At the dockside in Nagoya Port, a large steel container measuring about 12 meters long by 2.5 meters wide and 2.5 meters high, and weighing about 10 tons, is loaded onto a ship. Its intended destination is the Philippines.
The container contents, according to Shukan Jitsuwa (Sept 20), are not the sort of exports from Japan that one might expect.
"Everything inside is reusable," says Hiroshi Aratsu, president of Toyohashi City-based Zero Plus Co. "These are not industrial waste or discarded items. They have been collected from homes where people died. The large items might included electric appliances or closets; the smaller items would be shoes, golf balls, and dining utensils -- almost anything you care to name."
Aratsu's company exports some 40 tons of brick-a-brack to the Philippines a year, usually directly to Manila port, the fastest route, but also via Taiwan or China when faster shipping connections are not available. In his warehouse in Japan awaiting shipping can be found mountains of appliances, Japanese dolls, plastic toys, framed sea shell decorative art, items of clothing and so on.
Zero Plus began exports to the Philippines some 15 years ago. Before then Aratsu had been in the business of processing industrial waste when he realized that many items being discarded were in good condition and perfectly reusable. First he began sending TV sets with cathode-ray tubes to the Philippines, and then expanded the range of items.
"Most of them come from houses abandoned after their owner died, or else from companies that went bankrupt or restaurants that went out of business and so on," he said.
A collector of such items explains how the process is carried out.
"First we make a complete accounting of the deceased's possessions to his or her family, usually within 49 days of their passing," he begins. "We confirm with the entire family about what is to be discarded and what is to be retained. If it was a person who was living alone when he or she passed away, we go through closets and chests of drawers and look through the pockets of clothes, and so on, because that's where we're most likely to find cash, credit cards, bank savings books and personal seals. A lot of stuff also turns up in glove compartments of cars and suitcases too."
The items that make it to the Philippines are typically auctioned off in lots, some nine locations for which exist, according to Atsushi Segawa, an authority on the recycling business.
"There are two types of operators: those who pick out specific items and those who just bid on the entire contents of the container," Segawa tells the magazine.
Business has been so good for Zero Plus that in August 2017 it established its own auction company in a Manila suburb. That has boosted requests from other suppliers and the number of containers shipping monthly from Japanese ports have risen from 14 a month to 40. The company takes advantage of the same law treating the sales of used items that went into effect in 2000, which at the time set off a boom in recycle shops throughout Japan.
"There are quite a few sleazy operators in the business though," warns Aya Ishizuka, office manager of the Japan Shuno Licensing Association in Tokyo's Azabu, Minato Ward. "They take shortcuts when sorting items and just pop everything into big vinyl bags, that they sell in bulk to brokers."
The operator of another company based in Yokohama says until three years ago, he used to export the items to Thailand.
"Since it's a Buddhist country they appreciated the religious figurines and high-quality wood items from home altars. But the Thai economy's been doing quite well and demand for used items has slumped, so we send our stuff to the Philippines now."
As Japan's generation of postwar baby boomers ages, moves to single-occupant residences and begins to die off, this demographic is likely to leave behind a virtual cornucopia of high-quality possessions. In a way, it's reassuring that their cherished treasures will find a second home in the Philippines, the magazine concludes.© Japan Today