Philatelists stamp their mark on Japan-China ties

For half a century, Japan and China have enjoyed normalized ties -- but not always friendly ones. Japan's post office has marked the anniversary of each passing decade with the release of a commemorative set of stamps. But it is a gesture that is no longer reciprocated. This year, a group of Chinese stamp collectors have stepped up to mark the occasion.

Japan-China relations through the postal stamps

Back in the early 1970s, Japan was in the midst of a stamp-collecting craze and philatelists were obsessed with the stamps of the People's Republic of China -- a country with which Japan had no formal diplomatic ties.

Fukui Kazuo has collected Chinese stamps for over 60 years.

Fukui Kazuo was one such enthusiast. His collection now boasts over 20,000 types of Chinese stamps. When he began collecting, in the 1960s, China was in the grip of the Cultural Revolution and interaction with the outside world was limited.

"It was a tough time for collectors," he says. "In China, stamp collecting was considered a hobby of the bourgeois class, so collectors and publishers often had to quit. Stamps were used, of course, but they did not leave the country."

That changed in 1972, when Tokyo and Beijing normalized ties.

And as economic reforms accelerated, the imagery on the stamps changed too. Before the normalization of ties, it was common to see designs featuring revolutionary propaganda about war with Japan.

China issued stamps to commemorate the normalization of diplomatic ties.

Later, in what have been dubbed the "golden years" of Japan-China diplomacy, both countries issued scores of stamps promoting the friendship.

Then-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro made repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine in 2002.

This period came to an end in 2002, the 30th anniversary of normalization, when then-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro made repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to Japan's war dead.

Relations with China soured, and though Japan issued a set of stamps commemorating the diplomatic milestone, China did not.

It was the same story 10 years later, on the 40th anniversary, the year Japan's government purchased some of the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner. Japan controls the islands, though China claims them.

In September, Japan Post unveiled a 50th anniversary stamp set, and once again it appears that China will not.

Stamps are returning home

Zhang Jianguo, 25, a stamp collector from China who is studying in Japan, says there has been a palpable chilling of ties between the two countries.

He says Chinese people in Japan are harassed on the Internet back home. "It's sad for us Chinese people that we are criticized just for working and studying in Japan," he says.

And anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan appears to be considerable, too. In an NHK opinion poll last month, only 11 percent of respondents said they wanted to see ties with China improve. Fifty-five percent said that Japan should treat the country with caution.

Young Chinese hold stamp exhibition

Chinese stamp collector Zhang Jianguo held a fair in Tokyo.

So, Zhang and his friends decided to use Japan's commemorative stamps to try to improve the situation.
They organized a fair to commemorate the 50th anniversary of normalization, and asked people to buy the stamps and use them to send friendly postcards to people in China. In China, another group is organizing a similar campaign to send messages to Japan.

"I'm so grateful to everyone who came to the exhibition this time," Zhang says. "We want to keep improving the exhibition and continue these exchanges."

Zhang believes that though the two countries may be at odds with each other politically, their people do not have to be in conflict.

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