The secret of Japan Post: unbeatable service


The postal service in Japan, run by Japan Post, is a beacon of national pride and contrasts with services in some countries with a reputation of being slow to deliver and of losing parcels or checks.

Its vast network of offices, found in even the smallest rural towns, connect the length and breadth of the country, providing a vital lifeline for communities in out-of-the-way places.

Effectively the world's largest bank, its branches offer insurance, savings, and a place for Japan's army of elderly people to draw their pensions.

As well as an exemplary daily mail delivery -- letters are brought to the door seven days a week and on every national holiday of the year except one -- Japan Post also competes creditably with large courier firms like Yamato or Sagawa.

The 24,000 bureaus, which employ 209,000 people across many of the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago, give it an unparalleled distribution capability that allows online retailers like Amazon Japan to offer same-day delivery in major cities -- a key competitive edge in a land where convenience rules and the customer is king.

With many Japanese people having migrated to big cities, an online mall offering regional specialities like fruit or fresh produce always has takers. And refrigerated delivery allows those treats from home to grace urban dinner tables just hours after an order was placed.

Like most Japanese institutions, Japan Post is built on attention to detail and making sure that what a customer paid for is what they get -- even if that means weeks of painstaking research to try to find out what that partially-obscured and badly-written address was supposed to be.

The government of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi split the behemoth into four units in 2007, to handle deliveries, savings, insurance and counter services, but the government retained full ownership, with plans for the bank and insurance units to go private in a huge stock offering over the following decade.

But, the sheer size and scope of Japan Post, along with the place it has in the Japanese heart has put the brakes on the plan and successive governments have run out of steam as they tried and failed to move forward with the plan.

The prize would be huge -- billions of dollars of shares would likely be snapped up, boosting Japan's state coffers at a time of mountainous public debt and a shrinking tax base.

The slow pace of privatization has irked US and EU trade officials who are worried by the group's competitive advantage. Potential rivals abroad say the size of the organization means it has economies of scale that they would have trouble matching.

While vested interests in the form of labor organizations are partly to blame for the glacial pace of reform, the Japanese public's affection for a service that is woven into the fabric of national life is also an obstacle to change.

Who else, they wonder, would neatly sort and deliver hundreds of millions of New Year cards all over Japan on January 1?

© (C) 2013 AFP

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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For once, I actually agree - I think Japan Post are amazing!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I am also a great fan of Japan Post and very grateful for their excellent services. But, based on more than thirty years living in various cities here, I would say the above quote is incorrect. Letters, with the exception of special delivery letters, are NOT delivered on Sundays or holidays, although air mail letters from overseas are delivered along with the New Year cards on January 1.

I would also say the success of Amazon and other online or catalog shopping outfits is due also to the non Japan Post package delivery services (takkyubin).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The real secret is monopolistic market and war chest of oldester's savings.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Exactly the type of service the Japanese excel at. Makes most other postal services seem really poorly run.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This was a good article about a great service but needs one correction. In my part of the world, Okayama kita-ku, there is neither delivery on Sundays nor on national holidays.

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In my earlier comment, the words "the above quote" referred to a line that I had copied and pasted from the article at the beginning of my comment and that was visible until the comment was posted. I retype them here: "letters are brought to the door seven days a week and in every national holiday of the year except one"

Wondering why in the world copying and pasting bits from articles so readers can understand what a commenter is talking about would not be allowed. This has happened to me more than once lately.

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I agree, Japan Post is pretty good. If they could speed up the process when buying an international money order and lower the exorbitant fee, I would really love them.

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Ha ha, yes, let me modify my praise a bit. I was mainly thinking about their delivery which is very reliable, but yes, sometimes the window service speed and efficiency leave a bit to be desired. However it is still far better than in my home country. I have also found it easier to mostly patronize the same small post office near my home so they are used to me and they work hard to please me as they have blundered in the past and I had to teach them some details about their services. I also know which clerks to avoid because they are on the slow side etc. Even when they make mistakes I still prefer it here as in my home country it all comes with a portion of surliness and long long wait times.

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I guess when you are the worlds biggest savings bank - that pays "savers" 0.0000036% per annum - you can afford the luxury of running a good, well-staffed postal service. I must say, since the reforms, the service when I go into the P.O. is way better and faster than a decade ago. Keep the reforms and privatization going!

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Anyone who believes the above story has obviously never been to the P.O. in Izumo.

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