The postal service in Japan, run by Japan Post, is a beacon of national pride and contrasts with services in some countries with a reputation of being slow to deliver and of losing parcels or checks.
Its vast network of offices, found in even the smallest rural towns, connect the length and breadth of the country, providing a vital lifeline for communities in out-of-the-way places.
Effectively the world's largest bank, its branches offer insurance, savings, and a place for Japan's army of elderly people to draw their pensions.
As well as an exemplary daily mail delivery -- letters are brought to the door seven days a week and on every national holiday of the year except one -- Japan Post also competes creditably with large courier firms like Yamato or Sagawa.
The 24,000 bureaus, which employ 209,000 people across many of the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago, give it an unparalleled distribution capability that allows online retailers like Amazon Japan to offer same-day delivery in major cities -- a key competitive edge in a land where convenience rules and the customer is king.
With many Japanese people having migrated to big cities, an online mall offering regional specialities like fruit or fresh produce always has takers. And refrigerated delivery allows those treats from home to grace urban dinner tables just hours after an order was placed.
Like most Japanese institutions, Japan Post is built on attention to detail and making sure that what a customer paid for is what they get -- even if that means weeks of painstaking research to try to find out what that partially-obscured and badly-written address was supposed to be.
The government of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi split the behemoth into four units in 2007, to handle deliveries, savings, insurance and counter services, but the government retained full ownership, with plans for the bank and insurance units to go private in a huge stock offering over the following decade.
But, the sheer size and scope of Japan Post, along with the place it has in the Japanese heart has put the brakes on the plan and successive governments have run out of steam as they tried and failed to move forward with the plan.
The prize would be huge -- billions of dollars of shares would likely be snapped up, boosting Japan's state coffers at a time of mountainous public debt and a shrinking tax base.
The slow pace of privatization has irked US and EU trade officials who are worried by the group's competitive advantage. Potential rivals abroad say the size of the organization means it has economies of scale that they would have trouble matching.
While vested interests in the form of labor organizations are partly to blame for the glacial pace of reform, the Japanese public's affection for a service that is woven into the fabric of national life is also an obstacle to change.
Who else, they wonder, would neatly sort and deliver hundreds of millions of New Year cards all over Japan on January 1?© (C) 2013 AFP