Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Megumi Osawa
English 201
Essay 4
November 2003

Electronic Letters and Hand Written Letters

On 23 November, I got a letter from one of my Japanese friends, Yayoi. This is a response to Yayoi’s letter.

Dear; Yayoi

Hi! How are you doing there? Almost, my fall quarter is over. TWO MORE WEEKS!! Yes!! Thank you for sending me a letter. That was really nice of you. But, you know, don’t you think it stupid? Because your letter was only two pages about your story and three pages were recipes. You could just e-mail that kind of stuff. Actually, I thought you were stupid to do that because e-mail is cheaper and faster. You don’t have to send the letter… However, I was so exhilarated.

Also, I wanna thank you for helping and giving me an idea. Why I say that is because I’m working on my new essay in English 201, and I have to think a topic about computers. I believe that the Internet might be changing our language, and we are losing something important about writing letters because of e-mail. Your letter triggered to write about e-mail, real letters, and language erosion. By the way, when was your first time using e-mail account of computers?

My first time when I got an e-mail account of computers was before coming here, I mean it was about one year ago. When I was a high school student in Japan, people around me didn’t have any e-mail accounts. (However, people who go to universities in Japan have e-mail accounts of computers because they have to check information of classes.) It was natural thing, you know? Usually, we used cell phones most of the time to talk and to e-mail, right? I was sort of addicted to e-mail because it was fun for me to get messages back and forth easily. Also, I think the reason why people enjoy e-mail is because there is a space to guess what the senders think about, that means we never know what senders’ thoughts are. Compared with talking face to face, we have to guess senders’ mind and receivers never know what I really feel. We can tell a lie and pretend I am perfect, meanwhile we hardly tell they are really mad or happy because the words’ shapes are all same. Don’t you think so, Yayoi?

Hey. I remember the weirdest scene I have ever seen. It was after school at a train station and I was on my way home. I saw around people and noticed almost every people who were waiting the next train were playing with their cell phones. Did you know ninety percents of Japanese people have cell phones? Everyone gazed at the cell phones’ screens despite that their friends were right next to them. The scene made me sick. Even I almost could hear the tapping keys. Yuck! They were serious and addicted, as if each one was involved in some weird kind of religion. I decided not to e-mail so much. I chose to write little notes to my friends.

I have keenly realized how warm and great the letters are since coming here and getting mails from my mom and friends like you. Many times, many letters touched me with many kinds of feelings. I like letters rather than e-mail. Don’t you think that’s rare? I can see lots of girls choose e-mail rather than real letters. With e-mail, I know I don’t have to buy stamps and put a letter in mailbox. Also, I can open my e-mail account whenever I want. I must agree that it is so useful and easy. But there is something missing to feel, you know? Recently, emoticon such as a smiley face adds senders’ feeling. However, there is nothing to show senders’ feelings but hand writing. When I got your letter, I felt a time lag which started from selecting papers and an envelope, to arriving in my hand. The letter and the shapes of your words reminded me of you a lot. The letter made me think of you more compared with e-mail from you. I imagined in evening, you wrote this letter with biting your pen, which is your habit. (You may not notice your own habit. But, trust me. You usually bite your pens.) Also, I imagined you went to a post office by your bicycle to air mail to the U.S. before going surfing. My guess is exactly right, isn’t it? Then, the letter went through the main place to go to the U.S. and get on an airplane for ten hours. There, the letter was separated to go to Bellingham. Finally, the letter reached to my hand. See, there is an adventure of the letter. Isn’t it exhilarating stuff?

