Remember when I said that Japan loves stamps? No?
Well, Japan also loves stamp rallies!
A stamp rally is an event where you have to go around collecting as many stamps as possible. Recently, stamp rallies have been used as a promotional tool to introduce something to others, such as tourist destination campaigns or seasonal events.
For example, in 2009, JR East had a Shinkansen Stamp Rally to promote its 20th anniversary. All together, there were 6 different stamps to gather, and they could only be gotten at certain stations throughout Eastern Japan. The more you stamps you collected, the better the prize you could collect! If you collected all six, you could receive a replica of a train conductors watch.
The Shinkansen stamp rally gave people motivation to collect as many stamps as they could, while visiting new places at the same time. A win-win for all.
A few months ago, I was out on a drive to the sea when I stopped at a roadside rest area. There, they were promoting an event called The Niigata Umasagasshiri Stamp Rally (新潟うまさがっしりスタンプラリー).
In 2009, the Niigata Tourism Association, in cooperation with the Prefectural government, started a destination campaign called Umagasshiri Niigata, literally meaning Full of Deliciousness, Niigata (that’s the closest translation I could think of). The goal is to encourage tourism to Niigata by highlighting the food that the Prefecture is famous for. This is the official logo for the campaign:
For Spring 2011, the Stamp Rally breaks Niigata Prefecture into 7 different areas. Each area is assigned 2 or 3 different stamp designs, all originating from the original design above. Because there are 10 foods, there are a total of 10 different stamps to collect.
These stamps can be collected at various places, or checkpoints, throughout each area, which range from hot springs resorts, to restaurants, highway rest stops, museums, gift shops, and so on. The stamp pad is usually predominately displayed in an easy-to-find area.
Depending on how many stamps you collect, you are eligible to receive a prize. The more stamps you get, the better the prize. On your stamp card, there are 3 different courses you could choose from:
- 3-Stamp Course
- In total, there are 326 winners. The prizes are small in size and in value, like bottles of soy sauce, or boxed desserts from local bakeries. Bottles of sake seem to be a big giveaway too.
- 5-Stamp Course
- There are 110 winners chosen. Prizes increase in value and include such items as fruit. Hey, fruit is expensive here!
- 10-Stamp Course
- Only 14 winners are chosen. A tough route to take, but the payoff can be big. Most prizes include a free night’s stay at a hot springs resort for two. Or 60 kilos of rice. I’m hoping for the latter.
After you select your course, and collect the number of stamps required for that course, you mail in your stamp card and wait for the results. Keeping in mind that it’s a contest, it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to receive something. But to be honest, I don’t think a whole lot of people are getting all ten. Odds are pretty good of getting something. Maybe. Full list of prizes can be seen here.
Naturally, I’m gonna shoot for the 10-Stamp Course.
“But why?” you may ask.
I’ve been living in Niigata Prefecture for nearly 5 years now (minus 6 months for a short stint in Hiroshima), and it’s gotten to a point where I’m starting to do the same things every year.
In February, I participate in the Koide International Snowball Fight Competition (one year, we won towels!). In April, we have cherry blossom viewing parties at Takada Park. In August, we have the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival. If we want to head to a hot springs, we usually go to the local one on the other side of town. If we want to go shopping, we go to Niigata City…or Tokyo.
…and so on.
Now, it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy these things. In fact, some of the best memories I have in Japan have resulted from the activities listed above. It’s just that it’s starting to get to a point where I’m worried if I’ve already done everything there is to do in Niigata.
Hence, the Stamp Rally. My motivation to collect stamps is not only to ride trains throughout the Prefecture (although, that’s all the motivation I need, really), but also to prove to myself that there are still TONS of places to discover in my own backyard. If I happen to win something, its just the cherry (or in this case, squid) on top.
And so the Niigata Stamp Rally begins. I’ll be using the Echigo Two-Day Pass to get around the Prefecture. Some of the places are close to the station, some are not. Better to bring good walking shoes just in case.
I’ll be posting updates throughout the week as I track my progress. Will I be able to get all 10?! Will I be convinced I’ve done all there is to do here?! Will I get lost?!
We’ll find out soon enough!!
The Niigata Umasagasshiri Stamp Rally goes from now until June 19th. The week after next. But not to fret as this seems to be a bi-annual event. Lucky you.