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Postcards from Japan: Crossing prefectures, one Gotochi at a time

Postcards from Japan: Crossing prefectures, one Gotochi at a time

When I first learnt about the existence of gotochi form cards (ご当地フォルムカー gotouchi forumu kaado), I sprinted to the nearest post office to get a closer look at the series from Hyogo Prefecture, where I resided. 

 

After some searching and inquiring at the counter, I found them lying at an inconspicuous corner together with a stack of greeting cards and posters of upcoming stamp collections.

 

I knew about stamp collectors who would eagerly wait for new stamp collections to be released, but I didn’t know at that time that I would soon jump onto the bandwagon of collecting gotochi form cards and treating them like postcards!

 

What are gotochi form cards?

Gotochi form cards, or gotochi for short, are special die-cut regional cards that are designed and released by the Japanese Postal System. Each card represents a specific place in Japan, showcasing local landmarks or specialty available in a few designs. What makes them interesting and limited collectibles are that they can only be purchased in their specific prefectures only.

 

Gotta collect ‘em all! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

What does that mean? I had more reasons to hop to all 47 prefectures—collecting gotochis, one prefecture at a time!

 

These form cards come in various forms. There are the standard cards (170mm x 130mm), mini cards, and stickers.

 

Each card costs ¥185 (as of 2014) when purchased from the post office. Mailing them out as postcards would require an additional ¥120 stamp (a nice purple stamp with wisteria!)

 

Gotochi travels

Whenever I travel, I have the habit of writing a postcard to my address in Japan or to my family in Singapore. Like travelling diary entries, it’s one of those things I do to document my own travel stories while collecting postcards at the same time. 

 

Here are some of my favourite recollections through my gotochi collection:

 

Stop 1: Wakayama

A gotochi from Wakayama. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

I stumbled upon this gotochi at a small post office in Nachi-Katsuura, Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県) during Spring vacation—and nabbed it instantly! 

 

31 March 2019 — I found this really adorable postcard of Wakayama, in particular the hiking route of the renowned Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) ancient pilgrimage trail. I was inspired to embark on this trek because I wanted to experience the pilgrimage route that people went on in the past. 

Walking beneath giant trees and cobblestone paths made me feel like I have stepped back in time into the Heian area. This whole trip… I was in touch with the beauty of Nature—mountains, waterfalls and beaches—no shopping or city life since we mostly stayed in the seaside and countryside (port towns). 

I am glad to have explored this rustic part of Japan, away from the bustling cities and human traffic. Life’s slower and more relaxed here. The sound of waves, wind blowing against my face, the chirping of birds in the woods near the apartment where we stayed 3 nights in Kii-Katsuura (紀伊勝浦). That place felt so much like home!

Love, QT

 

Stop 2: Hiroshima

The inspiration behind Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo! (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

When I travelled to Hiroshima (広島) during Golden Week, I made it a point to stop by Tomonoura, a port town that inspired the landscapes in Hayao Miyazaki’s pieces of art and animation.

 

5 May 2019 — I’m seated on the denim-lined couch of the shared space area in Setouchi Knot in Fukuyama after spending a night (my last for this trip during Golden Week!) with my sandwich from 7-11. 

 

Hayashi rice: a popular Western-style stew with tender beef, onions, and mushrooms in a demi-glace sauce served with steamed rice. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

I finally visited Tomonoura after watching Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo. I had hayashi rice (ハヤシライス) at Tabuchiya (たぶちや), a really lovely house and restaurant managed single handedly by an old lady with beautifully plait white hair. I’m not even kidding!

I am thankful for doing the Shimanami-Kaido cycling route (しまなみ海道サイクリング) with JY (my friend) from Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture) to Imabari (Ehime Prefecture). It felt like we were cross-hopping to islands on our bikes. These islands are bordered by the Seto Inland Sea. I didn’t know there were so many islands in Japan! We ended the trip with our butts sore and my fingers scraped from falling down.

There’s the Setouchi Art Triennale taking place this year and so, I hope to plan a trip to Shodoshima, Naoshima and Teshima—the art islands! Just extremely blessed to have the time and energy to do this backpacking-hostel hopping lifestyle while in Japan while keeping up with finances.

Love, QT

 

Stop 3: Tokushima

A gotochi from Tokushima. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

In August, summer festivals abound across Japan. Crowds gather near festival sites, and locals travel all over the country to soak in the festivities and admire the fireworks that light up the summer night sky. I visited Tokushima (徳島) specially for the Awa Odori Festival (阿波踊り).

 

At that time, I was unable to find a decently priced accommodation in the city as the hostels and guesthouses have all been booked. So I turned to couchsurfing for the first time ever, and a real blessing it was!

