A ride on a train in Japan may present you with an unexpected souvenir: an illustrated ink stamp, unique to the train’s particular station. Known as Eki stamps, they’re found at many of the thousands of stations that pepper the country — for local and freight trains, shinkansen, street cars, and monorails — and every one is different. Many depict significant aspects of the station’s surrounding regions, often drawn with intricate renderings forming beautiful scenes that recall the lines of traditional ukiyo-e woodblock prints. To celebrate these unique tokens, Railroad Station Stamp Designs, recently published by Japan’s Seigensha art press, brings together imprints of 380 stamps from across the country over the past century. Although as many as 5,000 of these stamps are still in use, the book also contains many rare images that can no longer be found in stations.
The book, unfortunately published only in Japanese, resembles a passport, heavy on images that are each labeled with the station’s name, the date the stamp was introduced, and its size. Looking at the stamps takes one on a journey through the country’s mountains, temples, hot spring resorts, monuments, bridges, and even regional foods. Like old postcards, the scenes evoke nostalgia, as many incorporate the date they were inked, hinting at trips taken long ago.
First introduced in 1931 at a station in Fukui, the stamps soon proliferated across the country, shaped like circles, squares, pentagons, and hexagons. They were used to boost tourism, with the Japanese National Railways (JNR) launching the Discover Japan campaign in 1970, providing 1,400 stations with individual stamps that all bore the words “DISCOVER JAPAN” in English. As part of the same initiative, special notebooks were published for travelers to carry with them to collect stamps, which are still available for purchase today. JNR continued to add stations, both large and small, to the program, and each railway’s management would decide on their own design, which were often sent to local stationery stores to be hand-drawn and then manufactured.
Many stations by Mount Fuji naturally highlight the famed landform in their stamp; others exhibit nearby beaches or ski slopes. Designs also sometimes change, and new ones are still being introduced today, so the number of stamps continues to grow. New designs tend toward the contemporary, sometimes incorporating popular anime characters. Railroad Station Stamp Designs shows the scope and evolution of these unique tokens, highlighting some of the more historic and elaborate examples, capturing the uniqueness of place through single small pictures.
Railroad Station Stamp Designs is now available through Seigensha.