Recently there have been a lot of things floating around about the appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact with idols and actors online. I interract with a lot of actors on social media, but I also write a lot of fan letters. Every time I see actors report that they have received a stack of letters, they always say how grateful they are and how much they enjoyed reading them. Actors do read the letters they receive from fans, and that’s why it’s a great thing to do, but also why you have to be careful. I feel like I’ve written enough of these things to have a good idea of how and what to write, so I figured I’d put some advice out there.
What should I do before writing a letter?
Before you pick up your pen and start writing, do a little research. If your actor has accounts on sites like Twitter, or has a blog, give them a read. It’s hard to write a letter to a stranger, and a lot easier to write to someone you feel like you know at least a little. Note down anything you might want to refer to in your letter, so you don’t have to go back and look it up later.
Of course, it’s also good to look up what other work your actor has done. You may know them from one movie or one stage play or musical, but they could have a whole background to look back on. With that, you have the chance to watch more things that you can then mention in your letter, or can at least say you would like to watch in the future.
And of course, don’t jump right in there and try and write your final letter. I suggest drafting it by hand or by computer so you can get it right before writing your final version.
What language should I write in?
My suggestion is that if you are comfortable writing your letter in Japanese, then go for it. It doesn’t have to be perfect Japanese (I have been told that it’s “cute” when foreigners make mistakes in their Japanese, so there’s that) but you must ensure that you understand what you are writing so that you can judge whether it’s appropriate or not. Do not ever rely on translation sites because they do not work accurately and you never know what you might end up actually saying.
If you can’t write in Japanese, then there are other options. The first is to write your letter in English. There is a chance that the actor knows some English, and that even if they can’t read English themselves, they may know someone who can. Even if they can’t understand everything, I’m confident they will be happy that you took the time to write to them regardless. The other option is to have someone translate your English letter into Japanese and send a copy of both (I suggest not just sending the translation, as it’s more personal if you send your original letter too).
I have personally done all three of these things at various times, although usually my letters are written mostly in Japanese with a little English scattered around.
What should I call them in my letter?
Japanese, unlike English, has a whole variety of things you can attach to people’s names to sound more or less formal, and choosing the right one to use can be difficult. I consulted others on this and the general opinion was that it’s down to personal preference, but that it’s probably best to stick to either “-kun” (くん) which is the less formal version, or “-san” (さん) which is slightly more formal. Both of these can be used with either the actor’s first name or surname. If the actor has a recognised nickname that they themselves go by, then it is also acceptable to call them by that name. I would not encourage using fan nicknames or ones you have made yourself, as the actor may not appreciate these names. When writing the actor’s name on the envelope, it is also appropriate to use “-sama” (様).
What should I write?
Whenever I write a letter to someone I have not written to before, the first thing I do is introduce myself. You know who the actor is, but they don’t know who you are, so let them know. Tell them your name, tell them where you’re from, even tell them something interesting about your city or country! If you often comment to them on their blogs or Twitter, mention that too.
DON’T tell them overly personal details about yourself. Don’t tell them anything you wouldn’t tell any other person you were contacting for the first time. There may be rare occasions when it is appropriate to tell them something personal about yourself if it is relevant (and I have done so myself once), but I’m sure you can judge what is and what is not relevant or appropriate.
Tell them how and why you became their fan. Everyone has a story about how they became someone’s fan, no matter how simple or trivial it might seem. Most actors are very unaware when it comes to their foreign fanbase or sometimes don’t even know it exists (I once asked an actor in a Q&A about what he thought of foreign fans, and he said ‘I’m amazed you know about me’), so they will be interested to know how someone halfway across the world came to know about them. Tell them what you like about them, without being creepy. Tell them why you like to watch them. If they have impacted your life in any way, tell them how.
Remember though, be careful. While of course most fans outside of Japan knowing and becoming fans of Japanese celebrities is down to downloaded content, it isn’t appropriate to mention this to the actors themselves.Also, be careful with the kinds of things you say to them. If you like how they look, it’s not a problem to mention it, but keep your wording respectful. A lot of tips about how to word these kinds of things correctly are in this post about replying to actors on social media. Remember, everything listed in there also applies when sending letters.
If you especially like one of the characters they have portrayed, talk about that. During their time playing them, actors become very fond of the characters they spend so long as, and so they’ll love to hear you tell them what you like about them. Why do you like the character? What do you like about how the actor plays them? If you got to like the character because of the actor, then definitely tell them.
