at the annual cherry blossom festival.
The cherry trees were a gift from then Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki to President W.H. Taft in 1912. First lady H. Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Viscountness Chinda, planted the initial first two trees on the north side of the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912.
The U.S. Postal Service also released two commemorative postage stamps that combined together create a panoramic view of the iconic trees in full flower.
After the battle of Okinawa, the Ryukyu Islands (present-day Okinawa prefecture) were under US military rule from 1945 to 1972 and had their own 'Japanese' postal system, separate from the mainland. This resulted in the release of many Okinawa postage stamps of excellent artistic quality depicting Ryukyu history and culture. Among them were quite a number of Ryukyu 'Japanese' commemorative and anniversary stamps focusing on specific events in the islands history. In doing so, such stamps reinforced the US claim that Okinawa should be seen as distinct in culture, history, and governance from mainland Japan.
One notable example of Ryukyu commemorative prefecture stamps is the 120 years anniversary stamp issued in 1968 honoring 18th century physician and medical researcher Nakachi Kijin. He, among other accomplishments, developed an inoculation technique for smallpox.
You will also note that the Ryukyu commemorative Japanese stamps of the US occupation period are denominated in cents. That is because the US dollar was the official currency of Okinawa until 1972.
Another fine example, is the below special Okinawa anniversary stamp commemorating the restoration of the Engaku Buddhist temple main gate which was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa. The issue year was 1968.
In 1972, when the US occupation ended and Okinawa was reverted back into the hands of the central Japanese government in Tokyo, Japanese commemorative stamps began being issued with the word NIPPON on them. Here an example from the 1972 marking the reversal of the islands back to Japan.
Japan's post offices continue the tradition of issuing highly collectible Japanese commemorative stamps on a regular basis. If you are interested in the latest Japan anniversary stamps available and upcoming releases of other Japan stamps, please check out the following Japan commemorative stamps sections.