Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.
Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.
Head of training at a major Japanese removal service, Yasuo Yamasaki has over 20 years of experience as a professional mover. Nowadays he instructs employees in packing and moving techniques, as well as the etiquette that is an important part of this business.
February 2, 2017
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A move of house, most people will agree, is among the most stressful experiences that many of us are almost guaranteed to experience several times over the course of our lives. And the process of packing up all of your belongings is demanding enough when you have actively chosen to make the move yourself.
But under Japanese business culture, sudden, long-distance transfers are all too common. And for workers who, since the economic miracle of the postwar years, have been considered to rank among the world’s busiest, there often simply aren’t enough hours in the day to take charge of every aspect of your own move.
These issues, along with Japan’s famously accommodating service culture, are among the factors that have led the nation’s moving firms to refine their craft to a staggering degree.
Unlike similar services in other countries, which often live up (or down) to the “man with a van” stereotype, and are hardly the model of etiquette and reliability, in Japan, the customer comes first.
The process typically begins with a quote, which can be obtained online, over the phone, or following a visit from a removal firm’s professional assessor. This is when the service provider will establish the scale of the job, from the number of boxes required (these are supplied as part of the deal), to the size of truck, number of movers, and probable time needed to complete the task.
Many customers will contact several companies to compare prices, and this fierce competition is one reason that fees are often surprisingly reasonable, despite the superlative level of service on offer.
From this point on, everything is designed to be as slick and hassle-free as possible, including various services that the customer may not even realize they require. At the lower end of the price scale, cardboard boxes will be delivered some time in advance to give the customer the time they need to pack and label their own possessions.
For a little extra outlay, however, the pros will handle everything -- carefully transferring crockery and garments from cabinets and wardrobes to specially designed containers for ease of transport. Furniture is carefully padded, straps attached, and special techniques employed to minimize the risk of bumps and scratches.
Main guest Yasuo Yamasaki (middle) and a colleague show Peter how to move a wardrobe.
Padding and straps are affixed to allow the wardrobe to be maneuvered down this narrow, twisting flight of stairs.
There are only centimeters of clearance on either side.
At the final destination, this process is reversed. Everything can be carefully arranged according to the client’s stipulations. This goes some way to eliminating the all-too-familiar post-move period in which the new tenant may find themselves living surrounded by cardboard boxes.
Efficiency is also of the essence. The smartly uniformed removal staff employ lifting techniques that are underpinned by ergonomics. This improves speed and visibility while carrying heavy boxes and items, and also reduces the likelihood of back and other injuries.
In Japan, especially in the major cities, where real estate is at a premium, houses can be very cramped inside. Maneuvering large items of furniture along narrow corridors and stairs requires special techniques that have become a hallmark of Japanese movers. This edition of Japanology Plus gives a glimpse of some of the rigorous training used by large firms to perfect such skills.
A ladder is used to steady this wardrobe as three movers hoist it up in through a second-floor window.
A system of pulleys can even be used to hoist heavy items past jutting surfaces to destinations as high as the seventh floor.
Though friendly and cordial, these movers engage in little idle chit-chat, and are likely to be confused if offered the tea or similar refreshments that are often expected by their counterparts overseas.
Until the mid-twentieth century, long distance moves were relatively rare in Japan. When faced with a move of house, many people would simply hire a truck, and rope in friends, family, and neighbors to assist with the heavy lifting.
However, during the rapid economic growth of the 1950s and '60s, more and more people moved to the cities, which were themselves rapidly expanding outwards, spawning dormitory towns along the rail networks extending like spider webs to their outskirts. Removal firms stepped in to meet these emerging needs.
Furthermore, as many large Japanese businesses established offices overseas, the major domestic movers followed suit. The presence of subsidiaries and haulage networks in major international hubs serves to relieve the already stressed subjects of international transfers of the need to deal with unfamiliar removal systems in a foreign language.
Matt gets a glimpse of one recent innovation for the safe transport of plates and dishes: a box filled with padded pockets.
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