Japan’s postal system can be a headache for the uninitiated, and it’s just gotten more complicated with the phasing out of handwritten labels for international mail. If you don’t know your Yu-Pack from your ePacket, then this guide is for you.

What is Japan Post?

The original Japan Post was reborn in 2007 as Japan Post Holdings after the privatization of the state-owned postal system. From its ashes came three distinct entities: Japan Post, which handles mail; Japan Post Bank, for banking needs; and Japan Insurance, something to get before sky diving. In 2015, Japan Post Holdings also took over Toll Group, an Australian-based logistics company.

A chilled delivery from Japan Post | Photo by Gregory Lane

Sending international mail

If you want to send Uncle Bob in Albania all the new KitKat flavors, you may have to invest some time in understanding Japan Post’s international mailing system.

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What can I send internationally?

  • Large packages: Any packages over 2kg is considered “large.” Shipping time will depend on the service used (fastest to slowest): Express Mail Service (EMS), air mail, SAL (a mix of air and surface) or surface mail.
  • Small packages: International ePacket, which is significantly cheaper than EMS, is available for packages under 2kg.
  • Letters and postcards: All you need is a stamp, which you can get at a convenience store or post office. Pop the letter directly into a postbox, making sure you choose the international mail slot, and you’re golden.
  • Frozen and chilled items: Ever been in a long-distance relationship and wanted to share the exact same meal on zoom? It’s now possible. Well, for certain countries anyway.

Note: You can send items for the blind, such as braille letters, canes and audio, free of charge.

What can’t I send?

Valuables, alcohol over ABV 24%, nail polish, perfume, dangerous materials and more. Full list here.

How do I send international mail?

Starting from June 20, 2022*, you will have to print out the address label if sending a package overseas. Why? So countries can better track the parcel’s journey. The information needed is called Electronic Advance Data (EAD). Luckily, it is not required for small letters and postcards.


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*Note: While this is the official date, post offices are already rejecting handwritten labels — no matter how pretty your penmanship is. Check the list of countries that require EAD labels here.

How do I print a label from my smartphone?

  1. First, use this link and register, or “sign in as a guest”.
  2. Next, input the sender’s and recipient’s addresses and phone numbers.
  3. Now, select the shipping type (EMS, parcel, packet, etc.) and method (air, SAL or sea). And detail the contents of the package e.g. quantity, description and price.
  4. After that, input the shipping date, estimated weight and commercial value.
  5. Confirm and Japan Post will send an email with a link that generates your QR Code.
  6. Take that code to your post office and print out your label from the nearest “Yu-pri” touch terminal.

Note: Detailed information on the process can be found here. If you want to print from home (or at a convenience store), use this link. The process is the same, minus the terminal. More details here.

Domestic mail

How do I send mail within Japan?

  • Letters and postcards: Write the address, affix a stamp from the convenience store or post office, and pop it in a postbox.
  • Yu-pack: Send up to 30kg with this service. Just take your parcel to the post office or convenience store, and choose your preferred delivery date and time. You can even send chilled and frozen items.
A letter to a mysterious company in Tokyo. | Photo by Gregory Lane

How do I receive mail?

This might seem like a silly question, but there are a few options:

  • Cash on delivery: You can pay for that late-night, online purchase at the door. Just remember to have your coins ready.
  • Re-delivery: Getting your package redelivered is simple. Just input your tracking number here.
  • You can also get your package delivered to a pick-up box near you.

Banking

One of the easiest bank accounts for foreigners to open in Japan is JP Post Bank. You can now apply for an online account without having to use a pesky passbook. Apply here.

If you are running around looking for an ATM, post offices tend to have one inside or nearby and most international cards are accepted.

A typical hole-in-the-wall Japan Post branch. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Other services

Japan`s post offices are there to do much more than send and receive mail.

  • Other Yu-pack services: Send a suitcase to the airport or golf clubs to the golf course.
  • Insurance: Almost 90% of Japanese housholds have life insurance. It might be time to get yours.
  • Postcards: Buy a unique souvenir, especially around the New Year holidays.
  • Pay bills: You can even process your outstanding ones.
  • Temporary bag storage: Forget lockers. Store your luggage at the post office before you go sightseeing.

Just don’t try and do everything at once.

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