Monday, May 9, 2016

Finding and collecting Japanese Railway station stamps

From Pokemon to Neko Atsume to shuinchou temple books, Japanese people love obsessively collecting things. They also love trains. The Eki stamp ("station stamp") is where those two things meetMost Japan Railways stations (including urban metro ones like the Yamanote line) have a unique stamp reflecting that station's history. Kids and train nerds (a.k.a. "Tecchan") buy cute little books to collect the stamps of all the stations they've been to. The USA has a similar program with the national parks

(UPDATE: on a recent visit to Taipei, I found out that the Taiwanese do this too!)
One of my favorite stamps…

Nerdiness aside, an Eki stamp book makes a great souvenir: it's flat, small, cheap, and light... and shouldn't take but a few moments to do when you're out and about. Special Eki stamp books are usually available at bookstores and stationery stores. Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, for example, has them in their travel section on the basement floor. Because not everyone knows what an Eki stamp is, I found that having a photo of one on your screen when asking bookstore staff helps a lot. 

Eki stamp book
Eki-stamp.com is an incredibly detailed resource for all of the various stamps out there, but it's somewhat difficult to navigate if you don't speak Japanese. Their gallery of stamps is here.

Once you have your book, start stamping! Most smaller stations have a little kiosk sitting outside the fare gates with the stamp and an ink pad. If you don't see one, it may be at the staffed fare gate (kaisatsu 改札) window. I usually wait until they aren't super busy, then pop in with my stamp book in hand and ask where the Eki stamp is. They'll either point you in the direction of it, or hand it to you from behind the desk.

(If you want a glimpse into the OCD levels this hobby can reach, click through the 6 links in this "Tips for stamping" guide)

there's usually a dot or the 上 symbol to indicate the top

For the bigger stations, finding them is a challenge. But wandering around train stations is probably not going to bother you that much if collecting these seems like fun. The eki-stamp.com descriptions are a bit cryptic, so here's a couple "cheat codes" for finding a few of the more challenging ones :) 

Location of Shinjuku's Eki Stamp. (新宿駅スタンプの場所)

The stamp is inside a JR ticket office, near the Central East Exit. The "you are here" in this map shows where the office is. Enter the office and go all the way to the right to find it. 

Shinjuku's Eki Stamp is near the You Are Here in this map (click to enlarge)
Go inside this office and turn right

Location of Tokyo Station's Eki stamp (新宿駅スタンプの場所)

Tokyo Station's stamp is at the Marunouchi South Exit, inside the rotunda. When I visited, it was next to a red post box. 

Tokyo Station's Eki Stamp

Marunouchi South Gate

Tokyo Station's is inside the rotunda

Location of Ikebukuro station's Eki stamp (池袋駅スタンプの場所)

Ikebukuro is another large station with a hard-to-find stamp. It's near the South Gate, conveniently next to a big station map. 

Look at the red "you are here" dot on the map next to the stamp

Location of Kyoto Station's Eki stamp (京都駅スタンプの場所)

Kyoto's was the first Eki stamp I saw inside the fare gates. It's just inside the East Underground Gate. They have a cool stamping machine that made a clear, perfectly-inked stamps. 

Stamping machine 
Just beyond these gates... you can see the kiosk to the right of the ticket machines

Location of Taipei 101 MRT station's Eki Stamp (台北101駅スタンプの場所)

Follow the signs from the platform toward Taipei 101. The staffed booth has a stamp just outside the faregates. The Taiwan Railway shop inside Taipei's main station sells stamp books. 
On the left side of this photo

Right in front of the staffed window

Stamp books from the railway shop

Other links


Thursday, May 5, 2016

JetBlue will match your Elite status from another airline

Got an email today from JetBlue announcing that they'll grant you Mosaic status if you're an elite on another airline.

To qualify you need to be:
  • Virgin America®: Elevate® Silver, Elevate® Gold
  • Alaska Airlines®: Mileage Plan™; MVP® Gold or MVP® Gold 75k
  • American Airlines®: AAdvantage Platinum® or Executive Platinum®
  • Delta®: SkyMiles Medallion® Gold, Platinum or Diamond
  • Southwest Airlines®: Rapid Rewards® A-List Preferred or Companion Pass
  • United®: MileagePlus® Premier® Gold, Platinum or Premier1K®
  • Emirates: Emirates™; Skywards‎ Silver, Gold or Platinum
Looks like the only Silvers welcome at this party are Virgin and Emirates... But the news for the silvers and those with no status is that they're also offering a status challenge to anyone: earn 3750 base points in 90 days and you qualify for Mosaic through 2017. 

The Facebook reaction has been mixed. While some people are mad that, say, a United 1k can now have Mosaic status when a "loyal" JetBlue flier who only flies 3 times a year can't, I don't think the grumpiness is really warranted. With Alaska acquiring Virgin, this is a make-or-break time for JetBlue. They have hands-down the best domestic First Class (a.k.a. Mint) and dissatisfaction with the big three carriers is running high given how they keep gutting gutting their loyalty programs. Now is the time for a bold move. A status match gets frequent fliers to come try their product and hopefully get them to stay without having that feeling of losing their current status. In addition to this, JetBlue is also expanding the Mint product to a bunch of new markets and pricing it aggressively. 

I should also point out that Mosaic is quite a bit different from other Elite programs; the biggest difference being that Mosaic members don't get complimentary upgrades. I'm honestly happy about this. So much of what's made domestic air travel crappy is how elites treat First Class as "upgrade class", and because no one pays for it so there's no incentive to make it an attractive product to everyone. That's the secret to JetBlue Mint's awesomeness - you have the incentives in place to always make it worth paying for.

I think the next big move they need to make is to have more earning and redeeming partners. So much of what drives loyalty to the big 3 is the idea that their miles (often earned from flying on someone else's dime for work) give them access to a huge range of international destinations. Right now the only other airline you can redeem TrueBlue points with is Hawaiian... Let's see what happens.