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The power of writing letters in the modern age

Examples of how to use "Fumi GRAM" are shown here. (Photo courtesy of Japan Post)

The value of writing letters is being considered in a new light. Many people undoubtedly have fond memories of the sight of faded paper, as well as handwritten words -- and we live in an age when the exchange of words has become so easy. So why not pick up your favorite pen and convey your feelings through a letter, for an anniversary or for a seasonal festival?

    A bond between relatives

    "These letters are like treasure for me," comments 30-year-old company employee Asuka Matsuda as she spreads out a batch of letters across the table. Ever since Matsuda entered university almost 12 years ago, in April 2005, she has received a postcard from her father every week without fail. The pile of correspondence includes postcards with stamps on that depict Matsuda's favorite cartoon characters.

    "As your responsibility at work increases, your job must be becoming more and more interesting. However, at the same time, there must also be more pressure."

    "It is reassuring to hear that you are trying hard, but the cold weather is relentless -- so I am worried about you."

    These are some of the messages that Matsuda's father has sent over the years. At first, it was annoying. But after Matsuda graduated from university and started working, her attitude changed. During the planned electricity outages following the March 11, 2011 earthquake, Matsuda would return to a pitch black home -- where there would often be a letter waiting for her. Matsuda reflects, "It was reassuring to know that someone was looking out for me, at times when I was feeling lonely or when work was not going so well. The moral support made me want to keep trying."

    Ever since, whenever Matsuda felt lonely or lost, she would read her father's casual postcards again, as well as the letters from her mother that she would occasionally receive. There were many times when Matsuda's parents were busy with work, and family members would often live apart from one another. The family was not extremely close as such, but the letters were an effective way of forming a bond within the family. "With letters, one can convey emotions in a way that is not possible with LCD messages. Letters have priceless sentimental value."

    Asuka Matsuda is seen with her collection of letters from her parents, in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi)

    Heightened affection

    In a February 2016 survey conducted by the research company "Neo Marketing" among 800 men and women aged between 20 and 59 across Japan, more than 70 percent of respondents stated that they feel heightened affection toward the sender after receiving a letter. In addition, more than 30 percent of participants said that the monetary equivalent of receiving a letter from the person you like the best is at least 3,000 yen.

    On the other hand, 50 percent of respondents said that they had not written a letter in the past five years, and a similar percentage of people said that they receive letters "once or less every five years." It can be said that the rarity value of letters has risen because it has become so rare to send and receive letters nowadays.

    Group-work puzzles

    Efforts are being made to revive the culture of letter writing. In July 2016, Japan Post Co. launched a "letter-writing promotion project," in collaboration with Meiji University. In December, an innovative writing product called "Fumi GRAM" (248 yen), which was devised by students, went on sale -- with the intention of conveying the charm of letter-writing to youngsters who have become used to social networking services.

    With "Fumi GRAM," consumers can send a series of envelopes -- numbered zero to seven -- which are designed to carry puzzle pieces of different sizes, colors, and shapes. As the number of envelopes starts to accumulate, the recipient can put together a colorful puzzle, shaped like hearts or trophies or other such objects. Also, by staggering the days on which the envelopes are posted, the recipient can put together the finished puzzle step by step.

    The letter box and writing space inside Ginza Itoya in Tokyo's Chuo Ward are seen here. (Mainichi)

    For young people today, who are used to sending short innocuous messages by email or SNS, it might be slightly challenging to suddenly start writing letters. A good starting point might be to start writing letters as a group on special occasions.

    Shuichi Ujita -- who has been in charge of the Japan Post project -- says, "As Fumi GRAM is photogenic, it should be easier for youngsters to start using it. We want young people to use this product to send messages for occasions such as entrance exams and graduation ceremonies."

    At the Itoya stationery store in Tokyo's Ginza district, which was renewed in 2015, a space has been set aside for letter-writing. It is possible to use fountain pens and embossers to create patterns on the paper. It is also allowed to affix original stamps and post letters from inside the store. There is also advice on which cards and which letter-writing paper to select at which time of year, as well as on greeting messages depending on occasions.

    A representative at Itoya, Yoshiko Ichihara, says, "A lot of thought goes into letter-writing, from the type of paper and pen, to thinking about the person at the other end. It is not just a matter of gaining information, but also sharing the time spent on selecting and writing and posting and a range of emotions between people. We want people to appreciate the culture of letter writing even more."

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