For the longest time, I just called it “that stamp store I like.” I am a fan of, and even a sucker for, unique and cute stationery, so when a friend showed me this shop, I fell in love. Now, every time I visit the Teramachi and Shinkogyoku shopping areas in Kyoto, I stop to at least look at the colorful postcards showing off the shop’s designs and perhaps add to my ever-growing Japanese rubber stamp collection. As it turns out, “that stamp store” has a name. And a neat history. If you’re looking for cute Japanese stamps with a story, “that stamp store” is the spot.
Tamaru Inobou and Its Starry History
Tamaru Inbou is the official name of “that stamp store.” Tamaru is the family name of the family that has been in business for over 100 years, and Inbou means store that sells personal seals(hanko 判子) and rubber stamps. When the Tamaru family first went into business, they operated a general store.
From the second generation, the family also supplied frames for the seals used at Yasaka Shrine and for the Chrysanthemum floats for Kyoto’s famous Gion Matsuri.
Chrysanthemum floats using Tamaru Inbou’s frames in Kyoto’s famous Gion Matsuri
Tamaru Isamu, son of the founder, also carved portraits into rubber for the local children. One such rubber portrait was of Japan’s first movie star, who went by the name Matsunosuke Onoe. These rubber portraits became so popular that people would line up before the shop had even opened in hopes of getting their hands on one.
Cute Japanese Stamps, Helping Us Understand the Evils of Uniformity
From that point, the Tamaru family shifted their focus to providing quality hanko and rubber stamps. Of course, technology has advanced quite a bit from the Taisho era (1912-1926), when Tamaru Inbou began, but even today much of the process of creating the stamps is done by hand. The stamps are designed not just with the finished image in mind, but with how the lines flow together, like the strokes of kanji. They could automate much more of the process, but as they say on the English version of their website, “If you are involved in traditional crafts, art and art [sic], and even education, you will understand the evils of this efficiency and uniformity.” This really resonates with me, both as an assistant English teacher and knitter.
In general, the Japanese education system values uniformity. This can manifest as forcing students with naturally lighter hair (and by that, I mean brown) to dye it black so as to not stand out among their peers. Or, it can manifest as school uniform rules so strict that they dictate the color of underwear that students must wear. Luckily, the schools where I work aren’t so strict, and students are free to express themselves through their hair accessories or socks.
Fostering Education With My Cute Stamps
This postcard is wishing you a happy new year!
Perhaps it is extra fitting that I like to stamp my students’ work with encouraging messages or cute designs from Tamaru Inbou. It can also manifest as pushing students ahead to the next grade even if they have not yet passed, let alone mastered, the material for their current year. Even though Japanese classes are large compared to the ones I grew up with, and there isn’t a lot of time to make sure students get the help they need in class, nearly every day I see teachers working with students after school to make sure they understand the material. This personalized approach takes a lot of work, and time, but can make all the difference for the students.
What You Can Find: Yarn, Stamps & Cartoony Butts!
I’m no artisan, but I like to keep my hands busy with yarn while I watch TV, and I usually end up with something cozy when I am done. My favorite yarns are handspun and hand-dyed by my mother-in-law. My next favorites are commercial yarns like Noro, another Japanese brand, with the philosophy of “Only what can’t be done by hand can be done by machine.” The yarns are a little uneven, a little different from skein to skein, so each project made with Noro is one of a kind. After those yarns come machine-spun but hand-dyed beauties, like Malabrigo or sweetgeorgia, that lend themselves to nice uniform stitches but unique color patterns.
I’ve used my stamps to customize my masks!
Luckily for me, Tamaru Inbou even has a few sheep and knitting-related stamps that make me so happy.
They carry tons of seasonal stamps, which is to say, stamps relating to the seasons, which Japan takes very, very seriously. Less serious is a collection of historical Japanese figures saying casual or silly things.
If you are into bullet journaling or just sprucing up your regular organizer, they have plenty of stamps for that, too. Feel like getting your haiku on? Yup. They’ve got those too. Though the shop is quite small, I could spend ages looking at these stamps, even if I have no idea what I would do with a stamp of a man shooting confetti out of his little cartoony butt.
How to Get Your Stamps Even When You’re Outside Japan
If you can’t pop by either their Teramachi or Shinkyogyoku locations, both in downtown Kyoto and a short walk away from each other, you can order from their website. It is available in possibly-machine-translated English and Japanese, so cute Japanese stamps are a few easy clicks away. There is a collection of adorable hanko designs that are only available online too, which can be used for official business here in Japan or just as a cute gift or souvenir. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, overseas shipping is currently limited, but your country may be on the list!
Armed with your new stamps but have no idea what to do with them? Check out their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages for tips and inspiration. Don’t forget to tag TheBestJapan so we can see what you decorated with your cute Japanese stamps!