The Japanese Pen Pal Phenomenon

Once upon a time, during the 70’s up to the 90’s, it became extremely popular for people to write to strangers through snail mail. Some wrote to strangers from far off cities, while other people wrote to strangers located across the Atlantic. At one point, it even became trendy to write to incarcerated prisoners.

Pen pals have become a thing of the past. Talking to strangers has become less taboo than before thanks to the presence of the internet. In the recent years, it is now popular to engage in conversation with strangers on the web through sites like Reddit, where forums can be made so individuals can discuss a focused topic that they are all interested with.

Snail mail is also on the brink of death because it has been replaced by smartphones and computers. Overall, the idea of pen pals seems to be completely outdated. However, it is quite surprising to find that pen pals still exist in some parts of the world, including Japan. For a country as advanced and modern as Japan, where the internet is as fast as lightning, and computer models are replaced every month, it is odd to find that the concept of pen pals is very much alive.

Why The Japanese Still Make Friends Through Pen Pals

 Compared to neighboring Asian countries, searching for pen pals among other nations is more common in Japan that in any other country. The demographic of Japanese pen pals vary a lot, from young children aged below ten, young adults, middle-aged individuals, and lastly, the elderly. There are some interesting statistics behind the Japanese’ motive behind seeking pen pals.

One of the plausible reasons why Japanese, especially the middle-aged to elderly wish to engage in writing to strangers is because of loneliness. It is baffling, how a country so modern, advanced, polite, and morally upright could be suffering from loneliness. However, depression is truly widespread in Japan. 

However, not all of the Japanese seeking pen pals are lonely. On the other hand, some are just looking into sharing their personal interests. Some may find comfort in exchanging local recipes with an Italian, whom he or she may exchange cooking styles with. Some appreciate criticisms on their photography portfolio coming from strangers who do not now them and would not feel obliged to sugar coat their insights. In a way, pen pals serve as low-maintenance friends whom you get to share thoughts to once in awhile, without the tedious task of constantly communicating, going out and being in each others’ lives. This is an ideal set-up for a majority of the Japanese population who feels that they do not have any more time to interact with the outside worlds.

Another advantage of having a pen pal is to learn not just about their culture, but their country in general. For example, someone who is undecided about taking a trip to a distant European country may talk to someone who lives there for some advice. On the other hand, it is also common for foreigners to contact pen pals living in Japan for some travel tips. The internet is already a gold mine of information about traveling to Japan, however, it is still interesting to know the insights coming from a local.

In some parts of the world, the idea of exchanging romantic letters and e-mails with a stranger is still considered to be more romantic than joining Tinder. Some still believe in finding their soul mate in the form a stranger thousands of miles across the world. It is old school, but some people are lucky enough to have success in the romantic department - a la You’ve Got Mail.

Despite the varying motives to converse with pen pals, a major advantage of this is not just for social fulfillment, but it also allows one to practice their verbal abilities through writing. More so for the Japanese, who are not the best at speaking in English, being in constant communication with someone who speaks English by reading and writing can surely make a difference in personal English-speaking skills, whether intended or subconsciously.

Is Snail Mail Still Common With Japanese Pen Pals?

Looking at today’s advanced technology, there are endless options on how to communicate with others through social media, messaging apps, and other Internet-powered services. What’s interesting is that snail mail is still a popular medium. There are several reasons why snail mail is still alive to this day, living its last breath.

 A good portion of those who communicate with pen pals through snail mail usually include memorabilia such as stamps and postcards. For many, the idea of sending postcards is still extremely romantic - even in a platonic aspect. The feeling of receiving a tangible postcard can never be replaced by photos sent through e-mail or Viber.

Aside from postcards, some pen pals engage in conversation through snail mail so they may add some extras to their document. It is common to attach small memorabilia along with every letter, note or postcard. These are usually small tokens of friendship that can range from city key chains, ref magnets, to home-crafted foods. 

How To Meet Japanese Pen Pals Online: Free Penpal Websites

 There are plenty of websites that allow users to find other individuals who are seeking for penpals. These websites are not entirely limited to posting ads by Japanese individuals, but their goal is to rather bring together people from different races. Despite the massive decline of pen pal writing’s popularity, there is still a good number of websites - this just goes to show that there is still a good number of people looking for strangers to write to.

