Remembering Maejima confirming Japan’s decision to look west

Remembering the founder of the post office on a stamp seems pretty obvious. The decision to learn western ways was not an easy decision in Japan and the decision was hardly unanimous. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The look of this stamp is quite western. Yes of course it contains Japanese style writing. In fact of two different styles. The first Japanese stamp from 1871 shows the early Chinese style lettering called Kanji and the later simplified Shinjitai style on the rest of the stamp. Nevertheless the style is quite western for a Japanese stamp issue. This was appropriate to honor the founder of the post office. He was an important voice of his day suggesting that the best way to preserve Japan was to adopt western ways and technology but within the Japanese system as a way to avoid foreign domination.

Todays stamp is issue A1860, a 80 Yen stamp issued by Japan on August 10th, 1994. It showed the father of the Japanese post office, Baron Maejima Hisoka and the first Japanese postage stamp of 1871. The stamp was part of a series that year that honored Japanese postal history. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 40 cents used. In case you were wondering the first stamp from Japan displayed on this stamp is now worth $250 in the form shown on this stamp.

Maejima was born in 1835 when Japan was still ruled by the Shoguns that did their best to keep Japan closed off to the West. Westerners were considered barbarians and Japan eyed nervously what had happened in China giving in ever more to Western domination. There were however frequent intrusions of Western naval ships into Japanese waters. They possessed cannons that the Japanese had no defense against and no ability to build themselves. Treaties were pressed on Japan forcing open trading posts and allowing the presence of westerners.

The Shoguns were discredited by this and voices like Maejima arose suggesting the learning of Western ways in order that there be some defense against western encroachment. Maejima even proposed to the last Shogun ruler Kanji writing be removed from the Japanese writing system. That did not happen but the Meiji restoration occurred in 1868, Maejima was quickly hired and put in charge of arraigning for a postal service. He went to Great Britain to study their postal service and the first postal service linking Tokyo and Osaka was in operation within a year. When Maejima left the postal system 11 years later there were over 5000 post offices throughout Japan and the country was a member of the Universal postal union. The system was made self sufficient by offering banking services through the post office including savings accounts and money orders. This was the first option for this available in the countryside.

Maejima did much more beyond the postal service in later life. He cofounded a University and a newspaper and a political party. He invested in several of the early railroad concerns. He was even made a Baron under the then in place peerage system and served in the House of Peers in the 1910s. This was the upper house of the Japanese Diet. He died in 1919.

Well my drink is empty and so I will pour another to toast Japan’s entry into stamp issuing. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

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