スタンプラリー Stamp rally. This is probably what it sounds like…
As a visitor, you may notice in some places (especially tourist sites) there are large stamps and ink pads. They sometimes have intricate designs, representative of the town or historic site. Sometimes they are just cartoon characters. But whichever they are, they usually serve a purpose: as a step in a “stamp rally.”
What does a stamp rally mean exactly? Well, typically this is geared towards children. You pick up an official paper grid with blank spaces at a central location, such as the information desk or a ticket office. Then you go around the site and look for the stamp stations, each with different designs. The goal is to find all of them and stamp each piece of your grid with every design. Once you finish, there is sometimes a small “prize.” It is basically a game to keep children entertained while touring places.
These are some examples (I will upload more later):
While I do not normally participate in these, sometimes I still enjoy adding a stamp to one of my travel books as a reminder of my visit. It’s kinda cute. It has even started to get high-tech as some big tourist sites will have an app and you scan QR codes at various locations to “collect stamps.”
All this aside, I have another theory as to why stamp rallies exist, but first some background. Personal stamps/seals, called “hanko” 判子 or “inkan” 印鑑, are important in daily life as an adult… it is necessary for bank accounts, receiving packages, school registration, legal transactions… etc! Even as a foreigner, I have a small hanko that I use for just these purposes. Honestly, these seals really are surprisingly used every day; my graduation certificate and school ID have imprints of the university and president’s seal, many documents need to have my advisor’s or sensei’s seal on them, during the university physical exam I need to “pass” each section to get each individual doctor or nurse’s seals, I even personally have to use my seal to log in my research assistance hours. I have taken to using my seal instead of my signature for whenever the delivery driver drops off packages ordered from the internet. Basically, it is like a personal signature. So… my point is, I believe that stamp rallies are just practice for small children to gather or collect stamps as they will need to in adulthood! Seriously, it is like preparation for life. Get your papers stamped because in order to get through life in Japan, you need people to stamp your papers so you can move forward or gain accomplishments (as an adult, these are our “prizes”).
Next time I get my university physical exam, I will take a photo of my own personal stamp rally I must complete in order to prove my health. It is literally a stamp card that I take to various stations where certain aspects of my health are evaluated. Each section of the card gets filled out with details and each doctor/nurse stamps the section to prove that I “passed.” The first time I had to do this, all I could think about were the children I saw at Shuri-jo racing around and filling out their stamp rally so they could get their sticker prize at the end.