The Magic of Delivery Services In Japan
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
The ubiquity and convenience of takkyubin (courier services) in Japan that make life so easy
In the world of delivery, when it comes to service, security and extreme reliability, the boxed lunch delivery service known as the dabbawalas in Mumbai have enough international acclaim that Harvard Business School did a study on their operations and efficiency entitled “The Dabbawalas System: On Time Delivery, Every Time”. The dabbawalas might have a Harvard study as their claim to fame but when it comes to ubiquity of service, range of items handled, safety and reliability; the domestic courier services of Japan are widely acclaimed. Takuhaibin, Takkyubin, TA-Q-BIN - all refer to a door-to-door courier service for everything from luggage, important documents to groceries and online shopping. It forms the backbone for the transport of personal goods in Japan.
The largest market player, Yamato Transport, is a well-known sight with their iconic yellow oval icon of a black cat carrying a kitten in its mouth, signifying that they handle packages with the same amount of care as a cat handling its kitten. The logo has led the company to be colloquially referred to as Kuro Neko (black cat). Their self-proclamation is that they are able to reach and deliver packages to 99.9% of people in Japan. The other main players include Sagawa Express, Seino Transport, and to a much lesser extent, Japan Post. Though with the increase in e-commerce, and price hikes, Japan Post increased its market share by 2% in 2017 partly due to opening up its yu-pack service that was previous only for businesses to individual customers as well. Still, with 1.83 billion packages delivered in 2017, Yamato Transport still controls about half of the market-share.
The use of such courier services is intrinsic to the transport of goods in daily life in Japan. This includes the delivery of perishable items, as refrigerated shipments known as kuuru takyubin (cool delivery), same day delivery, cash on delivery, pick-up drop-off and payment at convenience stores, and home package pick up. Prices are highly reasonable, ranging from 1000 to 2000 yen, for a delivery from Kanto to the Kansai region, with discounts available of the packages are compact and dropped off at the courier service center (in the case for Kuroneko). Each company has slightly different conditions on weight and size maximums so it’s always best to look for the most up to date information on their websites. For example, for Kuroneko’s TA-Q-BIN service has a maximum size of 160 cm and 25 kg, Japan Post’s maximum size is 170 cm and 25 kg, Seino’s maximum size is 130 cm and 20 kgs, while Sagawa accepts packages that are 250 cm and up to 50 kg.
How to Measure Your Package:
Typically, the package arrives within 1-2 days and delivery times can be specified in 2-hour slots — and because it is Japan, they always show up within the designated time period. All companies have redelivery services but in the past the used to do multiple re-delivery attempts if the receiver was not home the first time around, but due to labor shortages and an every increasing number of packages as a result of e-commerce, now-a-days delivery services ask the receiver to schedule their redelivery time either online or by phone to ensure that someone will be available to receive the package.
Transporting Luggage To and From the Airport
An extremeply popular service with both tourists and locals is possibly the luggage delivery to and from the airports. The convenience minimizes the need to lug around suitcases on often crowded trains. A common practice is sending skis and other sports equipment ahead of time to the holiday destination to avoid the hassle of dealing with odd-sized luggage when travelling. In order to engage in such a service, schedule a pick up online or over the phone and have the waybills filled up in advance with the desired pickup time and location, airport destination and flight number when sending luggage to the airport.
Alternatively, luggage can be dropped off at most convenience stores such as 7-11, Familymart, Lawson etc. and souvenir shops that display a takuhaibin sign. With the copy of the waybill, one can pick up their luggage from these counters that are usually location in the same area as the departure check-in counters in most airports in Japan. However, it is advised that the luggage be picked-up or dropped-off 2-3 days in advance, depending on location.
For those having to travel by bus or train back home from the Airport, takyubin drop off service desks will process your shipment in minutes and you can travel back to your home hands free after a long flight. Sagawa and Kuroneko have slightly different processes for luggage delivery services so it’s always best to check their websites for the most up to date information. Kuroneko for example offers ANA miles for using its service and even has a discount campaign if their service is used round trip.
The companies are able to keep their prices quite reasonable for their daily delivery services given that the packages fit their size and weight requirements (as described above). Of course they do deliver oversized items like skis and bicycles, or valuable items that are priced over 300,000 yen (3000 USD) but that falls under a different department within each company, and prices are less standardised.
Ties to the Community
Over the year’s Kuroneko’s reach into the corners of Japan have put them in a unique position to provide out of the ordinary services for customers and the community.
Some remarkable facts about Kuroneko:
· They are even able to deliver to a location with only a phone number and postal code, instead of immediately returning the package to sender like most services around the world.
· Japan has an increasing number of elderly people living on their own in rural areas of Japan. To support their independence Yamato provides a double service targeted for the elderly.
- They can order groceries from their neighbourhood grocery store and Yamato will pick up and delivery the food.
- That process of interaction with the delivery personnel is also a way to check up on the health condition of the person. This information gets registered in the company database and can also be reported to loved ones living in another part of the country.
· In disaster situations they are able to used their resources and network to delivery much needed food and supplies to victims of natural disasters.
· They collect information on road conditions and report it to local governments to ensure the safest driving conditions for all drivers
In recent years Japanese courier services have set their sites on global market. Kuroneko now has kuuru takyubin services Thailand due to the increasing demand for Japanese food products in the local market. And Yamato Global Logistics provides international shipping shipping services for everything from small packages to fine art transport and international moving support. While Sagawa has expanded its services into the Philippines.
Despite the dabbawalas receiving international acclaim for timeliness and precision, the fact is that they only deliver lunches. The level of care, convenience, security and precision that the Japanese courier services are able to consistently deliver is undeniably remarkable, and quite simply masterful. What’s different in Japan is that despite these companies being large corporate entities, their services and ties to communities and human and personal, and that’s where why people in Japan don’t flinch when sending a several thousand dollar watch for repair by takuhaibin.
About the Author
Scientist, with 3 years in Kobe and counting...