One of the first services you’ll probably make use of when you arrive in Japan is the Japan Post or any one of the other well known delivery/courier services available, and all of them are easy and convenient after the first time or two.
Lately I’ve been sending out some omiyage (souvenirs) we brought back from Hokkaido, in addition to ochūgen (mid-year gifts) to those we owe our gratitude to.
Unlike many other countries, it’s not necessary to visit the post office or the delivery service directly to send mail here. You can practically send mail from anywhere: the convenience store, department stores or supermarkets (if sending a gift you’ve bought there), and even from the airport or some stations. Because there are many different types of mail services offered, it can be confusing at first. If you find yourself in a pickle, try this handy guide.
Regular Mail / Futsū Yūbin – This is that standard way of sending mail. There is no tracking or insurance, but usually is delivered the next day for same/neighboring prefectures, and only a few days for others. For packages, regular mail is sometimes also referred to as teikeigai.
Yuupack – This is a faster, and safer way to send mail or items that need to be cooled/frozen, or are fragile, and comes with a tracking number. You can also opt to receive a free reply post card saying the addressee has received their package with this service. When sending media or other small/flatly packaged items, you can send them yuumail for the same service, but cheaper.
Letter Pack – This set sized envelope, where you can send mail up to A4 size or 4 kg for a set price of 360 yen ($3.60 USD) or 510 yen ($5.10 USD)
It’s currently 50 yen to mail a regularly sized postcard and 82 yen to mail a regular sized letter domestically. The Japan Post also has add on options like registered mail (kakitome), express (sokutatsu), that you can purchase additionally.
EMS (Express Mail Service) – This is the fastest way to send things abroad, and of course the most expensive. It’s still a bargain compared to the U.S. International Express, and competitively priced with express mail services elsewhere, too. You’ll need to fill out a goods (shinamono) label when sending items through the mail, and a document (shorui) label when sending documents. It comes with a tracking number you can check online and is insured up to about 20,000 yen ($200 USD) depending on the worth of the items you’ve marked. Items usually arrive at their destination within a week. Recently Japan Post has introduced Cool EMS service for sending frozen items overseas.
Airmail – If you don’t specify any other particular service, this is usually what most international mail falls under. It generally takes about 1 to 2 weeks to reach its destination. If you’re not sending a letter with a smaller package, you might qualify for a cheaper service, called small packet airmail. (Not saying you should lie, but nobody checks if there’s actually a letter in the package and sometimes it’s much cheaper than regular airmail.)
It’s currently 70 yen to mail a postcard and 110 yen to mail a regularly sized letter internationally.
Registered Mail – This is airmail, but with a registered mail slip. It comes with an internal tracking number that can’t be checked online. It is somewhat helpful if the package gets lost, and requires the addressee to sign upon delivery.
SAL (Surface Air Lift) – This is a non-priority, cheaper airmail option that gets sent as space becomes available on mail airplanes flying out. It generally takes about a month to reach its destination, perhaps longer for some countries.
Boat Mail / Funabin – This is mail shipped by sea. It’s cheap and good for sending big boxes of goods back home. It general takes a couple of months to reach its destination, however this kind of mail has no tracking and is more easily lost than other methods, so I don’t recommend it for really important things.
If you’re leaving Japan or moving within the country and plan on having a lot of stuff shipped back home with the Japan Post, you can call them and they’ll come pick up and calculate postage right at your doorstep for domestic mail, airmail, EMS, and boat mail… and possibly other methods! This service is called shūka (集荷).
Convenience Stores / Combini
Many chain convenience store locations offer domestic shipping services and sell stamps, although depending on the service you’re after you might need to stick to one chain over another.
Lawson – Many locations have a mail box for regular sized letter mail, and offer Yuupack (Japan Post) delivery.
7-11 / Seven Eleven – Offers Kuroneko delivery.
Circle K / Sunkus – Offers Kuroneko delivery.
Family Mart – Offers Kuroneko delivery.
Convenience stores have special delivery labels, that while they may resemble the same regular post office or delivery service labels, are coded differently and can only be used at those convenience stores and vice versa.
Here’s an example of how to fill out a Yuupack label:
Here’s an example of how to fill out a Kuroneko label:
Do you have a lot of luggage and want to send it to the airport to pick up before your flight or from the airport to your destination? It’s no problem if you use Kuroneko. Here’s a handy chart for domestic airport locations and services offered.
Kuroneko also offers home pick-up services or shūka (集荷) as well.
If you’re moving furniture or oversize items domestically, you’ll need to employ a moving company, special services offered by Kuroneko or other delivery companies, or transport it yourself. This can range from around 2,000 yen ($20 USD) – 10,000 ($100 USD) depending on the size of the item, where you’re sending it from, and how far away the destination is. Moving or sending oversize items overseas can be even pricier.
I think this pretty much covers your basic mailing needs, though. The nearest post office is a bit of an inconvenient drive for me, so I regularly make use of convenience store shipping services. 🙂