Stamps and Goshuin in Tokyo

Stamps and Goshuin in Tokyo

Full Circle

The last time I was in Tokyo was over 10 years ago, as part of an architectural study abroad program. At that point I'd been experimenting with rubber stamps for a couple years and brought along a generic DIY stamp kit to make esoteric illustrations out of type.

The price and composition of this kit hasn't changed in 10+ years. The original idea for PRIXEL was to simply resell this kit with different fonts.

These prints, about the size of a notecard, were a way of sketching Ryoanji and other architectural sites.

Most of them were unfinished. I guess I got tired of inking little letter stamps hundreds of times. Now I see such repetition as a character-building virtue.

Anyway, this time around, my mission was to check out the stationery scene and scout potential distributors/retailers.

Market Research

There are many large stationery and art supply stores with lots of rubber stamps in Tokyo. I spent several entire days just walking around and visiting as many as I could.

I love the way things are merchandised. You can often buy a single colored pencil, or tube of watercolor, from neatly organized racks.

If you wanna buy a $30,000 pen, you can do that, too.

My purchases were on the other end of the ostentatious consumption spectrum—a variety of inexpensive stamping and printed ephemera.

This button stamp and mini roller stamp are two of my favorites. I'm impressed at how little pressure is required to get a good impression.

Stamping Culture

I knew stamping was still a thing in Japan, but I didn't know that it was really still a thing until I saw people doing stamp things in everyday life without me even seeking it out.

Hanko, or personal seals, are still in regular use. Clerks at department stores regularly whipped out their hankos to mark a receipt.

This is a hanko for my name, Brandon. Looking forward to signing something extremely important with this thing.

Apparently many subway stations have eki stamps that you can use to remember your visit. This phenomenon seems to have spread to department stores as well, because I found a couple completely by accident.

But my favorite bit of stamp culture is the goshuincho, or temple stamp book (literally 'sacred vermillion stamp book'). I started one 10 years ago and brought it back with me on this trip.

It's a book you can use to remember your visit to shinto shrines and temples. A monk will stamp the book with a red seal, then write the temple name, date, and maybe some other stuff with a calligraphic brush.

The seals themselves are beautiful pieces of graphic design, often incorporating illustrative symbols into the stylized characters spelling out the temple name.

This was from a small temple dedicated to Mount Fuji, with an elongated Mount Fuji incorporated into the seal 🗻

Letterpress Workshop at the Printing Museum / Insatsukoubou

I found out there's a printing history museum funded by the Toppan corporation that does printing stuff.

The museum itself is small but full of well designed infographics and interactive models.

They also do workshops. One of the instructors, Namoko, was super accommodating and agreed to meet me for a one-on-one workshop and tour of the printing workshop area.

Finding five letters took an inordinate amount of time.

I love that Japanese type is all monospaced. Kerning is overrated.

We had time for some show-and-tell afterwards.

More photos and videos in the Tokyo highlight reel on Instagram. And take my commentary about the three Japanese writing systems with a grain of salt, because I think I was mistaken a couple points...

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