I remember the first time I went to Tokyo in 2000. The area in which my friends were living was very chic and filled with westerners. Where my friends live now (they have moved around several times) is also a very nice area but more typically Japanese with few westerners (that’s means you!). But the thing all these areas seem to share is that there are (except for major thoroughfares) no street signs and no street addresses posted. How does the mailman know where to go? They do it by neighborhood and somehow it works. But it does not work if you want to send any kind of offer to the household aside from a generic message on behalf of a neighborhood business.
Japan does not have lists of people to buy and sell as is the case in the U.S. and many other places. Since the population is so homogenous there is no need for demographic and psychographic profiling. People are not all that different – at least city people are city people and country people are country people. In Japan mail is delivered 7 days a week and you pretty much have to check your mailbox every time you return home. I did not get to see any offers from companies that may have provided services to my friend but I imagine that there may be some mailing to customer files but then again maybe not. I was told how efficient the Japanese postal service is, and that would be consistent with just about everything in Japan. The Japanese postal service is being privatized over the next 9+ years. This is something that is often discussed about the USPS but never really seems to gain any real traction.
The cultural reasons would seem to be many for why there is no customer list industry in Japan but I am sure that there are many Americans that would prefer if there were little advertising mail in the United States. There are however no shortages of direct response television ads and some of the same characters that hawk products on American television can be seen doing the same complete with dubbing, subtitles etc. for selling those products in Japan. I wonder if the Japanese will use the mail any differently as the amount of advertising messages continue to increase there as much as in the U.S… I for one think it is a channel that could be leveraged but it would not be easy (what is easy these days?).
And don’t ever just throw your unwanted mail in the garbage. In Tokyo your neighbors make up what I call the ‘garbage police’. The recycling standards are quite high in Tokyo and as gai-jin (foreign people) are not fully familiar with garbage protocols you can spend fifteen minutes being admonished by your neighbor due to your errors in separating your garbage. These people take this stuff seriously! Good thing though – 36 million people have big time garbage potential. And even with the strict standards there are mutant super crows that prowl the streets of Tokyo. These birds are scary big and appear to have hit the steroid stash. They make noise 24 hours a day and frequently made me feel as if I were in an Edgar Allen Poe story or Alfred Hitchcock movie. I have heard that the crows have actually gone after people and they take small animals regularly. One final observation about garbage in Tokyo (and Europe for that matter) – re: public garbage cans. There aren’t many. Having been to Europe twice in the past 9 months as well as Tokyo I have never carried my trash around more in my life. However the streets of Europe and Tokyo were infinitely cleaner than in New York (not saying much) or most other places in the U.S. Yes there is a correlation. But it would take an American quite some time to get used to that!