 

13 August 2019 — I’m finally here in Tokushima for the Awa Odori Festival, a summer dance festival from 12-15 August (usually held 4 days a year). I arrived last evening after a minor mishap—I overslept and missed my bus in the morning, so I had to buy a new ticket at the station! 

Despite reaching late, I am thankful to be able to catch the dances with Nami-san and her family. Did I mention that this is my first ever couchsurfing experience? I’m not certain if I will ever do it again, considering how awkward I can be with new faces, coupled with a severe language barrier that I’m still struggling to surmount. 

But I’m still thankful for this opportunity—for having shared meals with my host family, for the delicious home-cooked okonomiyaki (お好み焼き Japanese savoury pancake), yakisoba (焼きそば Japanese stir-fried noodles) on the teppanyaki (鉄板焼き hot metal plate) grill tonight! 

I visited the Awa Odori museum, hiked down Bizan (眉山) after taking the ropeway up and caught dance practices in Shinmachi shopping promenade today. 

Blessed with fine weather albeit the sweltering heat and humidity! The weather is forecasted to turn awry with typhoon warnings later in the day, so I am scheduled to take the express bus back to Kobe tomorrow. 

お世話になりました。本当にありがたいです。Extremely grateful to be in good hands!

Love, QT

 

Stop 4: Hyogo

Toyooka, a known nesting ground for the storks. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

How can I not give my home prefecture some love? Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県) is right smack in the middle of Kansai, facilitating easy train travels across prefectureswhether one’s heading to Kanto or Chugoku region. 

 

27 August 2019 — Spent the last weekend of my summer vacation at Kinosaki Onsen and Toyooka using the Seishun-18 kippu. It feels like I am constantly finding ways to maximise my train travels while still squeezing in some time for activities. It’s crazy and exhausting to be honest, but that’s the thrill and joy of planning such train travels!

 

Plates of delicious soba at Yamashita. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

It was an experience catching the fireworks and lantern festival in Kinosaki at night after a day of onsen-hopping and walking around with a yukata (浴衣). I also made a trip to Izushi (出石市) to try sara soba (皿そば), served on 5 small ceramic plates. The cold soba noodles were dipped in dashi stock, mixed with raw egg, grated yam and spring onion. The foodie in me is happy with the gastronomic delights and aesthetic appeal of the tableware!

I love how the Japanese pay attention to the fine details that usually go unnoticed by most people. One of the things that I have started appreciating a lot more now is how food is being plated and served, as well as the quality of ingredients used in the dishes.

I also went bird-watching in Toyooka, knowing that the city is dedicated to the conservation and reintroduction of the Oriental White Storks (kounotori コウノトリ) when they were on the brink of extinction! 

Love, QT

 

Stop 5: Nagano 

A gotochi collector’s dream. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

If I have to choose my #1 prefecture in Japan out of the 47, it would definitely be Nagano (長野) because of the mountain ranges, valleys, and the numerous hiking trips I could go on! 

 

23 October 2019 — Do you know how long I have waited to get my hands on this card?!?!

I am surrounded by the Hotaka mountain ranges. Listening to the steady stream of the water flowing down Azusa-gawa and seeing all the hikers sharing the same journey with me in Kamikochi, I have fallen deeply in love again. The sound of Nature, the fresh air, the spaciousness, the blues and greens… that I will never get enough of.

Next summer, I’d love to try stargazing in a mountain lodge after a day of hiking. Norikuradake (Mount Norikura 乗鞍岳)? Here’s a reminder to do it before returning to Singapore!

Love, QT

 

Finding community by postcrossing

Apart from collecting gotochi while travelling, I joined a Facebook group as a member (I still am, but no longer active!) knowing that it would be fun to connect with like-minded individuals who were looking for specific form cards that I might have on hand. 

But there are also individuals who have exchange requests. Most gotochi collectors would normally exchange clean, blank cards without anything written on it, but I personally felt that they lacked character.

 

Hirosaki Castle gotochi. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

So it was by pure coincidence that I was able to find C who lived in Aomori, and shared the same sentiments! We then mutually agreed to write messages for each other. I wrote something about Hyogo Prefecture on the form card I sent her, and in exchange, she recommended places I could visit in Aomori one day.

 

When I visited Aomori in the summer of 2020, Hirosaki Castle was in the midst of reconstruction works so I didn’t get to see it in its full glory. But this form card fondly reminded me of the chats I had with C on Facebook!

 

A walk down memory lane

Looking at these gotochi cards again and reading the messages I have written to myself years ago really brings me down memory lane. How I left bits of my heart and soul in Japan, how I still miss the times spent there with the people who have warmly welcomed me into their homes and treated me like family. 

 

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

 

Header image credit: Qiu Ting

 

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