New Trends in Logistics

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    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.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    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.

  • Hiroaki Oshima

    Main guest

    Hiroaki Oshima works for a private think tank conducting research related to the logistics environment and evaluating the actual state of logistics. In response to Japan’s recent lack of truck drivers, he is engaged in consulting work focusing on truck driver safety and how to reduce drivers’ long working hours and improve their working environments.

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February 6, 2018

New Trends in Logistics

*You will leave the NHK website.

Japan, like the rest of the developed world, has taken a serious shine to online shopping. 3.9 billion home deliveries were made in 2016 alone, and that volume doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Japan's wholehearted embrace of online shopping is fueled, in part, thanks to the country's efficient shipping infrastructure, in which next-day delivery is the norm.

Hit the streets in Japan and you're bound to spot uniformed men and women delivering packages by truck, scooter, bicycle, and on foot with speed and dedication that may surprise those from other countries. But the ever-increasing number of packages is putting strain on these workers and the logistics that support them. On this edition of Japanology Plus, we take a look at the system as it exists and some of the new ideas that will be needed to keep it running in the future.

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Shipping freight by rail is efficient, but limited, because freight trains share tracks with passenger ones.

As we learn on the program, the current home delivery system in Japan, in which trucks make front-door stops in residential areas, was established in 1976. This watershed innovation was the brainchild of Masao Ogura, the then-president of private shipping company Yamato Transport.

Up to that point, home delivery had been exclusive to the post office, which was government-run at the time. Ogura encountered opposition from the government authorities responsible for that service, but he was determined to set up his new system regardless. It's been reported that one impetus came when Ogura's family ran into trouble trying to send old clothes to relatives in another prefecture—even the president of a transport company couldn't get a package from one household to another!

The service was launched in January 1976 in Tokyo and the surrounding area, with a grand total of 11 parcels delivered on day one. By the end of the next fiscal year, however, Ogura's service had shipped almost two million packages. Rival services sprang up one after another, and many, like Ogura's original, employed cute animal logos, causing competition among them to be branded the "animal war."

Part of what made Ogura's service so popular—and set the standard for the rest of the emerging industry—was his dedication to customer service. As his drivers had to handle multiple tasks in addition to driving, he likened them to sushi chefs, whose work also goes above and beyond simply preparing sushi. As we see in the program, this tradition continues today: drivers must personally deliver packages, take payments, adjust their routes when customers call for redelivery, and more.

This is not easy work and, as we hear, Japan is facing a shortage of drivers. Host Peter Barakan and expert guest Hiroaki Oshima meet at the site of one new trend in logistics: a giant ferry that transports both passengers and freight by sea. But even sea transportation has its limits. Japanese firms have really started thinking outside the box in order to move all those boxes.

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40 years later, 2 million packages have ballooned into 3.9 billion.

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Host Peter Barakan and expert guest Hiroaki Oshima take a cruise on this 199.7 meter long ferry. Why not 200 meters? You'll have to watch to find out.


One issue hampering drivers is the fact that more people are outside the home all day, meaning many packages have to be redelivered, a huge drain on time and resources. The program explores some potential solutions, such as secure delivery boxes in new apartment buildings and even driverless trucks whose lockers can be accessed with a smartphone code.

One more trend is that of convenience store pickup. When ordering a package online, customers can choose a convenience store near their workplace or home, then present a special code to the staff to receive their packages. This allows for 24/7 pickup and obviates the need for redelivery—though it does shift some of the work to already harried convenience store employees.

This comes back to an important point made by Oshima near the end of the program: though some logistical jobs currently done by people will be taken over by automation, the human touch will remain, and it's possible emerging trends such as transport by sea, driverless trucks, drones, and more will require a whole new workforce of engineers, roboticists, drone pilots, and other jobs we can't yet imagine. To keep Japan's delivery services at their current high standard, these workers will also have to be as skilled as sushi chefs.

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Drones may allow fast and efficient shipping to remote locations such as island communities.

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