However, be honest. You can like an actor but not like a character they are playing, so there’s no need to pretend that you do. Of course, on the other hand, don’t tell an actor you don’t like a character they played (it’s kind of the equivalent of telling someone you don’t like their baby). Instead, focus on the things you did like when watching them perform as that character. For example, when writing to a Tenimyu actor I love whose character I don’t like, I talked about his dancing skills, singing skills, and moments where I really did enjoy watching him as that character.
If you have something in common with an actor, don’t be afraid to talk about it! If you like or play the same sports, talk about your favourite team or how long you have played. If you like the same kinds of movies, give them recommendations, especially for movies from your own country. Even if it’s down to something as trivial as you both seem to spend half of your lives in Starbucks, it’s worth mentioning (tell them what drinks you have in your Starbucks that may not be available in Japan). If you have ever visited their home town, talk about what you liked about it (I know numerous actors who are 100% in love with their home town, and they will be happy to hear you talk about it). It sounds silly, but connections are made through shared interests, and the actor will be happy that you paid enough attention to their interests to know about them.
And related to the above advice, ask the actor questions. They may not have a way of answering, and so you may not ever get one (although I have seen actors answer questions from fan letters on their blogs very occasionally), but asking questions show that you are interested in them. Ask them questions about their work (“What kind of role would you like to play in the future? I’d like to see you play…”), or about any hobbies you might know they have (“I saw in your blog that you like action movies. I like action movies too! Do you have any recommendations?”). Be careful not to ask them questions about their personal lives outside of things they talk about themselves. Remember, if they don’t publicise it themselves, it’s probably something private. Regardless of whether they can answer or not, these kinds of questions may make them feel uncomfortable.
End the letter by wishing them luck! If they have an upcoming project that you know of, you can specifically talk about that. Tell them that you hope it goes well and that you’re looking forward to it. If you know the work and the character, talk about that. If they have no new work announced, wish them luck in their career in general, and always tell them to do their best. It’s not so commonly used in English, but Japanese people really do love and appreciate being told to ‘ganbatte’.
Where do I send my letter?
If you are in Japan and able to see the actor in a stage play or another event, you will find staff in the lobby who will be happy to take your letter from you. As the actors usually report on social media when they have received a stack of letters and presents given at a certain show, it’s a good way to be sure that they get your letter. Even if you are not in Japan, if you know someone who is going to a show or event, perhaps ask them if you can send the letter via Japan?
For those not in Japan, and for those who are fans of actors who don’t commonly do stage plays or have events, the easiest way to find out where to send your letter is to check the agency website of the actor. Usually actor’s websites will have an address for fan letters written somewhere. They should also list in the same place any restrictions when it comes to sending gifts, so if you plan on sending something other than a letter to your actor, pay careful attention to these restrictions.
Is it okay to send a gift to an actor?
Most agencies are happy to allow fans to send gifts to their actors, usually with some restrictions (generally they disallow sending any food items, or money, but check with the individual). Buying gifts is definitely when you need to be aware of your actor’s interests and what they like.
Be thoughtful with your gift. Think about what they like, and what they can use. I’m sure if they receive things they can’t use themselves, there are other people they can give to, but wouldn’t you be disappointed to find that you bought someone a present and it ended up being given to someone else? Common gifts I see given by Japanese fans are clothing, accessories and toiletries. Look at what kinds of things your actor likes to wear before picking out your gift, to give the maximum chance that they will actually use it. And yes, the actors do use the things they receive. I’ve seen tweets from Japanese fans commenting on actor’s twitters feeling happy that an actor is wearing something they bought them in a picture.
Other possible gifts are things related to characters they play, but keep in mind that they probably receive a lot of these things, so try and make it original. As a specific example, Ozeki Riku who plays Tenimyu 3rd Season’s Yanagisawa Shinya obviously receives a lot of duck related items from fans (as probably do the actors who played him in the past). Therefore, sending him a regular boring rubber duck will probably not be that exciting, and he probably already has way too many to fill his bath. Find something duck related and original and you’re onto a winner.
A final idea is to give them something that is personalised. Send them a souvineer from your country (although again, I’d suggest trying to find something that is useful to them). Find a copy of the original work for one of their performances (for example, a copy of the manga or a DVD) in your language and send that to them. I gave an actor I like who showed a lot of interest in the UK a travel guide and I packed it full of post-it notes with my own recommendations, memories and other things that I thought would be interesting. Things like this show that you have put thought into your gift and taken some time over it.
