Date Visited: April 27, 2019
Have you ever wanted to write a letter to someone whose address or even name you don’t know? Or perhaps write to someone who has long left this world? The Missing Post Office in Awashima keeps such letters, and it’s open to anyone.
An Art Project in the Form of a Post Office
The Missing Post Office was originally part of the 2013 Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art festival held every three years on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. It was brought to life by the artist Saya Kubota, whose inspiration came as she walked along the island’s coast and noticed that the sea carried many things adrift. In fact, the Missing Post Office’s Japanese name, Hyōryū Yūbinkyoku, literally translates to “Drifting Post Office,” and alludes to letters sent in a bottle, drifting in the ocean.
The post office’s centerpiece was also made to convey this idea. The wooden base turns when pushed to one direction, and when it does, it makes as a sound similar to ocean waves. The metal boxes that serve as containers of postcards are actually detachable and clips on and off easily, so that the letters kept are constantly adrift, just as they would be had they been letters in a bottle instead.
The post office is home to tens of thousands of “undeliverable” letters. These are letters with no address; many of them are for deceased loved ones. Others are letters to strangers, to oneself, to people from the past or future, to pets, objects and even body parts.
Anyone can visit the post office during its business and read the letters. They are also welcome to take letters home should they find one they believe is addressed to themselves.
The project was originally set to close after the festival, but due to public demand, the post office has been operational since its installment, although its business hours are limited to the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month.
A Place of Prayer
I first came to know about the Missing Post Office through NHK’s Cool Japan. I was asked to do a location shoot for the episode “Letters” which aired on March 24th, 2018. During the location shoot, I got to meet the artist herself, Ms. Saya Kubota. I found her to be bright and bubbly, someone who can easily break the ice even if you’ve just met.
During the shoot, I noticed that a portion of the walls was adorned with photos and sketches of the Virgin Mary. I asked her about them, and she told me that during the conception phase of the post office, she imagined the place to be one of prayer and looked for similar places online. She put up the photos on the wall as references.
If you think about it, writing is a reflective activity, and I believe that these letters allow the people who write them to process their emotions. For some, even exorcize their own demons. In many ways, sending undeliverable letters is a lot like praying, you get to put into words how you feel, and you work through these feelings by yourself, knowing that there will be no response from the other side.
Even the postmaster, a jolly man in his 80s, has reportedly felt like a monk at times, reading every letter that makes it way to the post office. Fun fact: the postmaster had the same title before he retired. His workplace, the original location of the Awashima Post Office is where the Missing Post Office now stands. The new Awashima Post Office is now located closer to the port.
English and Taiwanese Letters in the Mix
The Missing Post Office has previously set up temporary offices in the UK and Taiwan. During a limited time frame, the temporary offices accepted letters in the said countries, and those letters are now kept in the Awashima office, in a shelf labeled “By Air Mail.”
Missing Post Office: The Book
In 2015, a collection was published featuring 69 touching letters that were sent to the post office. The book is available in paperback format only and can be purchased through Amazon Japan.
How to Send Letters to the Missing Post Office
There are two ways one can send letters two the missing post office. One is to physically visit the Missing Post Office. The other is to send a postcard or letter to the following address:
c/o Hyoryu Yubinkyoku
1317-2 Takumacho Awashima, Mitoyo
Postcards are preferred because they don’t have to be stored in envelopes and guests can easily take them from the shelves to read.
How to get to the Missing Post Office
The community bus is right outside JR Takuma Station and costs 100 yen. It’s best to tell the driver where you’ll be getting off so that you don’t miss your stop.
The ferry to Awashima costs 360 yen one-way. Both times I’ve been there, the port was unmanned, but you can buy tickets from a vending machine placed inside the waiting room.
There are around three ferries to Awashima every hour, but the ferries that go from Awashima to Suda Port are very limited. The water taxi is a lot more expensive with a rate of ¥2000 per person, but it can pick you up shortly after you call so it might be a better option when making your way back.
The Missing Post Office (漂流郵便局, Hyoryu Yubinkyoku)
Business Hours: every 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month, 12:00-16:00
Official Website (Japanese Only)