Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Only in Japan: Non-horrible mail service

You know how in the last post, I was talking about what I'd miss the most about Japan? Forget what I said. What I'll miss the most is their system for delivering packages.

In the States, unless you shell out a lot of extra money, you're basically at the mercy of USPS/UPS/Fedex's whims when it comes to getting a parcel in the mail. They could drop it off at 10, 12, 2, 5... who knows when, or even what day? Their general attitude seems to be that we should be grateful that they even bother to show up.

And god help you if you ever actually have to sign for the damn thing. I swear that our postman in San Francisco would intentionally wait until I left the house to "attempt" to deliver a package. That would inevitably lead one of those horrible notes that signified the need for a lengthy and unpleasant trip to the post office. And don't even get me started on the time I had to borrow a car and drive 10 miles to a far-flung industrial park in South City just to pick up a UPS package full of instant noodle lunches.

In Japan, this would rightfully be seen as an obscenely stupid way to do business. The default shipping option here will allow you to select not only the precise date of delivery, but a 2 hour time window in which the package is guaranteed to arrive. And, these time windows typically can go as late as 9 or 10 at night. Imagine that; you can actually opt to receive a package at a time you're going to be home! It's incredibly convenient and it basically renders tracking codes obsolete. Who cares if your package is in Wichita, if you know that you can set your watch by its arrival?

This system is extended to a place that is obvious but seems like a stroke of genius: airports. When we arrived at Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, we had some enormous suitcases and backpacks that we opted to bring with us on the plane because shipping from the U.S. to our apartment would've been cost-prohibitive, to put it mildly. I would've had to drag these giant things with me all the way from the airport, onto two trains, and then stuff them in my small ryokan (cheap traditional-style hotel) room. Then, once the stay in Tokyo was done, I'd have to bring them on train packed with commuters to meet Andrea, and then I'd have to find room on the bus to Haneda Airport. I wasn't looking forward to it, but eventually I found that there was a better way.

I was kind of dumbfounded to discover that at Narita, there are companies who were willing to send a huge, heavy suitcase and a huge, heavy backpack 300 miles, directly to my apartment, between the hours of 8pm and 10pm on the exact day we arrived, all for a flat 16 bucks per bag. And sure enough, on the day of our arrival in Kanazawa at around 9pm, there was the delivery guy with the backpack and suitcase I'd last seen 5 days earlier on the opposite side of the country. And best of all, the one or two fragile items I'd packed were completely intact.

I have a tendency to rave enthusiastically about certain things, but I don't mean to paint a completely rosy picture of what it's like here. It's been more than 5 weeks, and I've fully come to realize many of the minor and major irritations that come with living here. I could probably rattle off half a dozen right now, most of which probably involve the summer heat/humidity and our apartment's lack of insulation from said heat/humidity. But sometimes, seemingly to make up for its more prominent faults, this country completely knocks it out of the park, and it makes you wonder why we don't do things more like them.


  1. Might I remind you of the ridiculously complicated bank procedures this country forces you to go through to pay for things because checks and credit cards don't exist? Not to mention the seriously limited ATM hours. They've got things right in some ways but...

  2. You two have been gone for over a month now. You seem to be settling into a routine of sorts and we're enjoying hearing about Japan from the lids of syrup containers through the mail and politics and the scenery.
    Keep us all posted! Thanks.