In the world of instant messaging, a beautifully handwritten letter seems like a relic from the past. That familiar red-tinted post box you have grown up seeing at every corner of the street has turned rusty and old fashioned. So maybe it was the idea of salvaging the good old letter writing tradition that resulted in this concept of planting postboxes underwater.
Or simply hold on to the power of nostalgia as a tourism gimmick? Either way, the Japanese seemed to have aced it by creating the world’s deepest underwater mailbox (the first-ever underwater mailbox is said to be in Australia’s Vanuatu). Located at the small fishing town of Susami, in Wakayama Prefecture at Nishimura District, it has the record of being the deepest underwater postbox in the world, at a depth of 10 meters.
Fishing is the main occupation for the small community of Wakayama (roughly 5000 inhabitants). This underwater postbox is linked to the local postbox and annually the mailbox receives over 1000 to 1500 mails and most of them are posted by family members for their loved ones.
Water-resistant postcards are available at the nearby shops and messages can be written with an oil-based paint marker before dropping inside the postbox. Once in every few days, the postcards are collected and deposited at the local post office, which will reach the recipients within a week.
The postbox brainwave came in 1999 as part of a fair, to endorse the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail and the nearby spots in the southern part of Wakayama’s Kii Peninsula. Till then Susami held no special interest to the world, a fact which was remedied after the introduction of this ingenious underwater postbox suggested by Toshihiko Matsumoto, the then-postmaster of the town. It was installed in 1999, but by 2002, the Susami underwater postbox had entered the Guinness book of world records for being the deepest underwater postbox in the world.
The boxes are made of cast iron and since they tend to rust underwater, it is replaced once in 6 months. They use two boxes, and the rusty one is painted and given a shine by the time it is replaced with the other one. Every year, the two boxes are replaced by the discarded ones in the Post Offices in the area and given a fresh coat of paint. Waterproof bags are used for carrying the mails as well as special underwater stamps.
Though there are several other submarine postboxes in various countries ( Vanuatu, Risor, Norway and Pulau Layang-Layang, Malaysia) there is something very unique about this Japanese version as the cards posted here, which are available at the local general stores, are often edible, flavoured mails that have been developed by the local business of Susami Bay.
This underwater post box is a much-loved tradition in Susami, and the tourists simply cannot get enough of this novelty. Next time you are planning to post a mail, a quick trip to this little village might not be a bad idea.