It took me long enough to get to a post office, and even then it was a trip initiated by Amanda, my new coworker. She wanted to send some money back home (really, this was a bit of a bad call since she just got here, but that's not the point) and send a "care package" with some goodies for her family. I wanted to join her, both to help her navigate the insanity that is Japanese paperwork and to send a small package off to America to get an idea of how it works.
Mailing a tiny package to the US isn't that difficult. My envelope was small enough I didn't need a customs form, though the weight brought the price to 400 yen. Still, not too bad. Amanda wanted to send two packages - one a return to a company in the US and the other to her family. She didn't end up shipping stuff home, but the large package was sent via EMS, which is basically airmail. That package needed a shipping label, which is about the same as sending an international package from the US.
As for the money order she had to change yen back into US$. This, a couple weeks after we changed the US$ into yen. (But anyway....) The post office can handle this quite easily. You fill out a form and pay the fee - 2000 yen in this case but usually 2500 yen. It takes a bit of time for the teller/postal worker to handle the transaction, but eventually we got our receipt and money order, in US dollars!
A word of advice on sending money back to the US: try to do it infrequently in larger amounts. The 2500-yen fee is a flat fee regardless of the amount you send. You can send up to 100,000 yen (about $1200 with the current exchange rates) on one money order or instant transfer. This is exactly what I'm planning on doing early next year.
One more word of advice. Any time you fill out an official form in Japan - at a bank, the post office, work - it needs to be perfect. If it isn't, you have to start all over again. As we navigated a couple of the forms at the post office last week, and a simple cash withdrawal form at the bank today, we had to redo them after they were completed because of minor mistakes or even a stray mark. So should you mess up on the form, you might as well start over. White out, cross outs, and extra marks just aren't allowed. Be prepared!
The post office experience took a couple hours, partly because it was our first time. Next time I go, I should be in and out in 30 minutes flat. The nice thing about Japanese post offices, banks, and other service-type businesses is the take-a-number setup. There is plenty of seating and you even sit in the lounge area while they complete your transactions.
As a little bonus feature in this post, let me tell you how great JP Post is. They won't leave packages at the door of my apartment (theft is just way too easy) so they leave the "We missed you!" slip in the mailbox, just like in America. But when you call back (yes, call), you select the date and time you want the package redelivered, in a 2-hour window. Yes. Date. Time. Two hour window. I've had a few deliveries since arriving (furniture provided by my employer, official documents, my internet modem, and a couple personal packages) and this is the most awesome thing in the world, if you ask me. Many times, I've been able to have it redelivered at work instead of having to be at home. And on Saturday at 4PM, we scheduled the most recent delivery to arrive between 7 and 9pm that night. A three hour turn-around time? That is service.