Smiles through the Mail: A Postcard Project that Unites Japan and Ukraine and the Rest of the World

I apologise in advance if I appear to be posting in the wrong category. In this thread, I mean to brainstorm with the Postcrossing community. Once we have clearer ideas of what steps to carry out, we will recruit Japanese and Ukrainian participants in the regional subforum with help of some Postcrossers who speak the languages.

Introducing the ‘Smiles’ postcards

I recently acquired a set of 48 postcards featuring illustrations drawn by Slam Dunk’s creator Takehiko Inoue (井上雄彦). Collectively, they are called ‘Smiles’, and they have been sold since 2011 to raise funds for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. 22 of them have the names of Japanese prefectures on the basketball shirts the characters are wearing, such as Fukushima, Miyagi, Aomori, etc. (N.B.: There are 47 prefectures in Japan; I don’t know why only 22 of them got featured on this set of postcards), while the rest generally features a smiling face.

Preliminary ideas

In wondering what would be the best use of this set, I came up with the idea of creating some kind of collectibles that can be used to raise funds for charity (particularly in today’s Ukraine, where nuclear threat is very real), just like those from the Stamp Out War project that brought me to Postcrossing. There is a clear theme and purpose for which these cards were made. Maybe we can find a project that unites the Japanese and the Ukrainian, so as to raise awareness of nuclear disaster and funds for both countries, to bring hope and foster a sense of global solidarity while honoring the original charitable purpose of these cards.

So far, we have come up with the idea of creating a chain card linking Japan, Ukraine, and another country where the final collector lives. Japan Post offers a wealth of beautifully designed pictorial cancels (called ‘fukei-in’) that are highly sought after by the world’s collectors, and each Ukrainian city, too, offers a unique pictorial cancel:


[Pictorial cancels offered in the city of Hiroshima and the city of Zaporozhye.]

The dual pictorial cancels with a hand-written message would make the card a postally significant collectible.

We are thinking of linking one Japanese prefecture to one Ukrainian city. First, we recruit enough participants from each country. Second, Japanese participants send the card from their prefectures to Ukrainian participants. Third, the Ukrainians paste a white sticker over top of his/her Ukrainian addresses, and on top of it write the card collector’s address. This way will save space and leave only the card collector’s address visible on the final item that is a collectible he/she acquires to protect participants’ privacy.

What do you think about this chain card idea?

I am only afraid that the space on a postcard is too small to fit 2 meaningful messages from 2 participants (one Japanese, one Ukrainian).

I use a Hiroshima card of the same size to simulate the end result of the Smiles card:

From the Ukraine side, at least one stamp and one postmark will be placed on the address side of the card. From the Japan side, at least one stamp and 2 postmarks will be placed on the address side of the card; sometimes Japan Post insists putting an AIRMAIL sticker as well.

For this reason, someone has suggested to send the Smiles cards inside an envelope, which will add extra protection and allow additional messages to be composed. The card will still be stamped and postmarked twice, but without a written address.

If you are to be one of the collectors, would you like this result? Or do you prefer an item that bears real postal marks (and potential damage too)?

For the moment, the tentative project execution date for Japan is 6 August – which is the anniversary of Hiroshima bombing – and that for Ukraine is 1 October, the Defenders Day. This should give the mails a bit of time to travel to Ukraine.

Fund-raising stage

Since soliciting is forbidden here, we will move to another platform once we move into the fund-raising stage. Someone suggested creating a dedicated social account (FB or IG) to promote it, which will be done once I come up with a nice visual design of the logo etc.

There are 2 fund-raising models I am thinking about:

One is the crowd-funding style: we can set up a fund-raiser with 48 rewards (for 48 cards), each at the same price, and allow people to ‘adopt’ one or multiple cards they want. Those fund-raising platforms usually allow adding personal contributions as well, so if the collectors should feel like, they can offer more than the base price to claim a card. In the end, the funds collected will be donated to the organisation(s) we choose. In this case, the dons will be centralised and benefited by one or a few organisations only. If we opt for this method, we need to decide pretty early on which organisation(s) to donate, as this question will pop up a lot. It makes most of the sense for the organisation(s) to be either Japanese or Ukrainian. Any suggestions?

The other is voluntary contribution on the part of the final collectors. We can simply ask the collectors to donate to organisations of their choice in their countries, so long as the organisations have the mission of helping either Japan or Ukraine. This way will ensure that the highest percentage of the money goes to organisations, instead of the platform (for example, Indiegogo charges 15%), and this method has the highest chance to avoid violating Postcrossing’s terms (see for example, the Hiroshima / Nagasaki giveaway I organised with a charity requirement). In this case the dons will be fragmented; many organisations across the globe are going to receive a small don. (Personally, I like this method better, because it’s the easiest way collectors can contribute and the full amount of their donations go to charity instead of the fund-raiser platform.)

Privacy concern

My Japanese friend raises a good point –

We need to ensure participants’ privacy, by limiting the number of people who can have their address.

Originally, I was thinking that the protocol should go like this:

  1. I send a Smiles card to a Japanese participant. (So I know J’s address)
  2. The Japanese participant sends the card to a Ukrainian participant. (So J knows U’s address).
  3. The Ukrainian participant sends the card to the collector. (So U knows C’s address).

