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Essay

Snail mail power

By Deborah Davidson

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Before the days of email, and before long-distance telephone calls became affordable, handwritten letters were a normal part of my life. The time spent waiting for a reply seemed long ― yet kind of exciting.

But during the years I attended college in the U.S., Japan’s postal service was often paralyzed by labor strikes. My letters pleading for advice or financial help did not reach my parents in Japan. It was a tough time for me. But this experience added the finishing touches to my becoming an independent adult.

Like me, my daughter left her home in Japan to go to college in America. But she had email. Sometimes she emailed me seven times a day! My emotions went up and down like a roller-coaster ride as I read about her stressful student life. Email has many benefits, but my life as the mother of a college student might have been more peaceful without it.

When I was a child, my artist mother encouraged me to make my own greeting cards. In my middle age, I discovered the Japanese folk art called etegami. This combination of simple hand-painted art and words on washi postcards quickly became an important part of my life.

Today I send up to 100 etegami a month to people all over the world. I learned that etegami exchange is just a small part of the worldwide movement called mail art. I also learned that mail art and letters that travel by post are now called snail mail.

Clearly, snail mail fills a need that is not satisfied by email, Skype or social media. Recently my sister told me that when she reads a handwritten letter, she feels she can hear the writer’s voice as clearly as if they were speaking to her ― even if she hasn’t heard their voice in 30 years.

I often send etegami to people who are hospitalized or housebound because of illness or disability. They seem to enjoy the sight and the feel of the cards just as much as the encouraging messages. Sometimes they get the cards taped to a wall, where they can see them from their bed.

My father has Alzheimer’s disease. He no longer remembers who I am. I have sent him a new etegami each week for over ten years. He doesn’t read email. And he forgets conversations as soon as they end. But even if he forgets my etegami, I know he will enjoy it with fresh joy the next time he picks it up.

When I grow old, I hope people will send me snail mail ― especially mail art ― even after I can no longer remember who the sender is.

郵便の力

電子メールに対して、普通の手紙のことを英語でsnail mailという。文字通り、カタツムリのように遅いという意味だが、絵手紙を楽しむ筆者は、郵便には独特の魅力があると感じている。

The Japan Times ST: August 18, 2017

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2017年8月18日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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