There are major stamp exhibitions every year, all over the world, but unless you’re a stamp collector they probably pass you by unnoticed. In Japan, World Stamp Expo has been held every ten years since 1971: PhilaNippon 2011 is in Yokohama from 28th July to 2nd August. It’s nowhere near as big as Comiket – the organisers expect 100,000 people to visit the Pacifico Yokohama Exhibition Hall – but philately is still big business. And this year, with the focus on anime and manga stamps from around the world, it may be even bigger.
Japan has a tradition of beautiful stamps and stationery. Japan Post issues commemorative sets and new products regularly, covering every aspect of Japanese culture: little squares of soft power, travelling all over the world. Anime and manga have been featured on more and more stamps as their role in Japan’s popular culture – and its cultural diplomacy – has expanded.
For PhilaNippon 2011 two commemorative sets are being issued. One shows famous woodblock prints. The other has Astro Boy, Doraemon, Hello Kitty and Pikachu beaming at the stamp collectors of the world in vivid, joyous colour. (To English-speaking fans Doraemon might seem out of place alongside his better-known cohorts, but he’s been a beloved figure of childhood throughout Asia for over thirty years, and the Asian market for anime and manga is far longer-established than its US counterpart.)
So far, Japan Post’s Anime Heroes and Heroines series comprises 22 sets in seven years. In 2009 there were two stamp sets commemorating the 50th anniversary of Shonen Jump and Shonen Sunday magazines. Before that, three Transformers souvenir covers marked the release of the first Michael Bay movie in 2007. And way back in 1990 the earliest history of manga was commemorated with three stamps featuring the scroll that’s usually considered the earliest manga. The same scroll provided the PhilaNippon 2011 logo.
Of course, many other countries have also put their cartoon and comicbook heroes on postage stamps. The US Mail has issued sets covering characters from Superman and Archie to Calvin & Hobbes, while Canada Post spotlighted homegrown heroes Captain Canuck and Fleur de Lys alongside the Man of Steel. French-language website Philabulle documents French and Belgian comics in philately. So the exhibition of anime and manga on postage stamps could range far beyond Japan.