Foreign Mail Circular Postmarks

There are different identifiable types of circular cancels. Major types used for international mail include: Comb, Single Circle, Sword-guard and Machine as shown below.

Foreign Mail (Roman-Letter) Comb Postmarks used after World War II

When international mail resumed after World War II, a number of offices that had previously used Roman-letter cancellations temporarily resumed use of their comb cancellers.  These cancellers had either JAPAN or NIPPON in Part C.  As a matter of expediency, these “retro” comb postmarks were tolerated until a new foreign mail marking (the swordguard) was developed and approved by the occupying forces. Different post offices used cancellers with either metal or rubber components, and some of them used both. The OTARU cancel below is an example of a metal type that has large date numbers, while the TOKYO AMF cancel is and example of a rubber type with small date numbers.


JP Vol. 41 No. 5: “Early Postwar Roman Letter Comb Cancellations”, pages 213-227.

JP Vol. 66 No. 6: “Post World War II “Retro” Comb Cancellations: The Kōbe Variations Question, pages 297-298.

Contact:  Anker Nielsen   Listings: Japan in Part CNIPPON in Part C

Foreign Mail (Roman-Letter) Comb Postmarks used for Administrative Purposes

After the comb cancellation was replaced with the swordguard in 1952, a modified version of the comb cancel continued to be used for administrative purposes. In this modified comb the month appears in Roman numerals, whereas in the earlier combs the month appeared in Arabic numerals. From 1986 new types with single circle were used. There are 3 types.

Roman-Letter Combs used for Administrative Purposes


JP Vol. 64 No. 6: “Roman letter Comb Cancellations Modified for Administrative Purposes after the Pacific War”, pages 247-253

JP Vol. 70 No. 4: “Roman-letter Combs used for Administrative Purposes on Money Orders and Postal Articles to Japan”, pages 176-182.

JP Vol. 71 No. 4: “Undeliverable Mail – New postal label”, pages 114-115.

Contact:  Anker Nielsen

Listing:   Comb Cancels (update 2022), click to download

Standard Cancel

This is the standard cancel on mail from Japan to a foreign country in use today. Use started on 1 October 1986. The current list has 7000 entries in January 2022.


JP Vol. 68 No. 6 page 333, restart of study group notification

Contact:  Anker Nielsen

Listing (updated 2022)

With the Year underlined

This type was in use in the years 2007 to 2012. The list currently has 364 entries of different post office cancels.


JP Vol. 69 No. 1: “The reorganization of the Japanese post and a new type of cancellation in the years 2007-2012”, pages 18-21

Contact: Anker Nielsen

Listing (updated 2022)

Month in Roman Numerals with Serif

This type started as an experimental type in some post offices in the Tokyo area from 1 April 2001 and is now in use for part of the post from many more post offices also in other parts of Japan. The list has current 291 places. The illustration shows a case with both line under year and serif in Month.


JP Vol.71 No. 4.: Single-Circle Cancellation Variant – Month in Roman Numerals with Serif, pages 187-189

Contact: Anker Nielsen

Listing (updated 2022)

Standard Type

These cancels were officially in use from 10 April 1952 to 1 October 1986, but later dates are found. The list presently has 3,325 entries of different post office cancels.


JP Vol. 68 No. 6 page 333 restart of study group notification.

Contact: Anker Nielsen  Listing (updated 2022) 


This study group also maintains listings of swordguard “variants” comprising those with a 1) Part D half-moon wedge but no Part E (listing), and those with a 2) Part E wedge but no Part D (listing). The last list 3) is for cases where date is not day month year time.


JP Vol. 70 No.2 “Swordguard Variant – no Part E”, page 109.

Listing of #1 above (updated 2022)

Listing of #2 above (updated 2022)

Listing of #3 above (updated 2022)

Medium Thick Cords

These special swordguards were in use from 1952 to 1967.   Presently there are  entries of different postmarks.



JP Vol. 69 No. 5: “A New Variation of Roman-Letter Swordguard Postmarks with Medium-Thick Chords”, pages 286-94.

JP Vol. 70 No. 3: Swordguards with Medium thick Chords, page 132-135

Contact: Anker Nielsen  Listing (updated 2022)