Should I write a second letter?
If you want to, then definitely! Personally I write a letter to an actor to hand over almost every time I see them live. That’s a lot, and you definitely don’t have to commit to that, but there is definitely no harm in writing more than one letter. Remember if you write again to mention when your last letter was, and tell them your name and where you are from again. This will likely link in their mind that you were the one who sent them a letter before, and they might even be able to look back and find your original letter. Follow up on things you said previously. If you said you were looking forward to a show and have now seen it, tell them your thoughts. Again, take another look through their blog and tweets to find other things you can talk about, as writing a second letter is always harder than writing the first.
Finally, an example.
Although this is somewhat embarrassing, I decided to share one of my own fan letters hopefully as a good example. I always write my letters in English before translating them into Japanese, so this is the English translation of one of my letters. It was sent to Kawakami Shota who plays Akutsu Jin in Tenimyu’s 3rd Season. This was my first letter to him, and I wrote it in the week before Dream Live’s final show in Yokohama, knowing it would perhaps be the last time I saw him on stage as that character.
How are you? This is my first time writing a letter to you, although I often reply to you on Twitter. My name is Josie, and I’m from Nottingham in the UK. Nottingham is famous for Robin Hood. Do you know him?! Right now though, I’m living in Nagoya, Japan. I’ve been here for five years.
I became a fan of Tenimyu from the 3rd season, without knowing anything about the anime or manga. So, before I watched the first show of the Seigaku vs Yamabuki musical, I didn’t know anything about Akutsu Jin. When the show finished though, he had such a big effect on me that I went straight to the goods stand and bought your photoset. Akutsu had such a powerful presence on stage and even though I was terrified of him, I still spent every moment you were on stage watching you. I was entranced each and every time. From that day, Akutsu Jin became my favourite character, and I began to support you as an actor.
Recently, I made a ranking of my top solo songs from Tenimyu, and I ranked Akutsu’s solo as my 3rd favourite. Even though it was only 3rd, there are so many solo songs in Tenimyu that 3rd is a pretty good place, I think. I looked forward to it every time I knew it was coming up in the musical. I was really happy to be able to hear it again during Dream Live in Osaka, and I know I’ll be really sad to hear it for the last time at the final in Yokohama. I know that when I get the DVD, it will be the first thing I will want to listen to. I already listen to it a lot through Tenimo!
During the Nagoya performances of the musical, I was lucky enough to win a handshake, and you were one of the cast I had one from. Honestly, I was a little scared knowing that I would be shaking hands with Akutsu Jin, so thank you so much for greeting me with a kind smile even though you were in costume. You made me feel a lot more relaxed. And during the miokuri the Team Lives, Akutsu returned the heart I gave him every single time. Thank you so much! He’s not so scary after all, is he?
I often see you posting pictures of your dogs on Twitter! They are super cute and it makes me happy to see pictures of them. In your intro video for the Team Live, your date situation was dog-walking together, but your own dogs live in Hyogo with your parents, right? Do you get to see them often? I’m sure you must miss them a lot. I understand My family in the UK has two pet cats, but because I am in Japan I can’t see them. I miss them a lot. I recommend talking to them through video chat… my cats don’t really understand computers but maybe dogs understand better. (lol)
Even though I saw the Seigaku vs Yamabuki musical 10 times, I really want to see more and more of your Akutsu, so I was really sad to find out that you wouldn’t be appearing in the Seigaku vs Hyotei musical. I don’t feel like Yamabuki is complete as a team without Akutsu there, but I will be waiting for the day when he and you can hopefully return. Of course, I will continue to support both Tenimyu and you from now.
Right now, after seeing you for the last time at Dream Live in Yokohama, I do not know when I will be able to see you on stage. That makes me sad because you have been such a big presence to me for the past several months that I still can’t quite believe that I have no plans to see you in the future. I have really enjoyed watching you on stage and so from now, I’ll be waiting for the chance to see you in whatever you do next. Please continue to do your best, and I’ll be waiting and supporting you in the meantime.
I’ll write to you again the next chance I have to see you! Please wait for it.
So, that’s it!
Hopefully this post has been helpful to some people. Although I’m sure my fan letters aren’t 100% perfect, I do my best to write something that the actors will read and appreciate and want to read again, and I hope you guys can do the same.
If you have any further advice, please feel free to write it in the comments!