Japan Telegram Service Providers Seek to Reinvigorate Market

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Telegram service providers, including major telecommunications companies, are seeking ways to revitalize the declining market such as by offering telegram-gift packages.

Telegrams have seen a decline in usage due to the spread of mobile phones and email, but the service providers believe demand still exists for such events as school entrance celebrations and other ceremonial occasions, such as weddings and funerals.

Rapid decline

Telegram services in Japan began early in the Meiji era (1868-1912). Their usage peaked in fiscal 1963 when a total of 94.61 million telegrams were sent by the then Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp. Their popularity began waning thereafter due primarily to the spread of telephones.

In fiscal 2021, only 4.04 million telegrams were delivered by NTT East Corp. and NTT West Corp., causing telegram business-related operating losses of ¥1.4 billion in total.

In January, NTT East and NTT West discontinued their short standard telegram services, which were used in cases of emergency and employed such fixed phrases as “Kitoku, shikyu koraretashi” (Condition critical, come as soon as possible).

Recently, the firms have only been delivering only about 100 short standard telegrams a year — 0.5% of the figure from 20 years ago.

The companies have also discontinued their “wireless telegrams,” which were mainly dispatched to deep-sea fishing vessels.

NTT East’s publicity department said the company “needed to reform its telegram business to ensure the continuation of the service.”

Spring boost

The Yomiuri Shimbun

However, there is still a high demand for congratulatory and condolence telegrams, such as when a person reaches an important life milestone or when ceremonial messages are required for business-related communication.

Telegram usage traditionally increases in spring — a period associated with graduations, school admissions and business transfers.

According to NTT East, telegrams accompanied by pop-up cherry-tree cards for graduation and school entrances remains popular. The card costs ¥2,002 (including tax) plus a separate message fee.

Additionally, in December, the company began offering a telegram and lacquered cup combo service, costing ¥27,500, plus a message fee. The company says the service is a response to requests for telegrams that come with practical or luxurious gifts. The company expects the telegram-gift service to be popular for such events as advanced-year birthdays and store openings.

Condolence telegrams

The use of condolence telegrams is also on the rise, due to an increase in funerals attended only by close relatives due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

KDDI Evolva, Inc., a subsidiary of KDDI Corp., says that its telegrams are mainly congratulatory and condolence telegrams with gifts, and that the service remains profitable.

Telegram sets that include incense sticks and candles account for about 30% of its condolence telegrams sales.

The company said: “As people often express feelings through social media and email these days, we assume more and more people choose to send telegrams instead as they think telegrams that are printed on paper and delivered to their recipients by person can be more special.”

The telegram business was originally monopolized by NTT East and NTT West. Deregulation in 2003 led to the entry of companies from other industries, such as Sagawa Express Co. and Sohgo Security Services Co., resulting in diversifying the service.