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A Tegami from Kyoto
Deliver delights with handwritten words & thoughts

Do you remember when you last wrote a proper letter or a card to someone? While sending a few words or lines from our smartphone or computer takes only a few seconds, writing and sending a letter might make you feel like it is taking forever. But is taking time so bad? Choose a nice letter pad, sit at a desk, select a pen, and think of the person you are writing to. Writing a letter is not just sending information but rather sending your heart. Why not look for a lovely card or letter and send it by ''snail mail'' from Kyoto to someone special?

Writing a letter is a very simple process and it's the same in Japan, too; however, if one wishes to follow the formal and conventional style, it is not as easy and simple as it seems. Just like the language itself, the manners of letter writing require one to think about certain formalities, set expressions, styles of writing, and more.

In Japanese society, social hierarchy is more highly accentuated than in many other countries and the language reflects this. As with speaking, when writing a letter, one has to consider who is being written to: younger or older, close friend or newly met person, business client or private acquaintance, etc. In short, it all depends on how close you are to the other person.

Personal letters are traditionally written by hand using blue or black ink, or with a writing brush and black ink. Today, Japanese letters are written both vertically or horizontally, but vertical orientation is traditional and more formal. Red ink should be avoided because writing a person’s name in red ink suggests a wish for that person to die.

Unfortunately, writing a proper letter in full seems to be a dying custom, unfortunately, since emails, texts and SNS are becoming major communication tools today. However, sending New Year's greeting postcards, or nengajo, is still a living tradition which is similar to Christmas cards in Western culture (although it is also a fact that the number of people who write and send nengajo has been decreasing year by year).

Nengajo are ideally timed to be delivered on New Year's Day (January 1st) but delivery by January 7th is still fine. If someone passed away in a family during the year, the members refrain from sending nengajo because the following New Year shouldn't be officially celebrated. Instead, they send an ''apology'' postcard written in black before the New Year informing they will not be sending nengajo.

Besides nengajo, seasonal greetings are often made with cards such as shochu-mimai (summer greetings between July and August 7th), zansho-mimai (later summer greetings after August 7th till the end of the month), kanchu-mimai (winter greetings from early January to early February).

*An envelope must not be over 25 grams; Please check with the post office for the fee.

Kurotani Washi in Ayabe
Handmade paper born from the legacy of 800 years of history
Washi literally means Japanese paper. If you feel like sending a letter from Kyoto, why not choose a nice washi paper? There are several known washi production towns in Japan but the most historical and renowned one is in Ayabe City, in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture.

Kurotani Washi has a history dating back 800 years. In the 13th century, the defeated samurai warriors of the Heike Clan had to hide from their enemies in the mountains and they produced washi to make a living. It is said to have been how the tradition of washi production in Ayabe started. Since then, the village of Kurotani has been recognized as the home of traditional handmade paper.

Kurotani Washi has remained true to its handmade heritage and has forged a name for itself around the world as the home of this very valuable, pure handmade Japanese paper, and this art continues to be handed down to future craftsmen.

Kurotani Washi Kaikan
Visitors can try making Kurotani Washi at Kurotani Washi Kaikan in Ayabe: 700 yen for making a postcard; reservation required one week in advance (accepted from five people).

Open: 9:00-16:30 (Closed Sat, Sun, national holidays); Access: From Kyoto Stn., take JR Sanin Main Line to Ayabe Stn. (about 2 hours by local or 1 hour by the limited express), then take the Aya Bus to Kurotani Washi Kaikan; kurotaniwashi.kyoto

Photo & text courtesy of Kurotani Washi Kaikan

Delivering Delight with ''Behind the Scenes'' Writing Items
Interview with Manabi Sasaki, the Project and Art Director of Uragu
As if hidden away not to be discovered, Uragu is located behind a narrow lane on Miyagawacho, one of the geiko/maiko districts of Kyoto. The tiny shop's interior is overflowing with attractive stationery items, their original postcards, letter pads, memo pads, envelopes, and more. Ms. Manabi Sasaki, the director and a designer of Uragu, tell us how we can enjoy the pleasure of handwriting letters and why she believes so.

KVG: What inspired you to open Uragu?

Sasaki: Since I was young, I have enjoyed writing letters. It is always a joy for me to decide which letter pad or postcard I will select to send my words; however, it wasn't always easy to find an item I was really fond of. This was why I came up with the idea of designing writing items myself.

