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Telegram not dead STOP Alive, evolving in Japan STOP

Tim Hornyak | Aug. 14, 2014
Why competition is heating up in Japan's telegram business.

Enrollments, graduations and new job positions also call for congratulations, so the beginning of the academic and fiscal year in April sees a flurry of wires, Takumi added.

While the number of telegrams sent by NTT peaked roughly 50 years ago, customers still wrote over 10 million of them in 2012.

The tally falls by about 10 percent a year, but there's a growing number of smaller companies offering telegrams and other delivery services in Japan.

That's because Japan liberalized some mail and messaging services about 10 years ago when it launched plans to privatize Japan Post, a government corporation that controls trillions of dollars' worth of customer savings.

Postal privatization eventually sputtered, but the new entrants have gone from sending 420,000 telegrams and other kinds of messages in 2004 to nearly 4 million in 2012.

In July, Sagawa Express, a long-established courier company, began offering telegrams presented in stylish cards from ¥1,382. Another company offers novelty "Marshmallow Telegrams" -- boxes of marshmallows made with edible characters that spell out a message.

"Some companies are trying to compete with NTT on price and offerings," says Takeo Kiyokawa, a general manager at PS Communications, a SoftBank group company set up a few years ago to offer domestic telegrams.

The firm's Hot Denpo service includes fancy gifts by fashion designers such as Junko Koshino, who created a gold and brown plastic clutch purse to enclose telegrams. It's priced at ¥8,000.

It's surprisingly stylish given that about 90 percent of PS Communications customers are businesses and 70 percent of the telegrams it sends are condolences. Yet Hot Denpo users are slowly increasing, Kiyokawa says.

"The telegram culture is continuing," he said, "but I'm not sure what will happen 10 years from now."

Younger Japanese may be unfamiliar with the medium, but gift cartoon characters are bridging the gap.

"I sent my mother a Doraemon telegram," a 27-year-old Japanese model wrote on her blog for Mother's Day, referring to the famous robot cat from manga and anime. The stuffed toy comes with a prerecorded greeting and thanks the recipient for working hard.

"She was thrilled! Thank you (Mom) for raising me."


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