Japanese tourist sheets are often not what they seem to be


The header and top two rows of stamps photographically cropped from a tourist sheet. Tourist sheets, containing forgeries of classic Japanese stamps were sold to foreign tourists in souvenir shops in Japanese port cities. Today they are avidly studied and collected by Japanese and forgery specialists.


Beginning in the 1890s, forgeries of Japanese stamps mounted on large pages with decorative borders· were sold to foreign tourists as souvenirs of their visits to Japan.


These souvenirs, sold primarily in seaport shops, became known as "tourist sheets." The number of stamps on the page varied, but there were usually about 40 to 50.


Most of the forgeries are attributable to one of two men.


Wada Kotaro was the most prolific Japanese stamp forger of his day. Unlike some other forgers who specialized in producing single convincing forgeries, Wada's forgeries were mass produced. In addition to the standard tourist sheets, Wada's forgeries were also sold in booklets, usually referred to as "tourist booklets." The other forger was Maeda Kihei. His forgeries, printed and distributed by the Kamigataya firm, are known as "Kamigata forgeries." For many years it was assumed that the name of the forger who produced these stamps was Kamigata. The actual name of the forger was only revealed in recent years.


Wada avoided prosecution by the Japanese government for the stamp forgeries that he produced by inserting the character for "sanko" (reference) or "mozo" (imitation) in his forgeries.


Early versions of tourist sheets were also inscribed "Imitations" in English.


But this practice was later dropped, making it unlikely that a non-Japanese speaking tourist would realize that he was buying forgeries and lending credence to the notion that deception was intended.


Later sheets contained as many as 90 stamps, with a mixture of forged and inexpensive genuine stamps.


Over the years, many of the original stamp forgeries have been removed from the tourist sheets and placed in collections, with other stamps, either genuine or forgeries, substituted in their places on the sheets.


Today, it is difficult to find tourist sheets and booklets that still have all of their original stamps.


This also makes it difficult to trace the evolution of the different types of forgeries, as more recent forgeries are sometimes placed on older sheets.


In 2004, the International Society of Japanese Philately, published a fine monograph on this subject titled The Tourist Sheets and Booklets of Japan by Ron Casey.


This work traces the development of both the Wada and the Kamigata forgeries, as well as the tourist sheets and booklets that bore them. The sheets themselves come in various distinct types and printings, making a challenging and interest collecting area.


The monograph includes many color photographs of tourist sheets as well as enlargements of distinguishing characteristics.


The tourist sheet forgeries are a challenging collecting topic for anyone interested in Japanese philately or forgery in general.


For information about the International Society of Japanese Philately, visit online at www.isjp.org or contact ISJP secretary Kenneth Kamholz, Box 1283, Haddonfield, NJ 08033.




Originally published in Linn’s, August 4, 2008



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