RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate -- A mailbox that was set up outside a cafe here to receive letters people had written to their loved ones who perished in the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami seven years ago has been replaced.
The original mailbox -- an old-fashioned pillar design -- was returned to its owner in the city of Ichinoseki in the same prefecture. It was replaced with a pillar box that had stood on the grounds of a kindergarten in the Iwate Prefecture city of Oshu. Like its forerunner, the new mailbox silently waits to ease the feelings of bereaved people by giving them an outlet to express their pain.
The cafe's operator, 68-year-old Yuji Akagawa, set up the mailbox four years ago, naming it the "drifting 3.11 postbox." It was designed to accept letters people wanted to write to those who perished in the disasters of March 11, 2011. The idea was that people could start to find some closure by writing feelings that they couldn't express elsewhere. So far, people have posted over 400 letters.
Anyone who comes to the cafe can read the letters, though it is possible for the authors to hide people's names. In one of the letters, a person writes, "This is the first trip I've taken since the quake disaster. Before the disasters, the two of us would often go to Hokkaido. ... It's sad for me, or perhaps I should say, it's tough. It's no good for me to stay like this forever, is it?"
The letters -- some from people who are discouraged, and others from those who are striving to move forward -- are touching. Even though the mailbox is not in use as a regular public postbox, its old design soothes the hearts of visitors, and it has become a marker for the cafe. Some bereaved people simply verbally express themselves in front of the mailbox.
Akagawa happened to spot the original pillar box in the garden of a home he passed by, and the owner lent it to him after he explained how he would use it. From the outset he had intended to return it someday. He found the second mailbox, which had stood at the corner of a kindergarten site in Oshu for over 20 years, through the introduction of an acquaintance.
On Feb. 20, Akagawa and a friend of his visited the kindergarten, and loaded the mailbox onto a light truck. Returning to his cafe, he patted the top of the old pillar box and expressed his appreciation for its service.
Kindergarten head Seiko Ogawara told Akagawa, "If it's serving a purpose, you can use it for as long as you want." She herself learned through the mailbox that there were people left in pain after the disasters. She said she would tell pupils at the kindergarten that the mailbox would serve to help someone.
Akagawa expressed gratitude to Ogawara. He said he had been determined to keep a mailbox at his cafe. "As long as I am physically able, I want to protect this," he said.
The address for letters is the Mori no Koya Cafe, 159-2 Akasaka-kakuchi, Hirota-cho, Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.