Friday, August 2, 2013


A hallmark of passage through Japan is stamp collection. On side tables at entrances to museums, cultural centers, and even malls, chains loop between multicolor ink pads and rubber stamps. Children gather expectantly, grasping pieces of paper and grinning wide, awaiting their reward. Parents huddle nearby, breathing smoke and stale air.

The entrance to the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka presents a diminutive stamp to passers-by, three mushrooms pressed in brown ink. One smiles shyly. On the slopes of Lake Ashi near Mt. Fuji, travelers disembark from a ropeway car and board a ship colored in flamboyant reds and blues. Many stop first for the red ink stamp commemorating the journey.

Train stations have the best stamps. Underground, they paint a prideful picture of life just outside and above. Sometimes it's modern, with skyscrapers drawn in ink lines. Tokyo's stations were often this way. At other times they pay homage to history, and you press down rubber to see palaces, pavilions, and grass fields long withered by time, covered by concrete. Kyoto offered many such stamps.

I have a small black book filled with many of these colorful scenes. I waited in line behind children half my size to get them. Attendants and parents flashed concerned or annoyed glances at first, but then shrugged and moved on when their kids returned, faces and fresh ink shining under fluorescent light.

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