What's in the card?
July 19, 2010 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Can you translate this Japanese (Chinese? Korean?) postcard?

Just curious here... recently purchased this postcard at an antique shop. I think it's in Japanese (the "NIPPON" stamp), though I could not differentiate written Chinese or Japanese.


I believe it's old ("3 1/2 cent"), though the postmark has a 12.2.05 on it. Which is confusing. Is that a date?

The postmark is Balikpapan - which is in Indonesia, so I'm thinking sent from there to Japan.
posted by ecorrocio to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It appears to be in Japanese. Sadly, I cannot read Japanese.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:07 PM on July 19, 2010

Was going to say that the kana that I can read in the upper left for address says Borneo, Balikpapan... but you've already got that from the postmark.
posted by reptile at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2010

It is Japanese. Mailed to Japan. Translating is beyond my Japanese reading skills.

Dates in Japan are written YY-MM-DD. I don't know about Indonesia and couldn't find a conclusive answer quickly. But perhaps the post date is Feb. 5, 1912?
posted by Babblesort at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: On the postmark date: Yes, that occurred to me - maybe Feb, 5, 1912. The paper feels quite old, and the printing is not modern. I thought the writing was in pencil, but on closer examination, it is ink done with a very fine pointed pen.
posted by ecorrocio at 2:26 PM on July 19, 2010

it's beyond me too, but you're right, it was sent from 'South Borneo, Barikkupapan City' which would be the phonetic spelling for Balikpapan. The rest of it is scribbly enough I can only pick out a few random characters.

posted by Caravantea at 2:43 PM on July 19, 2010

A lot of this looks like it's verging on cursive script, so it's going to be hard for anyone who hasn't learned how to read it to decipher.

The middle part may say "....flying, I see the ?? of the sky, and remember you."

The writer appears to refer to the person he is addressing as 貴名, which is a very respectful (possibly archaic?) way of referring to someone.
posted by Charmian at 3:17 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: Some progress... thank you!
posted by ecorrocio at 3:57 PM on July 19, 2010

Some particular evidence on the card leads me to say that the postcard was printed and sent during the Japanese occupation of Borneo, which was from 1942 to 1945 - Balikpapan was liberated by the Australians just a few weeks before the end of the war in the Pacific.

1. Why would there be a bilingual Japanese-Indonesian pre-printed template? If anything, a postcard from pre-war Balikpapan would have had Indonesian and Dutch, or at a stretch, Indonesian, Dutch, and Chinese, given Borneo's historically relatively high Chinese population in its coastal towns and cities.

2. The currency of the stamp or the price of the card would have been impossible under the pre-war Netherlands Indies guilder or the post-war Netherlands Indies roepiah. The Japanese-occupation era currency had 1/2, 1, and 2 cent ("sen") denominations.

3. The fourth photograph in this eBay auction features what looks almost exactly like your card.

4. The fifth photograph in the auction above features a postmark which matches yours, in that it doesn't seem to match the calendar format we use today - there is no number in the 40s, for example. But this site says that Japanese postmarks in the past used the year of the emperor's ascension to the throne as year zero.

So if Hirohito ascended in 1926, your postcard (year "12") would be from 1938, which is weird given that the Japanese didn't control Balikpapan until early 1942. But Hirohito was not enthroned, per se, until November 1928, so 12 years later would be late 1940. Closer, but not close enough...perhaps someone with a better knowledge of Japanese imperial/postal history can advise!

5. The amount of the postage is something strange as well - the 3½-cent denomination seems to be used in the postcards in that auction for "domestic" Indonesia-to-Indonesia cards. After all, we don't know where the card was going - maybe Japan, maybe somewhere else in Japanese-occupied Asia.

6. A few of the writers in the auctioned postcards seem to use dates in the 2600s, which would put year zero around 660 BC, the mythical date of the founding of the Japanese royal family; February 11, 660 BC is the mythical date of the founding of Japan by Emperor Jimmu, and the holiday was used for propaganda purposes during the war.

So that's a bit of sleuthing done. But this card isn't, probably, from very long before the Second World War, and almost certainly was sent during that time.
posted by mdonley at 4:28 PM on July 19, 2010

Okay, here's what I can make out.

