Forgeries of the classic Japanese stamps are so common that the problem can seem unmanageable. Expertizing all these early stamps may not be a good option because close to 80% of the classic Japanese stamps found in general collections will be forgeries. With so few genuine stamps, the expertizing fees could well exceed the value of the few genuine stamps found in an unsorted group. However many Japanese forgeries are not difficult to determine and do not need an expert opinion.
When these "easy to recognize" forgeries have been weeded out, an expert opinion can be obtained on the remaining stamps from the International Society for Japanese Philately for as little as $1.00 each without certificate.
The indispensable first step in determining whether a Japanese stamp is genuine is to make certain that it does not bear an inscription labelling it as an imitation. A very large percentage of the forgeries of Japanese stamps do bear such an inscription, and unless one learns to recognize these, the problem of forgeries continues to be unmanageable. These inscriptions are:
All the early Japanese stamps (from the Dragon stamps of 1871 through the Koban stamps of 1879) have been forged. Since there was an attempt to conceal these characters, or, at least to make them small and inconspicuous, it can be difficult to find the marks without knowing where the forger usually placed them.
The presence of sankō or mozō (meaning "facsimile" or "imitation" in Japanese) is proof that the stamp is a fake and there is no need to spend money to get an expert opinion. One word of caution, however. Don't be misled into believing that the absence of these markings means that the Japanese stamp is genuine. Many forgers intended to pass off their fakes as genuine and did not mark their products so that they could be easily identified. Many of the forgeries are without sankō or mozō.
A few forgeries are marked, or signed, with the characters meaning "mihon" (specimen), and care must be taken not to confuse the "mihon" characters on forgeries with the "mihon" characters on genuine Japanese specimen stamps. Fortunately, there were many fewer forgeries signed with "mihon" than those signed with "sankō" or "mozō."
In an effort to help the reader find these marks quickly, the different positions are shown for each denomination. Since the forgers altered their stamp design to fit their current whim, no effort has been made to equate the forgeries with the genuine except by denomination and three major series (dragons, cherry blossoms, and koban).
Thus, in defining the position of sankō, mozō or mihon in the forgeries, the 1 sen cherry blossom represents both the blue and brown stamps: the 1 sen stamps with syllabic, crossed branches, or "branches tied in ribbon." All are grouped together because the sankō, mozō or mihon is found in the same relative position. The genuine stamps, of course, are distinctly different stamps often issued years apart.
The arrows on the stamp illustrations show the approximate positions of the two characters for sankō, mozō, or mihon--the exact positions may vary from one imitation to the next. Every effort has been made to find an example in which the characters are clearly visible.
A large number of the forgeries of Japanese stamps are known as "signed forgeries." They are marked with small kanji characters reading:
Genuine copies of Japanese stamps are overprinted with the word, "mihon" for distribution as samples. These must not be confused with the forgeries which contain the word "mihon" as an inscription.