One of the biggest and most popular websites on the internet for finding pen pals is It is rich in different features, such as allowing minors to block out messages from adults to having a personal mailbox within their domain that doesn’t require having a separate e-mail address. In a way, it also works as a social media site as it allows users to upload their own profile photos, and see photos of people whom they have added as friends.

The site administrators of Penpalworld also ensure that the photos used as profile pictures are appropriate for viewing by all ages. This means that Penpalworld makes an extra effort to protect minors who are on the internet. Best of all, having an account at Penpalworld is completely free - though, those who are interested and have extra cash to burn may opt to pay for VIP membership. The only difference between the two membership types is the limit of letters that you may write per day; paid membership allows writing of 50 letters daily, while free membership is limited to only 3 letters a day.

Another popular website for seeking penpals in Interpals. The features are pretty much similar to that of Penpalworld, with the exception of the interface of course. It is up to the user to decide which one is better between the two. The premise of Interpal is also different from Penpalworld, as it aims to help people find pen pals from different sides of the world whom they can meet up with while traveling. This means that the demographic for Interpals is slightly more defined, appealing to people who are into traveling.

Aside from meeting travel buddies, Interpals also promote having pen pals in order to learn a new language. They have a special feature that allows users to select which language they are interested in learning further. Through constant communication with a native speaker, the language fluency of any individual must improve.

Student Pen Pals: Meet Japanese Pen Pals Under 18 Years

In Japan, it is quite popular for school age young adults to be interested in engaging communication with a pen pal from a different country. There are several motives as to why a generation who barely experienced snail mail is interested in sending out letters to strangers from other places. Even with the presence of the internet, young Japanese individuals still find the need for a pen pal.

The primary reason for young adults in Japan to seek out a pen pal is to be able to improve their literacy in English. It is known that the Japanese are not the best English speakers in the world. Coming from centuries of isolation, combined with their fierce sense of nationalism, the previous generations of Japan did not feel all that inclined to learn how to speak English.

However, with the widespread globalization that is happening throughout the world, English has become the easiest way to communicate with other cultures as it is understood easily by many. Globalization has motivated the younger generation of Japanese to learn how to speak English better. Outside of school, it is harder for them to practice speaking English because elderly family members are even less fluent at speaking the language, hence the demand for a pen pal to practice communicating with.

The internet is a great resource for the young Japanese who are looking into finding a pen pal. In particular, one who in looking to learn how to speak a different language better can go to websites such as My Language Exchange. This is a website which focuses on helping individuals, not just students, to find a pen pal who is fluent in English. A majority of the time, Japanese individuals are primarily looking for an English speaking pen pal, however, there are also instances where there are Japanese speakers who are interested in other languages such as German and French.

Usually, pen pals who want to practice language fluency engage in conversations through the internet. My Language Exchange, in particular, has great tools that can aid anyone who is learning to speak a new language. These tools include a multilingual machine translation, as well as support for languages which use foreign characters.

Aside from learning how to speak English, the younger generation of Japan is also more interested in learning others’ culture. Their predecessors may not care about these things, but the younger generation shows more curiosity to towards the world outside of Japan. This kind of mindset is not just popular among the Japanese youth, but also in young adults from all over the world who want to become more “cultured”.

For these young individuals, learning about another culture by reading articles, and watching films and television is not enough. Learning about it through a person first-hand is a good venue to fully understand a foreign culture. Web sites such as Students Of The World allow a community of young adults to exchange messages with someone from the same age range so they can discuss culture and personal interests. Each user can update his or her profile to reflect his specific interests such as sports, video games, music, cinema, art, and other fields of interest.

The great thing about websites such as Students of The World is that content is regulated by the website. In case there are listings which may contain inappropriate words, these are filtered automatically to prevent children and young adults from reading such vulgarities. However, the internet is a dangerous place, and younger ones may want to be precautious about contacting strangers from the internet. It is best to maintain private information safe, such as full names, home addresses, and bank information.