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For a good portion of my young adult life, the postal service was of incredible importance to me. At the age of 17, I had 19 pen pals. At 22, I was in a relationship with one, albeit not one of the 19 that I had known since I was 17. No, I fell in love with him within several months of having first heard from him. When lightning strikes, it hits hard and fast.
The mailbox was like a surprise factory for me. I'd open the box sometimes and find letters, cards or packages. In the pre-internet days, it was a delight to find such things at random intervals. I'm not sure if people younger than me can begin to understand the delights of personal correspondence in the box considering the way in which the immediacy of mail, chatting, and voice talking over the internet has changed how we view communication. People had to address me in a structured and purposeful manner. They didn't so much casually include me in some little detail or generalized mailing. They had to organize, customize, and personalize what they said and how they said it. It was truly a delight and I'm sure my practice at that age informs my love of writing now.
Since I carried on a long-distance relationship between Pennsylvania and Japan, I spent a lot of time at the post office, not to mention a lot of money. On the Japan side, my then-boyfriend (now husband) was paying even more than I was, though oddly his rates went down by the time he left and my rates went up. In 1988 or '89, he picked up some plastic sheets from the post office that showed the stamps that were on sale at the time. These types of things were not being given away by the time I left Japan and are rather different than the ones that were posted in the post office to show new stamp issues. First of all, current stamp displays were paper and these are plastic and I'm not sure if they can be taken by the public (I never saw stacks of them to be taken). Second, and most interestingly, these old ones have advertisements for businesses across the bottom. Clearly, there was a time when the post office's advertising was sponsored by businesses and it was likely abandoned by the merchants as Japan's economic downturn turned into a two decade slump. My guess is that giving out plastic sheets of new stamp designs would be prohibitively expensive without the economic assistance of other companies.
In case you don't know how the postal service works, here is an illustrated story. I'm sure that thousands of mystified Japanese were immensely gratified to understand the complex mechanisms which caused mail to be moved from point A to point B.
At the time that I got these, I didn't understand any Japanese, of course, but now I know that NTT (Japan's equivalent of AT&T), a discount store, and a school are among the advertisers. My boyfriend sent these mainly so that I could see the nice Japanese stamp designs. Rather ironically, even though we were in communication for approximately a year and exchanged hundreds of pieces of mail (and not one was lost!), I don't have many of the actual stamps because most of the packages came with metered postage rather than stamps, but that's okay because I'm not really a stamp collector. These plastic sheets are their own bit of history, and far more durable than real stamps to boot.