Giving chocolates to your loved ones on Valentine's Day is lovely, but how about sending them a heartfelt letter on this special day?

This proposal was made in 2011 by the Japan Paper Association, an industry organization made up of major paper manufacturers.

The association has since sponsored an annual letter-writing contest that requires all entries to be written on paper--in defiance, so to speak, of this digital era. Over the last seven years, more than 24,000 letters have been sent in.

A 20-year-old woman, who works part time, wrote to her male colleague: "I really love it when you and I race to the train station after finishing our shift. It's such a delight, jumping on the train together, laughing and saying, 'Phew, we made it!' But to be honest, I'd rather we missed the last train."

Her letter showed traces of erased lines, indicating indecision.

Many entries were from married people. A 56-year-old woman wrote to her husband, "You may be good at work, but useless at home. You act superior, reminding me always that you ensure there's rice on the table. We've been married for 22 years, and you still can't remember my birthday. But since you probably can't survive without me, I'll stand by you."

A 54-year-old man, who had a dispute with his oldest son over his university entrance test, addressed this letter to him: "When you told me last spring that you wanted to take a gap year, I yelled at you. I didn't want you to waste a precious year in your teens. But you gave up watching TV and proved to me how determined you were to work hard. I don't know the result yet, but you've passed the test, and I've flunked as your father."

Short missives stimulate the imagination. A 32-year-old woman wrote to her younger brother, "Do come home once in a while. There'll be 'korokke' (potato croquettes)."

A 43-year-old woman wrote this to her ex-husband: "I went ahead with the divorce, but now that I think about it calmly, it appears I still haven't fallen out of love with you."

I read the award-winning letters from every year at the offices of the Japan Paper Association. There were poorly written characters or missing words that were endearing and indicative of the writers' impatience, and rewritten lines that conveyed sincerity.

Each letter touched me, even though none were addressed to me.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 14

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.