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Staff writer

Eighteen employees sort the estimated 20,000 letters that come to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building each day — letters that must find their way to the right person, who could be on any of the 89 floors of the complex.

So, some may argue, it’s no surprise that some get lost along the way.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara doesn’t see it that way. He’s outraged that a personal letter sent to him two months ago reached him only last week.

The letter was from a 65-year-old resident of Meguro Ward who wrote that teaching people knitting helps her and others fight senility.

After praising the letter Friday during a news conference, Ishihara said, “These ideas (that slip through the cracks) are not few … There’s something wrong with this place — really.”

Less than an hour later, Ishihara was venting again, this time during a meeting with senior officials.

“That letter went round and round,” he said, exasperated. “This is unheard of in the private sector … How can we serve the people if this continues?”

This is not the first time failures in the mail distribution system have perturbed the governor. Ishihara earlier received a letter — from relatives demanding an investigation into the death of a patient who died last February after receiving a disinfectant drip in a metropolitan hospital — that took three months to reach him.

And it’s just not letters. Personal phone calls are often cut off or never make it to their destination, Ishihara said, leaving him to face outraged friends.

After a tongue-lashing earlier this week, the Documents Examination Section was given a new directive: “If the divisions that initially receive the letters are in doubt as to how to handle the contents, send them to the Governor’s Office.”

But Satoshi Ishimura, an official of the documents section, said this may not be a practical solution. “We are dealing with an enormous number of letters,” he said. “If we send all (the letters in question), the office will be flooded.”

Ishihara receives more personal letters than his predecessor, Yukio Aoshima, Ishimura said. And although he and other officials have promised to do their best, distinguishing the many petitions and business letters from personal correspondence is a daunting task, he said.

“I would say 99 percent of the time we are right,” Ishimura said.

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