One more thing I wanna say about letters. About five days ago, I read in my English textbook and an essay called "Into the Electronic Millennium" by Sven Birkerts, which discuss about the impact of computers. Birkerts says that because of composing and editing technique of computers, we tend to misspell words; in other words, we forget Chinese characters which are usually easy to remember and to write. He also talks about language erosion. Let me quote from his essay. He says,

The complexity and distinctiveness of spoken and written expression, which are deeply bound to traditions of print literacy, will gradually be replaced by a more telegraphic sort of "plainspeak." Syntactic masonry is already a dying art. (Birkerts 567)

I grasped his thought in this way: E-mail is so easy and fast to send, that we tend to type and send just requirements and what senders wanna say simply. Then, written expression is replaced by a more telegraphic sort of "plainspeak." He also says computers do affect the content of our college textbooks. For example, he writes:

A poem by Milton, a play by Shakespeare--one can hardly find the text among the explanatory notes nowadays. Fewer and fewer people will be able to contend with the so-called masterwork of literature or ideas. (Birkets 567)

This means that comparing past textbooks from twenty years ago and recent textbooks, we hardly see texts of old masterpieces nowadays. Moreover, the past textbooks are more likely to make us think about the literatures by ourselves. On the other hand, the recent textbooks don’t show the text and they just explain the content of literatures and how we understand them. Therefore, we are losing masterwork of literature, ideas or rhetoric.

This reminded me of classic tanka poetry. Do you remember that it has to be composed by a five-seven-five seven-seven words structure and has to include a seasonal word in several poems? I’ll show you an example which is my favorite one.

"I go down the way of love and dampen my sleeves, and go yet further into the muddy fields" (Ueda).

As explaining this in detail, it means as peasants step into the muddy fields though they know their sleeves are soaked with mud, I know this way of love makes me sorrowful and my sleeves are also soaked with my tears. I feel woeful myself ("Gennjimonogatari no Uta" and "Shibuya"). This was composed by a woman when she realized her lover didn’t have feeling for her anymore. In a sentence, the content goes into particulars because she uses rhetoric such as Engo and Kakekotoba. Do you remember how these rhetoric works? It is a review of your Japanese classic class.J Especially for you, I run through the rhetoric. Kakekotoba is a technique which homonym is used for making a word with the same sound have two different meanings ("Rhetoric"). For example from the above poem, one word has two different meanings which are "mud" and "the way of love," and another means "water" or "tears" and "myself."

Engo is a technique in which words of close meanings are used for making the poem imaginative and which brings us an effect of connection ("Rhetoric"). For instance from the above poem, "soaked with" and "water" relate to each other, and also "mud" and "peasants" relate to each other. There! Now you remember, huh? Anyway, while you see these techniques and her poem, aren’t you amazed by her technique? I was amazed her poem’s complexity and metaphor, and people in those days make that kind of poem in a short time. Can you believe those people exchanged their poems to express their feelings more frequently than today’s? If I had been alive in those days, it would have taken so much time to write just one poem and got tired of writing it! I am pretty sure that people in those days were gifted with the art of making poem.

I don’t say we should write like old day’s, but think about this. Don’t you think we lost that kind of virtuous thing? Nowadays, we can’t write poems and exchange them like they did. However, we still used to write including seasonal stuff in a first sentence. As we can see, our generation doesn’t care about the beauty of season. I don’t know about the American letter writing style at all. But, clearly Japanese young generation is losing our brilliant rhetoric. As Mr. Birkerts says, our spoken and written expression is becoming "plainspeak." How pity and sad it is! I don’t say we should throw away our computers, but we should keep our eyes on classics and write letters more. Language is our valuable tradition. We do not let the Internet erode our language.

Again thank you, Yayoi. Your letter helps me a lot. I think I will be able to write with a great topic. Take care and keep in touch.

AlwaysJ , Megumi


Works Cited

Birkerts, Sven. "Into the Electronic Millennium." Reflections on Language. Eds. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 560-569.

Shibuya, Eiichi. "Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji." 20 Sep. 1996. 25 Nov. 2003. <>

"Rhetoric." Tasuku’s Home Page. 26 Mar. 2002. 25 Nov. 2003.   <>

Ueda, Hideyo. "Heartvine no waka." Japan Classic Literature Research Institute. 1 Nov. 1995. 25 Nov. 2003. <>

"Gennjimonogatari no Uta." Waka no Agemaki. 21 May. 2000. 25 Nov. 2003. <>


Copyright 2003
Megumi Osawa


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA