How to Use the Post Office in Japan
Whether you're just visiting or staying long-term, odds are you're going to need to use one of the many services offered by the Japanese postal system. With a branch in almost every residential neighborhood across the country, Japanese post offices both meld into the typical everyday scenery and stand out with their bright postal colors and established symbolism. However, like doing anything else "official" in Japan, using the post office can seem a bit intimidating at first—especially since most of what goes on inside can mean the difference between a nice stay and a hectic one!
This article provides an overview of services offered by Japanese post offices and tips on how to use the most basic ones.
The first thing you may notice about a Japanese post office is that it does more than mailing and sell stamps. In fact, if you're staying for a long time, you may get to know your local post office better than you did the one back home.
1. Mailing of packages, letters, and postcards. Surely their biggest service, the post office does what it does best - mail your packages, letters, and postcards for you.
2. Sells stamps, both postal and government-related. Even if you don't mail anything, if you're dealing with the local bureaucracy odds are you'll be in here buying the most expensive stamp you've ever seen at some point.
3. Distributes mail and packages throughout the city; is the central hub for picking up a package you missed at your door. Just as it implies. Most pickups only occur at central city post offices, however.
4. Offers an easy-to-use savings account to all legal residents. Many foreigners, and indeed many Japanese people, take advantages of the postal savings account. It acts much like a bank account and even issues its own ATM card to use in various ATMs across the country.
5. Provides public ATMs for both domestic and international use. You can use an international debit card at just about any post office ATM. You are, however, at the whim of the service hours and transfer fees.
6. Provides a life insurance service. Because it can.
Always be aware that not only are rates constantly changing, but so are the rules for what you can and cannot send to any given country based on current global conditions. It's always wise to double-check the Japan Post website before doing anything.
Receiving and Mailing
Receiving Letters and Packages
Almost all personal mail is delivered to home addresses in Japan. If you are staying long term and live with either a friend/family or by yourself in your own place, you will probably receive letters and smaller items through the slot in your front door or a small mail box right next to your door.
Larger items, such as big brown envelopes and packages, must be signed for and thus require somebody present. If you are home, the mail carrier will simply ring the doorbell (or knock) and have you sign an appropriate slip before handing over your parcel and flying off. (You can also use an inkan, which most Japanese use as their official signature, but most foreigners are expected to give their signature as they would in the West.)
If you are not home or otherwise miss your initial drop off, the mail carrier will give you a slip in your mail slot that states the date, time, and sender of your package. You now have two (technically three) options.
- Call the number (there's a line in English if you look at the bottom fine print) and schedule a redelivery. You can specify the date and time, including most weekends (and some holidays).
- Go to your local distribution center and pick it up yourself. Note that not all post office branches are distribution centers. Usually there is only one per city or area. In some cases, it may be quite a trek to carry a heavy package and redelivery is advised.
- Do nothing. Your package will be treated as abandoned within a week or so if nobody hears from you.
Mailing Letters and Packages
Mailing letters is a pretty easy affair. You can buy stamps at post offices or take in your envelope for the employees to stamp themselves. Rates are constantly changing (as in, going up) however, so be sure if you're buying stamps ahead of time that you have the right amount.
Letters can be dropped off in any of the red postal boxes around towns. Alternatively, you can take them into a post office and approach the "Mail" section. The person in charge will take care of everything for you.
Packages get a bit trickier. There are two methods for mailing a package: take it into a post office or schedule a pickup via phone. As of now, there is only a Japanese option for the latter, so we'll deal with taking it to the post office only here.
As a general rule, packages should not be taped shut when you take them to the post office. This is mostly an anti-terrorism/customs evasion measure. It's unlikely the person at the post office will go through your box (in my experience, they don't even look, they just hand me the tape and scissors) but rules are rules. Save yourself the hassle and money on tape!
Odds are you will be mailing a package internationally. If so, it's imperative that you get an International Parcel form preferably ahead of time. These can be picked up at any post office. The official Japanese Post English website has a pretty detailed outline on how to fill these out. You can also check this website for up-to-the-minute rates and regulations.
Once you have packed everything up (unsealed, of course) and filled out the form, take it to the counter at the post office and get ready to empty your wallet. Rates are always changing, but a standard box will go for around 5000–6000 yen . . . and this is assuming you're taking the long route. In general, there are three methods of shipment.
- Airmail: The fastest and the most expensive.
- EMS: Slightly longer (about a week) than Airmail, but a little cheaper too.
- Surface: The longest (2–3 months) but also the best value. Send Christmas presents way ahead of time!
The packages will be sent directly to the recipient's door/box with no further effort on your part. Hooray!
If you're getting a job in Japan or otherwise are required to have a Japanese bank account of some sort, consider getting a Japan Post Savings Account (or Yuuchou Ginkou). They're one of the easiest to sign up for and can be handled at any post office in the country - so if you plan on traveling a lot, it's the safest way to be sure you'll always have free access since not all banks are nationwide in Japan.
Setting up an account is relatively easy, but it does require a few documents on your part. Only legal residents are able to open bank accounts, so this means you must either be a citizen or hold a valid visa. The following documents are required for an account:
- Alien Registration Card. Or a juminhyo from your city hall if your card is being processed.
- Passport. With a valid visa inside.
- Form. Given to you at the post office. It'll include information such as your mailing address and what kind of cards you may want.
- Inkan (Stamp). Optional. An inkan is what serves as a signature in Japan, and some banks insist on even foreigners having one registered. However, most post offices should allow you to join with just your signature. If you use an inkan/have one registered, be sure to use it.
Once approved, you can start using your account immediately. A bank book and any applicable cards (cash card, debit card) will be sent to the address provided. Likewise, you will receive occasional statements through the mail.
Unless you are in a large city, odds are you're not going to find somebody who speaks English at the local post office. Here's some handy-dandy Japanese to use the next time you go.
- "Kore o okuritai desu." / "I want to send this, please." For sending just about anything.
- "Yuubinkitte o kaitai desu." / "I want to buy stamps, please." You'll probably be asked how many. If you don't know how to count in Japanese (the counter for stamps is "mai" as it is for most flat objects) then counting fingers always helps.
- "Watashi no kouza o tsukiritai desu." / "I want to open an account, please."
- "Okane o furikomitai desu." / "I want to transfer money, please." This will most likely be done via the ATM, but if there's no English option it doesn't hurt to ask for real-life help.
Go on, mail something.
Using the post office in Japan doesn't have to be nerve-wracking or confusing. Well, it doesn't have to be, but it often is. Hopefully now you'll be able to go handle your money and send your packages home without too much trouble!
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© 2012 hildred