* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, November 09, 2014, Issue No. 780
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+++ TAKKYUBIN TOURISM
One of the things that Japan is famous for is its punctuality. This is
best demonstrated by the railway system, where at peak times trains
run on the same tracks every 2-3 minutes and which is only possible
because the operators have a target of a 99.9999% error-free rate (one
error per million). As a result, trains pretty much run on time
all the time. The average delay for a Shinkansen train is about 20
seconds, and for other JR trains about 50 seconds. Or put another way,
95% of all Shinkansen trains leave and arrive within one minute of
schedule, and on the rest of the JR network, 90% of trains do.
This obsession with punctuality lets Japan be efficient and
productive. Of course it's not just trains. Think about store
opening/closing times, lunch time menus (ok, irritating when you
arrive at noon and can't get the breakfast menu!), weddings and
funerals, and even the finishing times for sports events. We recently
participated in a 110km cycling race, and were asked to nominate how
quickly we could finish, so that the organizers could slot us into an
appropriate starting wave. I suppose with 2,000 people in our
category, and 6,500 participating in the cycling event overall, this
level of obsession with punctuality is probably acceptable.
But one excellent group of punctual service companies you seldom hear
about are the nation's parcel delivery companies (takkyubin). As
readers who are residents will already know, the nation's parcel
delivery companies are just as awesome as their railway cousins.
So how does this apply to travel?
Well it's a sad fact that public transport in Japan is poorly designed
for holiday makers schlepping around large, heavy bags. We feel sorry
for foreign tourists getting off the NEX train at Tokyo station being
confronted with long flights of stairs to get to the various suburban
lines. The reality is that the transport system was developed to move
commuters around, and to fit this reality Japanese going on holiday
pack small bags and strollers that will fit up on the parcel racks.
There are few places on a busy Shinkansen or commuter train to put a
full-sized 20kg suit case -- a bit of a shock to independent
Little wonder, then, that most people either stick with tour buses
which are built for luggage handling, or they tend to only move "base"
(cities and a chosen hotel therein) a couple of times during their
10-day stay here.
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But there is another way, taking advantage of the worst and best of
Japan's transportation system. A friend and I wanted to do a road
cycling tour in Shikoku and knowing that luggage was going to be a
problem, we decided to embark on an experiment. We packed all our
stuff (other than the bikes, which went in train-regulation bike
bags), such as spares, fresh clothes, cameras, etc., into two
overnight bags each. Then, using takkyubin, we decided to find out if
it was possible to ship a bag ahead each day, so that we could use a
two-day bag relay system for each hotel stay.
It actually worked out really well. At Narita on the first day, we
shipped the second bags by courier right from the baggage shipping
area on the Arrivals floor, to Kotohira, Shikoku, some 50km east of
Takamatsu in Kagawa-ken. Then we took our number one bags and the
bikes on board the plane with us. We used JetStar, which only charged
us JPY8,000 to fly and another JPY3,000 or so to ship the bikes and
overnight bags (one each). I love JetStar for its pricing and luggage
strategy. You only get what you need.
The morning after arriving in Takamatsu, we asked the hotel staff to
assist us in shipping the first bags to our third hotel stay, in
Kazurabashi, Tokushima, while we rode our bikes bag-free to Kotohira.
It cost us all of JPY800 each to ship the two overnight bags (about
10kg each) from Takamatsu to Kazurabashi, a place so small and remote,
you'll struggle to find it on a map! The major attraction at the hotel
there is a wonderful outside rotenburo that you take a funicular to
get to and which overlooks the valley and the tree-covered mountains
You can see the hotel here: http://bit.ly/1183shk
So what we learned as a rule of thumb is that if you want your bags to
arrive by the evening of a given date, so long as you are on the same
island as the destination (in our case Shikoku), then you can send the
said luggage by the evening pickup time of the previous day. It
doesn't seem to matter how remote the location, so long as they have
your bag before around 16:00-17:00 (check with the hotel when you
first arrive), it will get to the next stop by the next evening.
----------------- O.G.A. FOR AID Tohoku -------------------
O.G.A. FOR AID, a non-profit disaster-relief organization organizes a
very special Christmas party in Minamisanriku, Miyagi every year to
bring the families of those affected by the tsunami together.
Minamisanriku survivors and O.G.A. FOR AID volunteers need your help
to raise money and presents. We are all working together to bring
Santa to the children of Tohoku. 400 survivors will be present at the
party for the celebration on December 13, 2014. Donations from you
will go directly to these families including 260 children.
For more information on how to donate or get involved, please visit
our website http://www.ogaforaid.org
We also discovered that on Shikoku at least, pretty much every hotel
had a shipping agent relationship with Yamato, and so were happy to
receive our bags and ship them on -- I'm sure the commission is a
welcome windfall. Not being great at Kanji place names in Shikoku, we
would ask the hotel staff, typically little old ladies who ran the
souvenir kiosk in the hotel, to do the honors. This is one part of the
process where you probably do need some Japanese ability -- unless you
have someone pre-fill the transportation forms before you embark on
the trip, which I strongly recommend.
The takkyubin pricing system is rather fascinating and obviously
prices don't get changed often. Each little old lady had the same
miniature takkyubin-supplied tape measure that has centimeters marked
on one side and the price of a given parcel within certain zones on
the other. For Shikoku, the zone was the whole island, so the
measurements were simple and the prices were extremely reasonable. The
most expensive leg for us was for the two overnight bags sent from
Narita to Kotohira, which cost JPY1,500 each.
We discovered that parcels are priced according to their edge-to-edge
size (H x D x W), with some surcharges for zones beyond the main
islands. The largest size you can ship with the major players (Yamato
and Sagawa) is 1.6m (and 25kg), so it's worth checking that your bags
don't individually exceed this size. Find another bag if they do.
Now, in our case my cycling partner had a bike case that was 2m, and
even though it only weighed about 15kg, there was no way that nice
little old lady was going to take it -- even after 10 minutes of
begging...! So in the end, I had to call Yamato in Tokyo who revealed
that while their takkyubin division couldn't handle it, their
furniture shipping division could. The only downside was that it cost
3 times more (JPY7,500) and took three days to get to its destination,
which was Matsuyama, on the opposite side of Shikoku. Luckily our bike
trip was a week long and my friend didn't need the bike case until his
flight back to Australia, so this worked for us.
I can't tell you what a pleasure it was cycling through the autumn
leaves in the mountains of Shikoku, with just a backpack on and
knowing that a fresh change of clothing and camera battery chargers
would be waiting for us when we hit the next onsen. Absolutely no
schlepping, leaving us to spend all our energy on those numerous
mountains that look so small on the map...! Indeed, up in one of the
mountain passes we met a fit-looking Spanish couple who were touring
the normal way, with at least 20kg of luggage shoe-horned into
panniers on their bikes (well, mostly on her bike, actually). We had
to admire them for their strength and determination, but again gave a
silent thanks to Yamato for its reliable fleet delivering our
toothbrushes and fresh underwear to the next hotel... :-)
The Yamato website is quite usable. Most of what you need is in
English and you can call them in English, Yeah, OK, we did do some of
it in Japanese, but this is because we could, and I think the English
hotline would work if you really needed it. Just be aware of their
business hours if you have a problem to resolve.
...The information janitors/
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RSVP: By 4pm on Monday 17th November 2014
Venue is The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan
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+++ ABOUT US
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