Jul 5, 2018

Do you have a “Special Postmaster” in your neighborhood?

Hello again, webverse. Have you seen something like this in your neighborhood?

Do you have a “Special Postmaster” in your neighborhood? photo

What I mean are those little Japan Post shops that look like they are run out of someone’s home.

They seem a little odd, considering Japan Post is one of Japan’s largest postal and financial institutions and indeed one of the largest in the world. Why, then, would there need to be little mom and pop Japan Posts throughout the country instead of brick and mortar JP buildings?

The answer is quite fascinating, actually, as it begins back in the Meiji period and continues through the early 2000s under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Back in the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization to catch up after hundreds of years of Self-imposed isolation. One of the objectives under the modernization was connecting the country through postal services. The Meiji government designated particular families (usually those of higher rank and affluence) to serve as “special postmasters.” They were responsible for handling mail before the country established more formal postal organizations and services.

The thing is, those special postmasters retained their responsibilities even after those formal organizations and services were established. In the process, they also grew to comprise a special interest group with a surprising amount of political pull.

Enter Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who in the early 2000s was seeking to privatize Japan Post.  The postal and financial giant was managed under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications but the relationship between JP and the government had become mutually costly, meaning the government was not capable of managing the gigantic organization and JP was unnecessarily draining government resources.  

The Special Postmasters opposed the privatization, however; after all, if JP became a private organization, they would lose their political protections.  So what did they do? They used their political sway to negotiate terms that even after privatization, they would retain their status as Special Postmasters.

While their functions have been reduced, there still retain basic postal service responsibilities even today.  So that’s why there are still little mom and pop JP stores all over the country!

[Just a note: if you decide to use them, just keep in mind that they have limited services available (basically only domestic parcel and letter distribution)]



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).