Saturday, August 29, 2020

This is (and isn't) Etegami

My first Etegami: Tomato Arrival!
Etegami means "picture letter" in Japanese and it's a charming way to send thoughts and well-wishes to friends and family. It takes very little to get started: paper, ink, watercolor, a brush or two. There are a few rules of course, but deviate from those traditional confines a little (or a lot!) and you've still got something you can proudly call "mail-art" which you can use to connect with somebody you know. And really, who wouldn't love to get something nice in the mail for a change?

At its most basic, Etegami is a handmade postcard featuring: a seasonal object outlined with a brush and black ink on absorbent paper, a few strokes of watercolor paint inside that outline, a meaningful quote/verse/thought that relates to the image, followed by a signature (hanko or chop)... and then mailed. That last bit is crucial. It must be mailed or it is not etegami. Follow-through is an integral part of the process!

What I love the most about etegami is that anybody can do it: young, old, artistically inclined or not. It doesn't have to be good... in fact, shaky, clumsy, awkward lines and dabs are not only preferred, but built-in (and frankly, guaranteed) by the way you're supposed to hold your brushes! This is an art form created for loosening up, being in the moment, and for genuinely connecting with each other.

The tomato etegami above, ticks many of the boxes for a "real" etegami, but not all. For one thing, I did not use the proper paper. Because Japanese etegami paper tends to be scarce (and/or pricey) state-side, I used what I had, which was watercolor paper. Other than that, the subject was seasonal and in front of me, the sentiment related to the both the recipient and the subject, and there were no shadows or backgrounds to clutter it up.

That was my very first etegami* and was sent to a family member who was going to be visiting us a couple of years ago. At that time, like now, our beefsteak tomatoes had just started to turn red, and their peak would coincide with the arrival of our visitor. The double meaning of the sentiment I chose is very much in keeping with the etegami spirit (playfulness is encouraged!) 

If you want to learn more about etegami, you can find an incredible wealth of generous and fascinating information at the blog: DosankoDebbie's Etegami NotebookSide Note: I have spent an embarrassing amount of time on her blog over the years, it's just such a wonderful and inspiring place to wander around in.
Etegami is one of those things that is paradoxically simple and complex. So, while there is plenty of enjoyment for everybody to wade around in, there are also many layers of nuance to uncover should you wish to dive deeper into it.
Though still not very widespread outside of Japan, Etegami is so charming and enjoyable, it is definitely deserving of a wider appreciation and participation. And don't fret about the supplies or the rules... it's more important to use what you've got and get them mailed out.
Another nice thing: postcard stamps cost a lot less than letter-rate postage! So now that there's nothing to stop you... Go make somebody's day!

Clumsily yours,

*My first clumsy attempt. But remember: Etegami embraces clumsiness! Call it "anti-perfectionism" if you will. It's not about how good it is! It's real, it's immediate, and most importantly: it shows a human/personal heart and hand.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin


  1. I recognize that postcard...and cherish it. For US mail, should we be concerned about the size of the postcard? For actual etegami, should the card be mailed with postage on itt, or can it be enveloped?

    1. Hello! Last time I checked, minimum size for US postcard was 3.5" x 5" and maximum size was 4.25" x 6". Most watercolor paper should be fine to use or heavy cardstock (and even a cut up cereal box!) You treat them just like a store-bought postcard: The postage goes on the blank side in the upper-right corner, address below that, and anything else you want to say to the left. Mailed in an envelope, I think it would be more of an "etegami-style greeting card": Still nice to receive!.. but not really etegami :)


Take a moment to say "Howdy!"... I'd love to hear from you!