On April 30 1872, the Iwakura Mission group visited the Washington D.C headquarters of the United States Postal Service (USPS). They toured the dead letter office, piled high with undeliverable mail, and went through the sorting and delivery departments. The guide informed the delegates that while the USPS excelled at delivering letters and parcels, other independent services were better suited to ship precious metals or other fragile commodities. The group was surprised to learn that the USPS could deliver mail to Yokohama or Nagaski via international delivery! Kunitake Kume noted the ability to transport information through a national postal system was a crucial aspect of economic growth. Kume surmised that Western merchants, who could receive letters and gain knowledge from across the seas, were sure to have a deeper understanding of the world. He made a note that this must be their key to prosperity.
At the time of the delegates’ visit to the USPS, a national transportation and delivery service was well-established in Japan. As such, Kume’s translations of postal terminology referenced what he knew. The idea of “express delivery” was similar to Japan’s own hikyaku, or “flying feet,” a group of professional couriers who specialized in express delivery.