Japanese peace postage stamps from the Pika Collection

Great desires in tiny designs

Please click to view enlarged image.

Continuing our theme from issue 31, this issue looks at some peace postage stamps which are owned by the Pika Document Research Center in the city of Takehara. In preparing for this issue, we were shown a number of original Japanese postage stamps by Ryo Seseragi, who runs the Research Center.

As with the world peace postage stamps we featured in the previous issue, the dove was also used as a symbol of peace in Japanese stamps. The oldest dove stamp is one that was issued in 1919 during the Taisho period. Many dove images appear on stamp designs solicited from the public, too.

We were also shown some stamps whose themes were closely connected to Hiroshima, such as the ones which were issued when the law for the reconstruction of Hiroshima after the bombing was enacted, and on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War.

However, some of the junior writers felt that even though Japan is the first country to ever have been attacked with nuclear weapons, the message in those Japanese stamps seemed rather weak compared to the message contained in stamps designed in foreign countries.

A "peace dove" has often appeared in stamps

-First appearance was in 1919


In Japan, the first stamps to carry a peace theme were issued in 1919 (the 8th year of the Taisho era): the "Peace Commemoration" stamp (above left). Doves and olive branches were featured in both of the designs issued to celebrate the end of World War I.


Mr. Seseragi explains Japanese postage stamps to junior writers. (Photo by Mako Sakamoto, 11)

Click to view Mr. Seseragi's workshop on Japanese stamps.

We were impressed by the fact that these stamps were issued not to celebrate victory but the end of the war.

According to the Postal Museum in Tokyo, which has a collection of about 290,000 stamps from foreign countries and about 10,000 Japanese stamps, it was very rare for a dove to be used as a peace symbol at that time. Overseas, the only case of a "peace dove" in connection with World War I appears to be a stamp issued in the former Czechoslovakia in 1918.

As to why a dove design was adopted at that time in Japan, the Postal Museum said, "We don't have any related documents but the picture seems to be Western in style. It might have been the influence of Western culture that prompted a dove to be used as a peace symbol."

According to Mr. Seseragi, after that, whenever peace-related events have been held, stamps with dove designs have been issued.


Of the commemorative stamps marking each of the "International Years" that are established by the United Nations, stamps for International Cooperation Year (1965), and International Women's Year (1975) featured doves in their designs.

In Okinawa, before its reversion to Japan in 1972, a commemorative stamp for the ratification of the Agreement Between the United States of America and Japan Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Dito Islands was made (below left). A line links the rising-sun flag (the national flag of Japan) and the Star-Spangled Banner, with a white dove beneath. The stamp is labeled with "Ryukyu Mail" and "5 cents."

Doves often appear on stamps designed in public competitions. It makes us realize again that the dove is widely accepted as a symbol of peace.

For the stamp competition involving the "World Heritage Series, Volume 11," held in 2003, 10,019 entries were received, including submissions from overseas. Eight designs were adopted, five of which feature doves. In one of them a dove is flying over the A-bomb Dome and, in another, a dove is with a mother cuddling a baby. Nevertheless, all the designs share a common desire for peace.

On the other hand, because of the historical use of carrier pigeons, pigeons have appeared on postage stamps as a symbol of the postal service. A pigeon was used on a Japanese stamp in 1905 to commemorate the "integration" of the Korean postal service into the Japanese system. Pigeons can also be seen on the commemorative stamp of the 100th anniversary of affiliation with the Universal Postal System (1977). (Shiori Kosaka, 12)

Commemorative stamps for "Hiroshima Peace Memorial City"
and "Nagasaki International Culture City" Construction Law in 1949

Some peace themes include expressions of dissent


Stamps commemorating Hiroshima and Nagasaki were issued in 1949, four years after the bombings. They were issued as commemorative stamps to mark the enactment of the "Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law" and "Nagasaki International Culture City Construction Law." The aim of the laws was to use government subsidies to help with city planning so that both cities could recover from the bomb damage and be rebuilt as cities symbolizing peace.

The stamp of Hiroshima (above) was issued on August 6th. A woman holding a rose is seated against a brown background. Originally, the city of Hiroshima requested that the former Ministry of Post and Telecommunications use green in the design to symbolize peace. However, the color green was used in the stamp of Nagasaki (below) with three doves and Megane Bridge, a popular sightseeing spot, which was issued on August 9th.

According to the Postal Museum, the woman holding a rose represents peace, but it doesn't seem like that to me. Mr. Seseragi also mentioned that the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima were unhappy with the design. (Shotaro Takada, 14)

50th Peace Anniversary/ 1995 A-bomb Dome, a reminder of war and blood

Three designs, chosen out of 8,646 entries from the public, were used for the commemorative stamps that were issued in 1995, for the "50th Peace Anniversary (Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorial)". The stamp that seems most like a peace stamp is the one of the A-bomb Dome with a dove in the background, "fluttering in peace."

The red-colored dome reminds us of war and blood. In contrast, a white dove with wings spread looks like it is bringing peace. (Seira Furukawa, 14)

Commemorating International Peace Year/1986 The soft colors are distinctive

In 1986, Japan issued some commemorative stamps to mark the year the United Nations designated as the International Year of Peace. Two designs, "Dove" and "Children holding hands," were selected from public entries.

The "Dove" stamp uses seven colors including orange and blue. The soft colors are distinctive. However, compared to overseas stamps for the International Year of Peace, such as one with a mushroom cloud that Mr. Seseragi showed us in the previous issue, I don't feel the Japanese designs have a strong impact. (Seira Furukawa, 14)

Doves have appeared on cigarette packages and in stickers, too

photo photo

Mr. Seseragi"s collection includes cigarette packages and stickers with designs that use doves.

Japan Tobacco and Salt Cooperation (as it was called then) made a cigarette package of "Peace" (a famous Japanese cigarette brand) with a design of a dove holding an olive branch in its beak. A famous American designer designed the package and it contributed greatly to an increase in sales. As much as 1.5 million yen was paid for the design. The package is still available (above left).


Mr. Seseragi's center owns stickers that called for postage stamps for the abolition of atomic and hydrogen bombs to be issued. The stickers were shaped like stamps and were made by a youth group in Tokyo. A mushroom cloud is rising and a dove is flying beside the cloud. It aims to express anti-nuclear sentiment in the shape of a stamp which is familiar to people. In the picture, brown is the main color, so a white dove makes a strong appeal for peace, I think.

A large flying dove appeared in a Japanese banknote that was issued in 1947 (below). The Banknote and Postage Stamp Museum, located in Tokyo, explained that this is the only known banknote on which the image of a dove appears. (Mako Sakamoto, 11)

Note: The slash mark on every stamp is in accordance with Japanese regulation to prevent duplication.