When I think about a new design, I always remember the concept of our shop. Written in Chinese character, ''Uragu'' has the meaning of ''ools behind the scene.'' To me, writing items are important as they are an essential tool to send words and feelings to someone; however, their function will not be complete if nothing is written. So, in this sense, writing items are ''behind the scenes.''

Another meaning of Uragu is ''delightful'' -an old Japanese term. I and the co-owner of Uragu wished to produce a store where we can present ''behind-the-scenes'' stationery and tools that deliver a delightful feeling between two people.

KVG: What do you find special in writing letters?

Sasaki: I consider a letter as a tool to deliver my feeling directly to the receiver. Handwritten letters change depending on the feelings and condition of the day, meaning that letters represent the mood of the writer. Upon delivery, the receiver will feel this and think of the writer. Letters give both the writer and receiver a chance of imagining. So, I would say a letter can take us from the present real world to the world of imagination.

Every written character is born from the heart. We are used to receiving mass-printed letters and information but I always feel pleased when I find hand-written characters, even if it is only a few words. No matter how beautiful the paper itself or the design of the letter pad is, it can't beat the beauty of handwritten character. Handwriting is so much more personal.

Some of Sasaki's original designs: Postcard 140 yen each

KVG: Many people are distant from writing letters today. Any advice for people to encourage them to put pen to paper?

Sasaki: My advice is, write just three lines. There is no need to fill a full sheet of letter pad or a post card. Just write three simple lines: the receiver's name, a few greeting words, and your name. For instance, ''It was such a beautiful day. Thank you very much for sharing a lovely time with me the other day.'' This completes a perfect letter. Simple short words can please people; writing on a nice sheet of paper or postcard can do more, of course.

Manabi Sasaki: Project and Art Director of Uragu. A graphic designer of posters, books and many other items related to tea ceremony, art, and theatre. Also, an experienced and skilled Japanese calligraphy practitioner.

Uragu: Open: 12:00-18:00; Closed: Mon.; www.uragu.com

An Example of Formal Japanese Letter Format

1. Receiver's name
2. Opening word for formal letters
3. Seasonal greetings
4. Main body
5. Closing greetings
6. Closing word corresponding to the opening word
7. Date
8. Sender's name

Dear Yuka,
Buds of plum blossoms are becoming larger and I feel delighted to know that spring is not too far away. Thank you very much for inviting me to your wonderful birthday party the other day. I am so grateful that we now share another great memory. I hope we can meet each other again soon. Although spring is coming closer, it is still cold these days. Please take care of yourself and stay well. Kashiko,
February 18th

Make Your Letters Even More ''Kyoto'' Special

Kyoto Original Stamp & Special Postmark
The final item to complete your original Kyoto letter would be these special time-limited stamps and unique postmarks featuring Kyoto.

*Stamps are available at most post offices, however, special edition stamps are available only as a set (10 stamps, minimum). Not all post offices provide special postmarks; Bring the card or envelope with a stamp to the counter and ask if the post office has the ''Fuu-kei-in (scenic stamp).''

''Maiko'' at Gion Postal Office
''Sanjo Bridge'' at Sanjo Ohashi Post Office

Spice-up the Card with Hanko Stamps
Tamaru Inbo sells playful stamps featuring over 2,500 unique designs, depicting everything from classic Kyoto scenes to figures from world history and pop culture!

Tamaru Inbo: Shinkyogoku: Open: 10:00-20:00; Closed: Thurs.; Teramachi: Open daily: 10:00-18:00; www.tamaru-inbou.com

Maiko: 740 yen; Kiyomizu Temple: 740 yen; Ninja: 740 yen; Sakura cherry blossom: 500 yen

Send Elegant Scent of Kyoto with ''Fumiko'' Fragrance Sachet
Fumiko is a small paper sachet with a soothing fragrance of Kyoto enclosed in the envelope. The ''Hanakyoka'' comes in different scents of the 12 months in lovely flower designs.

Yamadamatsu Koubokuten: Open: 10:00-17:30; On the north side of Shimodachiuri, west of Muromachi; www.yamadamatsu.co.jp

Fumiko: 324 yen each

Beautiful and inspiring Ippitsu-sen letter pad
All items are unique and originally designed by Uragu's own graphic design studio. Feel the quality of Kyoto's ''writing culture'' that has matured and grown from a long history.

Uragu: Open: 12:00-18:00; Closed: Mon.; On the east side of Miyagawacho; www.uragu.com

Ippitsu-sen Letter Pad: 432 yen each (as of Feb., 2018)