My husband is in the U.S. now mainly to visit his family but he's also using the opportunity to shop for things of consequence and things totally frivolous that we might desire or need. In fact, we prepared for his trip by ordering a fair number of hard to find or relatively more expensive items from Amazon U.S. including a wireless router and a dual-layer DVD player. Neither of these items can be shipped to Japan and Japanese models are significantly pricier.
Since there is an absolute abundance of food in the U.S. that we've never seen or sampled, he decided to pick up some things and bring them back for us and for his students. In fact, looking at the pictures he has taken in the markets makes me think that there are absolutely staggering numbers of choices in the U.S. in regards to food for nearly every niche.
I also started to wonder if one element of Americans being overweight that is often overlooked is the fact that the abundance of land allows shops to put such an incredible variety of goods on shelves (relative to Japan where space is at a premium) that people are compelled to buy more simply to explore all of the attractive possibilities.
Perhaps I've just been in Japan so long that I've forgotten what it's like but I truly don't recall seeing such vast selections when I was back home. I guess it could be the difference between my small, rural home town and my husband's suburban home town but the selection of items isn't really what the point of this post is about. I merely mean to explain that my husband was buying things in the U.S. which we cannot get in Japan with the intention of sending back some boxes of interesting, tasty or trivial items.
He went to the post office to investigate the cost after having already done some shopping only to find that, as of May 14, 2007, the United States Postal Service (USPS) no longer will ship items via surface mail. This is incredibly bad news for those of us living abroad because this was the cheapest way of sending certain types of non-perishable or very heavy items to Japan.
Update: Apparently, my sister-in-law was misinformed and UPS is actually greatly more expensive than the postal service so there are no quasi-economical options for now.
My guess is the USPS is having trouble, unsurprisingly, breaking even and decided to discontinue the least profitable services. I've known for quite some time that non-First Class mail has been a loser for the USPS and something they mainly provided as a service to those who really needed it. It's possible that they decided that, while they have to keep inferior grade parcel delivery available domestically, they really aren't obliged to do it internationally. It's a shame really and I'm hoping some business will find a way to offer seamail (surface) shipping in the future to fill the gap left by this change.