BUT, it’s not likely that all participants will be Postcrossers, and some of them may not be comfortable with the idea that a Japanese stranger knows their addresses. What about we introduce an Ukrainian coordinator (living in Ukraine, and willing to have his/her address / PO Box being used for this project), to whom EVERY Japanese card will be sent, and from whom EVERY Ukrainian participant is going to receive the card to forward?

The protocol would go like this:

  1. I send a Smiles card to a Japanese participant. (So I know J’s address)
  2. The Japanese participant sends the card to the Ukrainian coordinator. (So J knows UC’s address).
  3. The Ukrainian Coordinator sends the cards to each Ukrainian participant. (So UC knows every U’s address).
  4. Ukrainian participants send the cards to the collectors. (So U knows C’s address).

This way, I am the only person who knows every Japanese participant’s address. (In order words, I am the ‘Japanese coordinator’, similar to the Ukrainian coordinator, even though I live in Canada. Or I can find a Japanese Coordinator living in Japan to handle the domestic mailing). And the Ukrainian coordinator is the one who knows every Ukrainian participant’s address. The J and U we pair don’t know each other’s address.

The extra step would requires extra days for the mail to travail, but mail within Ukraine is fast, it should only add a few days to the delay. This shouldn’t be a big deal. What do you think?

End remark

What do you think about this potential project?

There are many aspects you can comment on – we also need to figure out what stamps to use – should we set a theme on the stamps used? For example, in Japan there is a recent issue on smiling emoji with optimistic message:

But since the postage for sending a postcard oversea from Japan is 100 yens, at least 2 stamps are needed if we make use of this set.

We are in dire need of ideas and advice and would be very thankful if you can provide any thoughts on this potential project, whether as a potential collector, a Japanese / Ukrainian coordinator, or simply as a postcard-enthusiast.

Thank you all,
Linda (the Project ‘Master Coordinator’ :slight_smile: )

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What a fascinating project, Linda. I will start researching postcard nonprofits to learn different funding models.

What is the main goal of the project? Awareness? Or funding for other non-profit organizations?

May I suggest artist collaboration as a fundraising postcard idea? Or going through the influencer route via postcard ambassadors? See the Dear Dyslexia postcard project. The organization achieved an incredible feat, raising awareness globally for dyslexia.

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Let me answer your first question first. I would say the goal of the project is both – raising awareness about nuclear disarmament and fund-raising for non-profits. Also to bring hope to those living in distress by creating collaborative pieces that reflect the theme of resilience.

I know there are currently many distressed people in the world – the world is really getting crazy – I may have been biased in singling out Ukrainian people as the recipients of these symbols of solidarity and hope because of my involvement with Stamp Out War and Postcards to the Front projects. But, it just happens that both Japanese and Ukrainian cities offer interesting pictorial postmarks, which would make the creation of chain cards more interesting.

What do you mean by ‘artist collaboration as a fundraising postcard idea’?

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There may be questions about the choice of execution dates –

It would make most sense for the Japanese execution date to be 11 March, but sadly, I received this set of Smiles postcards only in April, and I kind of don’t want to delay the project until 2025, because we never know how things will turn out. So we picked a date that is significant in Japan, and another one in Ukraine, that would make postal sense (i.e. allowing the postcards to travel from Japan to Ukraine).

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For the actual postcard to be distributed or sold for fundraising, maybe donations from artists? Just like Art on a Postcard, based in London.

Edit:
I just perused the Stamp Out War website. Incredible work, Linda. The site already covered things I can think of.

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This site you shared is incredible! However, I think its idea is closer to the 2026 edition of Stamp Out War project. I will contact them nevertheless to ask for advice, but I see a couple of differences in their model that wouldn’t work with this Smile project:

  1. The items they produced are postcard-sized artworks (no postal mark such as cancellation on them), whereas our items will be commercialised postcards that we transform into postal collectibles bearing postal marks. From the postal point of view, our items are more complicated to produce.

  2. They have sufficient resources to build up a platform for their products, a network to advertise and to recruit artists, etc., whereas we don’t. For the moment, the funding of the Smiles project comes from my personal saving, and my limited resource only allows me to cover the cost of buying postcards (which are already purchased) and Japanese / Ukrainian postage stamps that will be used to send these postcards. Any kind of collaborations will require a long time to establish, so if we want to seek for sponsorship, this project will not likely be executed this year.

About the funding of the project

For the moment, no participant needs to worry about the cost of sending these postcards abroad, because I will be providing the postcard and the postage stamp(s).

If we have an Ukrainian Coordinator and a Japanese Coordinator, I will send the batch of cards to them and order stamps that will be distribute to individual participants with the card(s) they are assigned to take care of.

About the participants

It’s best for the participants to be Postcrossers who know how to affix stamp(s) on the postcard and request pictorial cancels from the authority.

Given Ukraine’s current situation, I don’t think it’s realistic to hope to recruit 48 participants living in 48 different cities, so I think at least for Ukraine side, one participant will be in charge of sending 2-3 cards.

From the Japan side, I am still hoping to recruit one participant from each of the 47 prefectures (2 for Hiroshima). Luckily, Japanese people still keep the tradition of postcard-writing (at the new year for instance), so many of them have basic idea of how to send a postcard. I will take care of the task of explaining how to request fukei-in to them.

In the worst case scenario – in case we couldn’t recruit enough of participants from Japan, I can mail-in the postcard to request specific fukei-in at a specific post office. It’s just less significant than having a real person going to a Japanese post office though.

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