Find meaning in life — in the Tokyo garden “stamp rally”

I may be a sucker for freebies, but I’ve never gotten suckered into a Japanese “stamp rally.” That’s because the pain-gain ratio always sucks!

For the uninitiated, I should explain that a stamp rally スタンプラリー is a device often used in Japan to motivate people to make the rounds of something– booths in a trade show, stations at an event or related tourist attractions, for example. To prove you’ve been to each place, you stamp an entry sheet with a unique rubber stamp provided at each location.

Here’s what an entry sheet might look like:

Three stamps down; two to go. That stamp rally was at an international postage stamp exhibition in Yokohama.

Here’s a photo of kids visiting a station on a stamp rally to teach them about living things:

When you collect the requisite number of stamps you exchange your completed entry form for a very small prize, like a pack of seeds or a strap for a mobile phone. But in many cases all you get is a chance to win a prize, for which you might have spent several days and thousands of yen in train fare traipsing around to the points with the stamps.

Lately I’ve lightened up about stamp rallies. I’ve come to realize that people are overwhelmed by all the choices life provides, and that we are looking for things that breaks the world down into to manageable chunks. The prize isn’t the point; it’s getting some healthy direction.

So I’ve decided to participate in this year’s Kōyō Meguri 紅葉めぐり Stamp Rally, which encourages you to make the rounds of the traditional Japanese gardens managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association during the fall-color season. The rally runs from Saturday Oct. 20 to Sunday, December 9.

The first 10,000 people who visit five of the nine gardens during the campaign period can exchange their entry form for a 2013 garden calendar. Your form also enters you into a lottery to win exciting prizes like a plastic tumbler, a coupon for a free macha green tea drink, a pair of drinking glasses or a set of JR Suica Penguin goods. Never mind — it’s a way to get to know Tokyo’s gardens while enjoying fall colors in the great outdoors.

Here’s the list of gardens:
Hamarikyu Gardens 浜離宮恩賜庭園
Kyū Shiba Rikyū Gardens 旧芝離宮恩賜庭園
Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens 小石川後楽園
Rikugien Gardens 六義園
Mukojima Hyakkaen Gardens 向島百花園
Kiyosumi Gardens 清澄庭園
Kyū Furukawa Gardens 旧古河庭園
Kyū Iwasaki-tei Gardens 旧岩崎邸庭園
Tonogayato Gardens 殿ヶ谷戸庭園

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