How to send a letter in Japan

April 8, 2006

The short answer is, of course, by post. Put your letter in an evelope, write the address, stick some stamps and drop it in the post bin. Yes, sending post is essentially that simple. However there are some tiny tidbits peculiar things that only unique to Japan (AFAIK).

First, how to write an address. In Japan, the common way to write an address is like this:

<Postcode>

<Name of Perfecture> <Name of Region> <Name of Block> <Address>

<Name of Receiver> + <Kanji: -Sama>

So here, we see that in Japan, an address usually started with the post code, then going from the wider area to the more specific ones. In my country, it’s backwards. We started with the name of the receiver and end with the postcode. On Japanese style envelope, you have to write it top down. From a bit at the right side from the center of the envelope start writing the post code from top to bottom, then work your way to the left by specifying the address and then the name of the receiver.

A fact that you should know is that Japan’s streets barely have names. So, sending a letter with a namestreet is not a viable way to do. Instead, you have to use blocks. For instance: 5-choume 5-ban 5-go (or usually written 5-5-5 for a shorthand). It means the 5th part of a region, the 5th block and the house numbered 5.

The next thing you should know is the addition of the kanji ‘sama’ after the name of the receiver. It is crucial to do this when sending to a Japanese, because this indicates honorifics for the receiver.

Next, to write the sender name and address, you have to write it on the back of the envelope. For Japanese style envelope, start on the right top side. Add your name and address on that side. Starting from the right most column for the Postcode and working yourself to the left. Beware when writing the name of the sender no honorifics is used. Just write your name plain. Writing no honorifics on your name made the impression that you lowers yourself to the receiver thus it is the polite way. (actually this rule also can be apply when conversing. You have to add some honorifics to the other party like: -san, -sama, -kun, -sensei, -chan, etc. But you should never try to add honorifics to yourself. It will sound pretty weird.)

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6 Responses to “How to send a letter in Japan”

  1. Tenkuu Says:

    How do I send it to Tokyo? In English or Kanji?

  2. Andrew Says:

    the thing that i described here are how you suppose to write it when you are planning on writing it in japanese for local mail in japan. all have to be in kanji.

    if you’re going for international mail to japan, i wouldn’t advice for you doing this because your post office may not understand where do you want sent your letter.

    but if you really want to write it down, dont follow the layout that i described here and use something the usual one you use, and add the japanese version beside it.

  3. Greg Says:

    Actually, if you are writing from another country to Japan. The format you use doesn’t matter at all, as long as all the correct information is there. You can write it forward, backward, English, Kanji, with -sama, with -san, or even Mr.
    It’s ok!

    Now if you are staying in Japan and trying to send a letter domestically, you should try to follow the proper format. Not because your letter won’t get to where it’s going (because it will still get there), but out of simple respect for the way it’s usually done in this country. After all, you are staying here! ;) So, don’t worry. It’s not terribly complex.

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