Yesterday’s trip to the Japanese Post Office

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I went to the post office to mail some of this year's Christmas Cards. These were all destined outside Japan, so I needed to add the postage myself (the in-Japan New Year's cards are postage prepaid, at the domestic rate).

The postage on an international postcard is 70 yen (about $0.60 US). I wanted to use something more interesting than bland meter-stamped stickers for the postage -- I wanted pretty stamps.

So, I asked if they had any nice Christmas-type stamps. I don't really know what I was thinking even to ask, since Christmas is only superficially noticed over here (somewhat akin to “Secretary's Day” in America). Their response was an appropriate mix of bewilderment and “sorry we can't help”. I recovered quickly and asked if they had any stamps that were particularly “Japanese” -- you know, I'm sending these to people in far-flung corners of the world, so I'd like to send something interesting. They sort of shuffled through some drawers while shaking their head, and I finally asked if gee, anything with any kind of pretty picture at all?

Basically, I got the strong feeling that people only rarely actually ask for stamps of any kind. Normally, they just say “please send this”, and in that process it gets an ugly machine-generated postmark-looking sticker.

Post Offices in Japan

One reason this might be is that the post office only delivers mail -- it does not pick up mail at your house. The only way to mail something is to drop it off at post boxes scattered around town, or at a post office itself. Thus, the need for stamps at home is greatly diminished. Plus, there are post offices all over the place -- I can walk to two from my place within five or six minutes.

Post offices in Japan offer savings accounts, investments, and insurance policies. This ensures that people in every tiny nook and insignificant cranny of the country are offered these services, because there are post offices everywhere, and that includes places where banks and the like would never find it profitable to set up shop. (Incidentally, this is one of the bones of contention with the whole privatization of the post office being planned by the current prime minister. Opponents of post-office privatization worry that people in the boonies may be abandoned by a for-profit private post office.)

Anyway, other than the fact that you have to head out to mail something, the Japanese post office is wonderful. If you come home to find a slip on your door saying that they tried to deliver a package, you can call them up (or go to their web site) and pick a two-hour window to have it delivered. The same day, or the next, or whenever. Until 9pm. 7 days. I've had a package delivered at 8:30pm Sunday evening. No problem.

The stamps I ended up with
(mouseover to highlight stamps)

Back to my story...

I'm sure if I would have gone to a big post office, I could have gotten some wonderfully appropriate stamps, but I was at a tiny one that just happened to be near the gym I go to, so I went with the flow.

About the only thing they could come up with that was remotely nice were some funky “Letter Writing Day 2005” stamps (we'll forgive the missing hyphen between “Letter” and “Writing”, since English is not their first language). They became re-flustered when I asked for 50 stamps, but they dug around and gathered them together.

They were for 80 yen (remember, I needed only 70-yen stamps), but I thought the 14% bump in cost was worth giving something that looks a bit more interesting.

And indeed, some of these are more interesting. There are 10 to a sheet, with some round, oval, square, and rectangular. (Mouseover the photo at the right to see the stamps highlighted.)

Japan doesn't have the peel-off sticker type that the US now has, but the try-not-to-rip-them perforated lick-till-your-mouth-is-dry type that the US had years ago. So, I went through the 30 or so cards I had that day and put a stamp (and the required “air mail” sticker) on each. My friend Shimada-san, with whom I go to the gym, did all the de-perforating, and I did the sticking. They had little wet rollers, so I didn't have to actually do any licking.

About half remain. Then, it's on to the domestic New Year's Cards.....

All 5 comments so far, oldest first...

I got some good Kyoto commemorative stamps, and when I posted a picture of them, some readers had me go get them some.

— comment by nils on December 24th, 2005 at 12:44am JST (18 years, 7 months ago) comment permalink

Wow, those would have been wonderful. Perhaps they were out at the office where I went )-;

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on December 24th, 2005 at 12:26pm JST (18 years, 7 months ago) comment permalink

Sometimes the Post Office will come and pick up your packages; they did for us (I was a student at Kansai Gaidai) when we needed to send it home. KGU might have had a special agreement with them, though, I’m not quite sure.

— comment by Kristin on June 21st, 2006 at 12:38pm JST (18 years ago) comment permalink

Hello, I am writing a scrapbook class on postage and postcards. I want to show the different shapes of stamps around the world. May I have permission to include your Japanese sheet of stamps in my lesson? Thank you!

— comment by Mary on April 27th, 2007 at 2:21am JST (17 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

“One reason this might be is that the post office only delivers mail — it does not pick up mail at your house. ”

Living in England where you either use a post box or a post office to mail things, I can’t imagine how on earth the Post Office would go about collecting from your house. Do they ring the bell and ask if you have anything for them to collect or what? Wouldn’t that be an enormous waste of the postman’s time?

Each house has a little box out front, with a red flag you can raise if you’ve left mail to be picked up. The postman visits your box to drop off and pick up mail. If there’s no mail for you that day, and no red flag, the postman skips your house. —Jeffrey

On the subject of stamps: until very recently we in the UK also had to tear off a stamp from a perforated strip and lick the back in order to moisten the adhesive. My mother likes to send Christmas cards to everyone she has ever known, and this results in a lot of stamps needing licking. Her solution is to use her cat to do the moistening duty. The cat likes to bury his nose in the crook of one of his hind legs when he snoozes, and that leaves a very wet patch on his leg. I think you can guess the rest!

— comment by Alex on April 25th, 2009 at 2:10am JST (15 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink
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