MAIZURU, Kyoto Prefecture--Those who want to post messages to the dead can deposit their letters in a “green mailbox” at a Buddhist temple in this western city facing the Sea of Japan.

Anyone is welcome to leave a letter in the mailbox, which stands in the grounds of Daishoji temple in Maizuru’s Kitasui district.

Temple officials don't open the letters, but burn them in a ritual in a "gomadan" fire altar.

A parishioner who used to be a postmaster donated the pillar-style mailbox about 30 years ago.

The box was installed beneath a wisteria trellis beside the temple’s main hall and was sometimes used as a collection box for offerings as it is near a sacred waterfall and the fire altar.

Temple priests painted it green so it wouldn't be mistaken for the real thing, but one day a sealed letter appeared inside it.

Head priest Shinko Matsuo, now 59, recalled being torn over whether to open that first letter, which arrived 15 or so years ago.

But he felt he had to since he was worried the sender might have thought it had been placed in a regular mailbox.

Inside was a message of affection addressed to a child.

“Are you playing in the heavens?” one line read. “Please watch over your mom and dad,” said another.

The sender appeared to be a young mother who either had a miscarriage or whose child had died in other circumstances.

Matsuo, eager to pass on the woman’s words to her child, held a service to burn the letter in the fire altar.

Then more letters started showing up in the mailbox, also addressed to deceased individuals.

After Matsuo posted about the mailbox on his Instagram account in March last year, many people wrote back saying they also wished to leave letters there.

He formally began accepting letters early in June, and named the receptacle the “green mailbox.”

The mailbox got a fresh coat of green paint to mark the occasion, along with a new sign on its front explaining its purpose to visitors.

Parishioners appreciated Matsuo’s efforts and joined in to support the project.

Hiroyuki Makino, 75, the chief representative of Daishoji’s parishioners, paid for and donated letter paper and envelopes to the temple’s reception counter for visitors to use.

“People can compose their letters right here,” Makino said. “I hope everybody feels free to visit the temple, even if they're not parishioners.”

The mailbox contained 10 or so letters just a few days after the temple began officially accepting them.

Temple officials said they have received many inquiries from the public about the green mailbox.

One Kanto resident asked if people unable to make the trip to the area in person could mail a letter to the temple instead.

WRITING OFFERS RELIEF

“It sometimes happens that you come to terms with yourself or hit upon a new path or a idea while writing about how you feel or how you're doing now,” Matsuo said. “I think that amounts to receiving a reply from a deceased person.”

Daishoji officials said they are thinking of holding a letter-writing event, given that few people bother to write letters by hand these days in the digital age.