Postcrossing Blog

News, updates, and all kinds of goodies and stories from the postal world!

Posts tagged "japan"

We’ve written before about the Underwater Postoffice in Vanuatu, and we thought at the time it was the only place you could post a letter underwater in the world.

Well, turns out that isn’t quite true! Postcrosser Cindy (aka cindybeaule) let us know about an underwater post box in Susami, Japan, which was put in place in 1999 as part of a fair to promote the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. It’s a collaboration between the former postmaster, a man called Toshihiko Matsumoto, and the local diving community. Waterproof postcards are sold in the dive shop, and you have to write your message using waterproof oil-based markers, so the message won’t wash off.

You need diving gear to even reach the post box, because it’s 10 metres below the surface. It’s actually in the Guinness Book of World Records because it’s the deepest post box in the world, and they have a certificate to prove it! The boxes are made of cast-iron, so there are actually two used in rotation, so they can be cleaned and repainted.

I even did some more poking around, and it turns out there are a few other underwater post boxes. There’s one in the Malaysian island of Mataking, another one in the Jemeluk Bay Underwater Gallery in Indonesia, and two “dry” ones: an underwater observatory in the US Virgin Islands and the Risør Underwater Post Office in Norway.

You can watch a whole mini-documentary about the post box in Susami on Youtube—we were amazed to learn that there had been over 38,000 special waterproof postcards sent from this underwater post box at the time it was filmed in 2018. I wonder if any Postcrossers have ever sent or received a card from Susami…? Do let us know!

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I discovered the Japanese folk art of etegami through Debbie’s (aka dosankodebbie) lovely postcards. Debbie is a professional translator who lives in Hokkaido, Japan. She began making etegami cards over 10 years ago, and joined Postcrossing to share them with people all over the world, as well as to receive art cards from other creative postcrossers!

As Debbie explains on her blog, “Etegami (e= ”picture"; tegami= “letter/message”) are simple drawings accompanied by a few apt words". They are made to be mailed to one’s friends or family, and usually show an object from our everyday lives.

The illustrations appealed to me for their beauty and simplicity… but when researching the art and the philosophy behind it, I discovered there’s a lot of meaning and intention in every card. So I decided to ask Debbie a few questions about her art, and she kindly agreed to a mini-interview.

For dessert, let's gaze at the magnolia blossoms
When did you start making etegami? What drew you to this form of art?

I first began making etegami in the year 2000. I had been making my own Christmas and New Year cards since childhood, using methods such as woodblock printing and the Japanese torn-paper collage art called chigiri-e. But these methods were too labor-intensive to do every day.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away

I grew up in an art-loving family, but my first love has always been words. Etegami suits me perfectly because it combines images and words. The tools for etegami are relatively few and simple, and you don’t need a lot of space to set them up. I have my tools in a small box, so I can spread them out on the kitchen table or on a corner of my work desk and paint whenever I have fifteen minutes of free time in my work day. Fifteen minutes, on average, is how much time I need to make one etegami.

Be careful of the words you say...
Where do you find inspiration for your cards?

I can always find something seasonal to paint if I look in my refrigerator or in my garden. It can be an apple, an eggplant, a dandelion, a leaf on a tree, a sparrow, a coffee mug, or the slightly rusted kerosene tank that supplies our heating fuel. Etegami is at its best when it depicts a single object that represents the season with a few unfussy strokes and a minimum of color. Compared to most traditional Japanese art forms, it has very few rules, and the slightly awkward paintings of beginners and children are valued more than refined paintings.

Let's sit and talk a while
Do you have any idea how many etegami cards you’ve made so far?

Ideally every etegami that I send should be a hand-painted original, but these days my mailing list is so long that when I can’t paint enough originals, I sometimes resort to prints of my images. I go through at least 800 washi cards in one year. If you include prints, I mail about 1,000 etegami postcards every year.

Curiosity cannot be idle
Besides postcrossers, who else do you mail your etegami cards to?

Although one of the pleasures of etegami is in the exchange, it’s even better to send etegami to people who can’t send anything back. I set aside every Monday to make etegami for people who are sick at home or in the hospital, and people who are depressed or disabled in a way that makes it difficult for them to send mail to anyone. This is especially meaningful to me because I have bad legs that keep me house-bound, and I’m so thankful that I can socialize with people through etegami.

Empty nest

I don’t know about you, but I can’t to gather my brushes and give it a go! :)

Thank you so much for sharing your hobby with us, Debbie! For more etegami inspiration, don’t forget to check out Debbie’s blog.

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Raisa (aka Asato) from Russia loved drawing ever since she was a child… but it’s only in the past few years that she decided to take it more seriously. To practice, she started drawing small characters on the postcards she sends…

Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters

… and they turned out great, really brightening up the postcards! :) We were in awe of Raisa’s talent so we decided to ask her some questions about her little drawings.

Your style seems Japanese-inspired… is it so? Are you a fan of anime/manga or Japanese things?

Yes! I read my first manga when I was 22, and it was like a bomb! Since that day I’m a big fan of japanese manga and anime. Moreover, Japanese “chibi” (which means “little”) style is very handful for postcards, and there are a few other reasons. First, there is actually not much space on the postcard for the drawing, especially if you plan to write something beside, so it’s better to draw something really small. A “chibi” is a character with oversized proportions and its big head is a very convenient way to express characters emotions as, literally, there is more space to draw them comparing to a realistic-like character. That makes your character look a bit childish, funny, and really lovely. And this style is not too serious or too complicated and easy to draw.

Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters
How do you decide what to draw on each postcard? Do you adapt the theme to the recipient, or focus on what you’re enjoying at the moment?

Of course, it depends mostly on the recipient. Every time I get an address, I start thinking about what to send and what to write… I wish I could send to the receiver some good emotions with my postcard or make it interesting. Drawing helps me a lot, as it’s the way you can easily express your thoughts and emotions or tell something. For example, you can describe in details the national costume, but isn’t it easier to picture it and write few notes? :)

Sometimes people write about their favourite films or books in the profiles, and if I don’t have a postcard that would match them, I can draw a character they really like on the card! It’s also a nice chance for me to share my own favourites, such as “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” which are so famous. Honestly, I dream to receive a postcard with my favorite characters, but so far, no luck!

Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters
What are the member’s reactions when they receive your postcards? Do they appreciate the extra effort?

Thanks to the special Postcrossing’s friendly and kind atmosphere most members write at least “thank you” like for any other postcard :) Some people send long messages where they write how they were glad and excited to see my drawing, some people do not pay special attention to it, some offer to send a card back or to exchange letters. But, any reaction is OK for me, as I don’t want to claim something special back. So long as I enjoy drawing, it’s a pleasure for me! Seriously, I hope just to put a smile on someone’s face.

Raisa's hand-drawn chibi characters

Thank you Raisa, for sharing your lovely drawings with us! If you’re curious, you can see other drawings on her postcard gallery.

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The other day, while randomly browsing the internet for inspiration, I chanced upon this Tumblr, where I noticed all the beautifully decorated postcards… which upon further inspection, proved to be actual Postcrossing cards!

Look how pretty they are:

Amiko's postcards

My jaw dropped at all the detail on the back… from the stickers, to the decoration tapes, to the carefully chosen stamps… even the address labels and Postcard ID bubbles were pretty! :) After much oohing and aahing, I decided I had to get in touch – and luckily Amiko (aka amiko_h) who comes from Japan, kindly agreed to do a mini-interview about her art! :)

Here’s what she had to say:

Can you tell us a little bit about your decoration process? What inspires you? Where do you start?

Firstly I choose a postcard for the recipient after checking his/her favorite or wishlist. Then I pick up the main theme such as color or motif. Sometimes I connect the theme with the postcard image, sometimes I pick up the other motif from the recipient’s favorites, or sometimes I just connect the theme with the stamp I want to use at the time. At this selection phase, you should also remember your taste. Enjoy yourself. Actually I never use my dislikes.

Next I choose material from my collection, and try this or that combination on the card for the color and total layout including message area. Usually it takes me the most amount of time to fix the layout. When you have the feeling of interlocking pieces, go on to finish it!

Amiko's postcards
Which materials do you use to decorate your postcards?

Mainly I use washi tapes and ready-made stickers for my decoration. Sometimes I put in some cut-out from origami, my hand-made stickers, scraps from magazines and use my hand-carved rubber stamps. Of course, you should remember beautiful postal stamps! I am apt to buy on impulse those small material as well as postcards whenever I find them…

Amiko's postcards
What are the member’s reactions when they receive your postcards? Do they appreciate the extra effort?

There is either some appreciation or nothing. Half and half. But it doesn’t matter so much either way… I think the decoration is just decoration. And I myself enjoy the process more than anything! :)

I think the most important thing in Postcrossing and penpaling is a kind of hospitality. I always consider the recipient as my guests or friends I haven’t met yet. Without any decoration, people would be happy when they get warm message and consideration.

Happy Postcrossing!

And finally, can you show us your workstation… where the magic happens?
Amiko's work area

Thank you Amiko, that was lovely! Though now I’m sure I’ll have dreams of stickers and washi tapes…

Do you decorate your postcards too? Leave some tips on the comments – we’re always looking for inspiration! :)

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One of the most popular cartoon characters of all time, Hello Kitty has been an iconic part of pop culture for over than 30 years. But where did this adorable white kitten come from?

Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty was designed by Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu, who at the time was not trying to create an icon, but was simply doodling! She drew inspiration from Japanese bobtail cats and put her own twist on it, giving the drawing no mouth, and a bright red bow. She first captured the hearts of people all over Japan in 1974, when she appeared on a small coin purse, between a bottle of milk and a goldfish bowl!

Hello Kitty

Sanrio is the name of Japanese company that began distributing Hello Kitty all over the world in 1976. They’ve also introduced her family, and gave her a background… for instance, did you know that she was born in the suburbs of London, and weighs as much as three apples? :)

Sanrio has also featured Hello Kitty in mass produced collectible items like necklaces, folders, pencils and more. In the 1980s, a Hello Kitty craze swept the United States, and anything with her likeness sold like hotcakes – she was even featured on a couple of different cartoon shows and her image graced appliances, dolls and other items. In Japan, Sanrio has opened two Hello Kitty theme parks called Harmonyland and Sanrio Puroland, both of which delight millions of visitors every year! Hello Kitty Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty is beloved not only for her cute image in colourful backgrounds, but also for her optimism and happy messages – despite her lack of mouth. Sanrio representatives say this particular characteristic helps people project their feelings on the character, and that because she speaks from the heart, she isn’t bound to any language.

These days, Hello Kitty continues to appear on everything from jewellery to laptop sleeves… and of course, many beloved postcards! You can learn more about Hello Kitty’s stunning rise to fame and check her many themed products on the Sanrio website.

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