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Postcards from early 20th century offer wonderful insight into Japan and UK friendship

Stephen Drake, an auctioneer at Bateman’s said: “’t’s an absolutely incredible collection’

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An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo to his friend “on the other side of the world” in Brighton has been uncovered – giving a fascinating insight into life in Japan at the turn of the 20th Century. Takeshi Serikawa sent a postcard to Mr T.S. Smith once a month for around three years from 1906 to 1909 during the time of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance – signing each one, “your Japanese friend” and “ally.”

Mr Smith, who lived at Bonchurch Road in Brighton kept the treasured cards, which feature photos of Japanese customs, military, scenes – and even a picture of the sender himself on a beach – and the album was put up for auction at Batemans Auctioneers of Stamford in Lincolnshire last weekend (June 1). It failed to reach its reserve.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

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Nothing is known of the two men’s backgrounds or how they met, but they appear to have become friends shortly after the two countries became Allies in 1902.

Mr Takeshi asks Mr Smith if they can exchange postcards as he collects stamps and in doing so teaches him about Japanese customs and traditions in the incredible series of cards.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

He writes in July 1906: “I am going to ask a little favour from you – you have been so kind and friendly that I do not feel strange in asking.

“I have been collecting various types of postage and stamps over the years and will not you please give me some of your country. If you would agree it would be a great pleasure to me.”

“I shall continue to send you one postcard once a month if you wish to exchange with me,” Mr Takeshi later writes on a card showing patriotic Brits waving Union Jacks with military ships in the background.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

He adds on October 1906 “I have just received from you six postcards, all of which pleased me very much. These cards have been recently invented in Japan. But you already have some kind in your country.”

One postcard sent in 1907 shows women partaking in the “old style of drinking tea in Japan,” with the message, “I thought you might like this.”

Another shows a lady dressed in a kimono making a bonsai tree, with the message “Bonsai – constructing miniature landscapes in a tray … quite an art in itself and difficult to learn.”

A lady takes part in an incense party in another picture, which has the message “rare incenses are burnt and by their subtle fragrance must be guessed by the guest.”

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

Three beautiful Japanese women are in another picture, with the greeting: “This is for you, do you like the colours?”

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One postcard features a stunning Japanese building with the message, “Japanese covering is beautiful is it not?” Whilst another features Japanese blossom and the message “all Japan pays homage to these blossoms.”

Japanese wrestlers are shown in another postcard with the handwritten message – “the wrestler standing weighs more than 400 pounds.”

Mr Takeshi teaches Mr Smith about Japanese coins on another postcard, whilst other pictures show military images of soldiers and war boats, including several commemorating the visit of the British China Squadron.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

One postcard even shows Mr Takeshi on a beach in Oiso and he has put a pencil cross by his picture and the words: “On the 15th of this month I went here with some of my friends, and accidentally got into this picture. I am marked x. A few days ago, I found this card in a post card.”

The pair seemed to get a lot of pleasure from their correspondence with Mr Takeshi writing: “I have just received a letter from you and six cards. I am very much pleased to learn that what I have sent you, have pleased you.”

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

On another postcard he writes: “I assure you that I am very envied by all my friends to have such a kind friend on the other side of the world.”

In one postcard showing the sun rising over a river, Mr Takeshi writes: “What a delightful sunrise in the beautiful photo. Truly yours is also a wondrously beautiful country and I feel nearer to you than ever.”

Whilst in another postcard of a Japanese lady with a bunch of flowers he writes: “I waft their fragrance to you” and adds: “is this correct English?”

Mr Takeshei admits he is worried the quality of his postcards are not as good as his English friend’s and writes on the front of one: “I have just received seven postcards you sent to me from Arundel.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

An album of more than 230 postcards sent from a stamp collector in Tokyo. BATEMANS AUCTIONEERS, Stamford Picture by Terry Harris / Bav Media.

“Not only those cards but all of those you have sent to me are very fine and I might say that in respect of printing and quality of paper of these cards there is no equal in Japan.”

Stephen Drake, an auctioneer at Bateman’s said: “It’s an absolutely incredible collection and I’ve never seen anything like it before. It shows how two people corresponded from across the world more than 100 years ago when there were no mobile phones or telegrams. It’s a wonderful piece of history.”

 

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