Address side:

松浦 ?廣


Back side:

御精?の由 在郷よりの便りで知った
に馳せたものだよ そして

(The following is a loose translation of the letter, not word for word. Someone else might come along and do a better job based on the above:)

I learned from a letter from home that the desperate battle in the Philippines is becoming increasingly worse and that you are busy performing your military duties
Every time I saw one of our elite airmen fly overhead just barely above the coconut leaves during our construction work, my thoughts were with you more than once
I look at that photo we took together and think back about how valiant you looked back then
And in the end I always pray that you put up a brave fight

貴君 was used to refer to another person of equal rank, so my guess is this is a letter sent from Mr. Matsuura stationed in Balikpapan to his friend Mr. Eiji or Hideji Kato in the Philippines.
posted by misozaki at 5:45 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh! Figured out something else! The post office it was sent c/o (気付)is 佐世保 (Sasebo, in Kyushu Prefecture). So the card passed censorship in the Balikpapan post office, and was sent c/o the Sasebo office.

バリックパパン局 (the stamp)


But I'm curious about the date, too. It's Showa 12, which is 1937 (or '38, if the system was as mdonley pointed out). I'm no WWII expert, but this does seem sort of off. But again, I'm no expert, so maybe someone else can shed light on this.
posted by misozaki at 6:08 PM on July 19, 2010

The reference to the "desperate battle" in the Philippines would probably date the letter to 1944 or 1945. Maybe the year in the postmark is Kōki 2605, with the year at right - that would be 1945. (kōki being the imperial year system that starts at 660 BCE)
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:42 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: Astounding! Misozaki, mdonley, and strangely stunted trees and everyone responding ... you are amazing. Thanks so much! Here I was thinking this probably said something like "weather's nice, wish you were here"... and it goes far beyond. A mention of a battle in the Phillippines, and elite airmen overhead. Remarkable. Makes my head spin a bit to look at this flimsy card and think of the Japanese man writing it back then. I'm sure he could never imagine it would end up on my desk.

Thank you.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:59 PM on July 19, 2010

Found another example of the ボルネオ民政部発行 postcards. This photo can't be enlarged, but according to the (unknown) author of this blog, the postmark reads "Samarinda" Those numbers make no sense to me at all... but it might indicate that the 12.2.05 on your postcard aren't necessarily YYMMDD in that order. Are there any other numbers on the postmark on your postcard?
posted by misozaki at 9:35 PM on July 19, 2010

Pointless addition: the Malay on the left means "name and address of sender".
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:08 AM on July 20, 2010

I was fascinated by the date thing and did a bit more searching.

Here is another example of Japanese postmarks from Borneo apparently using the Kōki dating system that mdonley and strangely stunted trees suggested - these ones are stamped 2 10 2604.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:27 AM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I'm thrilled at the history of this card, and truly surprised to see all the similar ones you found online.
posted by ecorrocio at 7:59 AM on July 20, 2010

After asking for some input from my husband, who is much better read than I am, a few more blanks filled in:

時 貴君益々軍務に
御精励の由 在郷よりの便りで知った

And the last line:


is probably correct. My translation still stands overall.

I'm patting myself on the back for being able to decipher all that. It always amazes me how the way Japanese people write has changed over the approx. 65 years since WWII. This has been fascinating. I wonder if this postcard ever reached Mr. Kato...?
posted by misozaki at 8:01 AM on July 20, 2010

I promise I'll shut up after this. My husband thinks the sender's name is 松浦末廣. Suehiro Matsuura.
posted by misozaki at 8:05 AM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Misozaki - thanks for all your efforts! As to whether the card ever reached Mr. Kato.... who knows, but I bought it in Lyons, Colorado, up against the Rocky Mountains. Probably about as far away from Borneo as you can get on this planet. Wonder how it came to be here?

I use a variety of ephemera - old papers and things - in collage paintings I make. Had I not known what this postcard held, I might have used it in a piece. Now, I'll keep it somewhere safe to look at and wonder.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:44 PM on July 21, 2010

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