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Sunday, Oct. 10, 1999
It's a wonder more letter writers don't go postal
By AMY CHAVEZ
Everyone in Japan is worried about unemployment but islands like mine are suffering from overemployment.
Question: How many Japanese people does it take to send a letter at the post office? Answer: Four. One to measure and weigh the envelope, one to supervise the weighing and measuring, one to confirm that the letter has been measured and weighed and one to carry the letter 100 meters from the post office to the ferry boat. And my post office doesn't even watermark the envelopes -- that's done on the mainland.
When I heard that the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry was planning to cut 3,240 employees to reduce the 62.5 billion yen postal deficit, I was hoping they'd do away with our post office completely. No such luck.
Don't get me wrong, I'm an avid user of the post office. But while the people who work in the post office are very kind, they are, to be politically correct, "postally challenged." Here are some stories from my unpublished book called, "Strange but True Post Office Stories."
More often than not, when I buy stamps at the post office the following scene takes place. I look at the commemorative stamps available and make my purchase. The young lady adds up the amount first on her abacus, then twice on her calculator. I give her the money. She adds and subtracts once on the abacus and twice on the calculator then gives me the proper change. She smiles and very politely thanks me for using the post office. But instead of going away, I stand there with an expectant look on my face until she asks, "What's wrong?" Then I say, "Could I have my stamps please?"
Sending international packages from my post office is always problematic. This is what happened the first time I sent a package from my local post office. One employee measured the package and said, "Hmm." She looked at the other employee who said, "Hmm." Finally, the supervisor came over, watched the first employee measure the package again and he said, "Hmm."
First employee: "That'll be 6,000 yen for the package."
Me: "That much?!"
First employee: "That's an American box. It's 2 mm over the size limit. If you use a smaller box, it will only cost 4,000 yen to mail. We sell boxes here."
I transferred all the contents to the new box then the first employee weighed the box and said, "Hmm." The second employee said, "Hmm." The supervisor said, "Hmm."
First employee: "The weight is .05 grams over the limit. It will still cost 6,000 yen."
Me: "But the box is smaller and the contents are the same."
Second employee: "The cardboard must be heavier."
Third employee: "Let's try to cut down the flaps on the top. That should take off a little weight."
It did. The weight went back to just under the 4,000 yen limit.
First employee: "Now all we need to do is seal the box."
She taped the box then weighed it again and said, "Hmm." The second employee said, "Hmm." The supervisor said, "Hmm."
First employee: "The weight of the tape puts the box over the weight limit. I'm sorry, it'll still cost 6,000 yen to send.
Grudgingly, I handed over the 6,000 yen.
First employee: "Thank you. And another 200 yen for the box please."
International letters are treated with the same scrutiny. When I bring in a letter, the first employee measures the length of the envelope because she knows American-size envelopes are half a centimeter longer than Japanese envelopes. This difference constitutes a jump in price from 110 yen to 260 yen for an international letter. Once all three employees agree on the length, the first employee weighs the letter. After the weight is agreed on, she tells me the price and I lick the stamps and affix them, right there in front of them. Then the first employee weighs the envelope again, just in case my saliva is extra heavy that day, and adds together the value of the stamps on the calculator, twice, to make sure the postage is correct. In unison, all three employees smile and politely thank me for using the post office.
I don't suppose there is anything wrong with being extra efficient. And with all that overemployment, surely I should be able to rest at ease knowing my letters are safely on their way. But last week, for the third time, I had a letter returned due to "insufficient postage."
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