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116 (Paper, paper, paper | 紙、紙、紙)

May 31, 2011
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Postcard fliers I found at a cafe | カフェでみつけたポストカードのチラシ

One of the things I observed during my trip back to Japan was the amount of paper I accumulated in just a matter of days.

It started practically the moment I set foot in Japan, right after I exited the sliding doors of customs and rolled my luggage over to the bus ticket counter. Upon hearing my destination the clerk told me the next bus was leaving in 3 minutes so I should hurry. While letting me know which terminal I needed to go and how to get there (“Out that door, turn left, it’s the second one,”) she printed out 1. my credit card receipt, 2. my bus ticket, and 3. another receipt printed out on the same paper as my ticket (not to confuse me or anything). As I rushed over to the terminal, the bus attendants asked me which pieces of luggage I wished to put in the storage unit, strapped on a small blue label on to the luggage, and tore off half of the label and handed it to me (that I would need to retrieve my luggage when I got off), all before the wheels of my suitcase had barely come to a full stop. I struggled to contain the various pieces of paper in my hands while I made a phone call to my parents to let them know which bus I was taking.



Various documents from Docomo, my cellphone provider | ドコモショップからの書類

A few days later I found myself at the local branch of my cellphone carrier after my phone had died. The reason turned out to be the charger I was using, which I had replaced. While I was there I also decided to get my plan changed. The clerk also informed me that I was eligible for a free battery replacement so I of course took it. This resulted in three printouts: 1. the”request” for the charger and the plan change, 2. the “request” of the battery replacement, and 3. the receipt for the new charger. Plus, a catalog explaining all the products and services I can exchange with the “points” I had accumulated since some of those points will be expiring soon. All this done with such speed and efficiency that I didn’t even have the time or thought to tell them a printout won’t be necessary.


Not to mention all the catalogs and advertisements and numerous invoices that came along with my box of books from Amazon, some clothes I ordered online, and photos I got processed (yay for film).

All this reminded me of something when I had an interview with a IT company in Israel. They had just begun to sell their product in Japan, and one of the first problems they came across was the fact that they initially sent out the device just by itself. No paper manual, no warranty slip, just the company website address on the box. This was not well received by Japanese customers, the company had said, the lack of not even a single piece of paper accompanying the product a source of uncertainty for many. They resorted in including a slip that kindly directed the customers to the company website where they can get the manual and the warranty.

In Japan, paper seems to offer a sense of security as well as order and procedure.




And then there are the fliers for live shows, art exhibits, dance and theater. Just one trip to a favorite cafe Niwa-Coya scored me all the beautiful flyers above, each a piece of art themselves. (To the left is a flyer for the apron exhibit by my dear friend Kiyomi. It is at Niwa-Coya until June 12th for those of you in Japan and are interested. Her aprons are colorful, energetic, all one of a kind, and fantastic!) Tokyo has never been short for fun events, and even though this wasn’t the case for a while after the earthquake, I was glad to see things were starting to pick back up again.


Pages from NIKKEI MAGAZINE May 2008 (no. 54) Edition | NIKKEI MAGAZINE 2008年5月 (no.54)より

While thinking about the usage and role of paper in Japan, I remembered an article I read in an old NIKKEI MAGAZINE (a thin magazine that is delivered with the Nikkei newspaper every third Sunday. It’s a wonderful publication.) about gift wrapping paper of major department stores in Japan. I think for anyone in my generation and above, all these wrapping papers are iconic and instantly recognizable. It’s something engraved in the culture I grew up in. I can even remember how the paper smells or how it feels to unwrap it, usually revealing tin-boxed gourmet sweets underneath.

Here are examples of paper still very much alive as an important tool for publicity, expression, as well as class and the highest service and hospitality in Japan.

日本での紙の使用方法や役割を考えていたら、昔のNIKKEI MAGAZINE(毎月第三日曜日に日経新聞に付いてくる小冊子。とてもオリジナルでクオリティーの高い出版です)で読んだ日本のデパートの包装紙の記事を思い出しました。私と同世代以上の日本人の方はほとんど、これらの包装紙を見慣れているのではないでしょうか。私は包装紙のにおいや、はがす時の感覚まで思い出せます。下に隠れているのは大抵お菓子だったな。


I am and have been a supporter of reducing paper waste for a long time now, but I’ll still be sad if and when the gift wrapping papers disappear from Japanese department stores for good.


Much love,

P.S. I have a few thoughts and posts brewing about Israel too. I still have a few Japan posts I hope to get out of my system beforehand though. Maybe by the end of this week? Thank you for reading this far my friends!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2011 8:24 pm

    For such a computerised nation, Japanese companies still keep piles & piles of documents on paper. Also no matter what you buy, even the tiniest thing, you get a receipt ….. more paper.

    • June 1, 2011 7:47 am

      Yes, and your comment reminded me about the cash thing in Japan too. For such a computerized nation, cash is still winning over plastic it seems!

  2. Sammi Moe permalink
    June 2, 2011 3:32 pm

    At least this paper is pretty! I accumulate a lot of paper too. Seems that the computer that was supposed to eliminate “paperwork” creates a lot of paper. Hmmmmmmm?

    • June 3, 2011 5:49 pm

      No kidding! Maybe the computer has made it too easy to print something out even when it’s really not necessary?
      Perhaps with the iPhones and iPads etc this will reduce…

  3. sumi permalink
    June 7, 2011 2:37 pm



    • June 7, 2011 3:28 pm

      細かいしおしゃれだな〜、と思って 笑

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