background - this page
list of prefectures
kanji for all prefectures
searchable database of prefectural stamps

Furusato - or Japanese prefecture stamps


This series of pages is meant to help all Japan collectors in their efforts to locate prefecture stamps in their catalogue. You can use the info here or make links to it, but it is not allowed to copy the information and pass it on as your own work. In other words: © 2005 Jan-Simon Hoogschagen /

a bit of geography

Japan is a large country. There are four main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. The country is divided into 8 regions (eventhough some sources say 11 because Chubu region is sometimes divided into 3 separate regions and Kyushu and Okinawa are not considered one region, but two separate ones), and in turn these 8 regions are split into 47 administrative parts, called prefectures. These prefectures were established in 1871, when they replaced the old feodal provinces.
A list of the regions and prefectures (ordered from north to south), is listed on a separate page.

prefecture stamps?

Japan began issuing stamps for its prefectures in 1989. Prefecture stamps or Furusato stamps are not really regional stamps because they are issued by the national postal ministry and are sold at the post offices of the prefecture, but also nationwide in the larger post offices in all 12 postal districts of Japan. All in all, they seem more a reason to issue more stamps than that they have a real postal need (in that case, the postage rate for inner-prefecture mail would have to be lower than the normal rate. As we know, this is not so). Sakura and the Japanese Stamp Specialized Catalog list the Furusato separately, with a prefix "R". If you use Scott catalogues, you will find the prefecture stamps at the end of the Japan listing, with the prefix "Z".

Furusato actually means "hometown" in Japanese.

how to recognise prefecture stamps?

If you do not read Japanese, recognising and cataloguing Japanese stamps is difficult. Recognising prefecture stamps is even more difficult because there are hardly any clues, like years in small print. Apart from a good catalogue you need something extra if you do not want to go through the whole catalogue every time you get a new stamp. There are more than 600 prefecture stamps or Furusatos at the moment, and the number is still growing, so this will get increasingly more difficult

Strange but true, as far as I am aware, there were no utilities available to help collectors. So I decided to make something for it, in the form of a searchable database.
The method is based on two features on each stamp: the prefecture name in Kanji and a description of the stamp design. The idea is that you filter on the prefecture name, after which you get a far more manageable list of stamps from which you can find your unrecognised stamp.

a method to distinguish prefecture stamps

Japanese writing

In order to successfully recognise prefecture stamps we have to go into the Japanese writing system. I won't go into detail, let's just say that there are three different kinds of writing in Japanese: Kanji, Katakana and Hirakana. Kanji is the oldest script, it is basically the old Chinese writing imported to Japan. Each character is a word and there are more than 5,000 different ones in Japanese. Nowadays there is a standard wordlist of 1,945 kanji for common use, plus 166 for people's names. Katakana is a syllable script. Each character is a syllable and it is used for (foreign) loanwords, telegrams and bold or italic type. Hiragana is used in children's books, textbooks, animation and comic books, to write Japanese words which are not normally written with kanji, such as adverbs, some nouns and as a help to pronounce or understand obscure Kanji. In the latter case it is written above the Kanji in a smaller type. Modern texts often also have some Romanji in it, which is nothing else than our western alphabet.

recognise your Furusato

The first step is easy: Even if you know nothing of Japanese writing, you can still recognise a Furusato when you see one.

normal Japanese stamp Furusato stamp

I hope you spotted the difference: normal Japanese stamps have the country name written in modern style, the prefectural stamps have it in a calligraphed style.

After this it gets a bit more tricky. We now have to look at the prefecture name.

example: Niigata prefecture

The colloquial term used in Japan for prefectures is todofuken. It is derived from the 4 different types of prefectures that exist. Most prefectures have a name that is written in three kanji characters. In most of the cases the last character is "ken" (= prefecture).
"to" "dō" "fu" "ken"

However, they are not all called ken (prefecture). Of the 47, 43 are called "ken" -- (prefecture). Osaka and Kyoto are called 'fu' (there is no real English word for it, but it means something like urban prefecture). one is called "dō" (the old name for region, of which now only Hokkai DO still exists) and one is called 'to' (Tokyo to = Tokyo metropolis)

Now it is time to go find the prefecture name on your stamps and check them with the list of prefectures in Kanji. From there you can go to a list of stamps for each prefecture.


After I had the idea for this, it turned out to be quite a project and something that will need some time to get finished.
So here is the rough idea:
  • introduction (finished)
  • list of all prefectures (finished)
  • kanji for all prefectures (finished)
  • creation of database with all details for the stamps (right now the part 1998-2005 is done, hope to finish it soon)
  • add Scott catalogue numbers (currently only Sakura as my Scott is from before the introduction of the Z-numbers)
  • make search pages so that you can search for colour, denomination, theme.
  • add pictures for each stamp (not for the near future)


Omniglot, a guide to written language
Wikipedia online encyclopaedia
Sakura 2003 catalogue