I have always been a supporter of leaving key services up to the central government to run. Services like the police, prison, schools, universities and up until now I thought the post office of Japan was no exception. In my mind the postal system here in Japan has always provided efficient service, despite being blatantly over-staffed. That was until last week.
I could delve into the standard arguments for privatization. How the post office here has three branches: postage, banking and insurance and how the insurance is over-priced for minimal cover and how the savings accounts of nice little hunched over Japanese ladies earn a meager 0.1% and are used as a private slush fund for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party – but that is old news and fairly standard knowledge here. It is also the price you pay when you have a docile population that prefers to remain ignorant about money and compound interest. Still, I thought the postal service is pretty reliable here and they get the job done. Of course this photo gives some indication of how competent our illustrious Japan Post is. Taken from the Japan Post Annual Report, note the wonderful English at the bottom.
However, I thought I would share a more personal thing that happened at work.
We had a mail-out to do for a client and decided to stuff the envelopes in-house. Now, at work we have a long-standing relationship with the post office and have had a “postage paid” contract with them for over 10 years. So you can’t blame me for thinking this would be a cake-walk. The company has done this many times before, but it was my first time.
After ringing the post office and talking to a very friendly lady, I was assured that the post office could come and pick up our envelopes and post them the following day. I arranged a time and sure enough, 2 post office workers came and picked up the envelopes. Granted, they did say they normally wanted the number of envelopes counted, but it was no problem this time and they would be sent the following day.
The next day I got a phone call from the post office which was quite disturbing. A Mr. Hirokane of Japan Post accused me of not having a “postage paid” contract. He was accusatory and downright rude. I asked to speak with his boss. His boss was “away”.
Once I had my super efficient admin girl hunt down our contract and customer-number, which we had never been asked to provide before, Mr. Hirokane (aka chief gimp) then told me he didn’t really want to send our envelopes anyway, because they weren’t bundled into each postal code. Now, in Japan postal codes run into 7-digits, so that would have been, at worst almost physically impossible, at best taken two extra days to sort through the addresses – not an option.
I asked the chief gimp Japan Post guy if he had a solution. He suggested I send the envelopes at their parcel rate which would have jacked the price up ten times the normal amount the post office had always sent our envelopes for. I asked him again if his boss was back…to no avail. When I told him that we weren’t prepared to pay parcel rates he point-blank refused to send the envelopes. So that’s how we ended up getting our envelopes delivered back to our office by the postal workers, despite the post office having picked them up and promising to send them out, despite the same post office having done the same task umpteen dozen times for us before.
Wondering what to do, I saw our regular courier guy from Sagawa cruise by the office in his always-cheerful manner. Now this guy not only works the most hours of anyone I know second to me, he also loves his job. He is super-efficient, always has a solution and nothing is “too hard.” Rare in Japan.
I approached him, and I was pleasantly surprised when he wasn’t phased by an ever-so-slightly overweight gaijin asked him to solve our envelope send-out issue.
The conversation went like this (slightly abridged from the Japanese):
Me: Yo, courier dude.
Sagawa man: Sup?
Me: The Post Office shafted us and we need to deliver these envelopes.
Sagawa man: No worries mate. And did you know we charge 1 yen less than the post office?
Me: Really! Go for gold and send ‘em off for us, courier dude.
Sagawa man: Sweet as.
Refreshing to say the least. I breathed a big sigh of relief. Our envelopes were sent off without a hitch and I will never use the post office again as much as I can help it.
The shift to Sagawa has started to happen. I keep thinking back to my conviction that the post office was one service that should be kept under the government umbrella–and how wrong that conviction was. I would have been up the proverbial creek with not a paddle in sight if there wasn’t any competition to Japan Post. Long live privatization!