A simple question for all those who have travelled to Japan: how often do you see Japanese people dragging a large suitcase behind them? The answer is almost never and this is thanks to an essential Japanese service called takkyubin (or Ta-Q-Bin) which is managed by the Yamato company. It is still the only service of its kind in the world, at least on this scale, something which never ceases to surprise the Japanese. And after using the service, with its high standards and impeccable punctuality, it is easy to understand why.
In Japanese, 宅急便 takkyubin means “shipping/fast delivery at home”. It was invented by the Yamato company during the oil crisis of 1973. The logistics company was founded in 1919, and at first it just handled business deliveries. But when it noticed that Japan Post did not deliver parcels exceeding six kilogrammes, Yamato began the service in January 1976 with the launch of takkyubin door-to-door. Today its network is made up of 135,000 employees, 45,000 vehicles and 6,000 warehouses of all sizes (find the nearest) and even today, it complements Japan Post rather than competes with it.
Yamato’s job is to deliver parcels very quickly throughout Japan and thanks to a massive local network, the company does so with stunning success. In 2007, Yamato made 1.2 billion deliveries, or 3.3 million packages a day, with a total turnover of 1,000 billion yen! The promise to pick up your package and deliver it the next day to wherever you want, anywhere in Japan, 365 days a year. Same-day delivery is even possible for local deliveries. By contrast, for Hokkaido and Okinawa, it can sometimes take up to two days. So you have almost inevitably seen the Kuro-Neko (Black Cat) vans in the streets during your travels.
Note that Yamato is so ubiquitous in Japan that its name 宅急便 takkyubin has replaced the common name 宅配便 takuhaibin in everyday language. To be thorough, we must also mention its main competitor Sagawa, although it is much less used.
How it works
The way takkyubin works is quite simple. You can send any type of package, from a simple envelope to ski and golf accessories to clothes or furniture. It is even possible to send cold food in refrigerated trucks (via their Cool service) or confidential documents (kept in a safe for which only the sender and the recipient have the combination) for a small extra fee. But what interests us here are suitcases, and using this service offers many advantages:
- a choice of place for collection and delivery: a house or apartment, hotel, business office, airport, the local konbini or a small Yamato warehouse in your area;
- the comfort of not having to carry heavy and/or bulky luggage in trains (sometimes with several changes, with hundreds of metres to walk and up and down stairs) is invaluable, especially in such an ordered country;
- delivery is made the next day, so by booking it the day before your transfer and choosing your slot, you will arrive at your new accommodation at the same time as your luggage;
- the cost is reasonable (see below), considering the convenience.
To send your item, you must complete a form completely in Japanese. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language, your hotel reception will give you one (often pre-filled) and fill it in for you. If you are renting private accommodation, then ask the nearest konbini who should be able to help you.
It is possible to select a delivery slot from a choice of six the following day :
- before midday
- between midday and 2pm
- between 2pm and 4pm
- between 4pm and 6pm
- between 6pm and 8pm
- between 8pm and 9pm
If you are not there at the time of delivery, the courier will contact you on the telephone number listed on the form to make a new appointment or he will return later in the day.
Example of delivery form
We have translated a delivery form for your information:
The Japanese Ministry of Tourism has announced that from June 2015, premises offering a takkyubin service should display the English logo "Hands-free travel" (see photo) to help foreign tourists. Initially this will mainly be at airports, but it is expected that this will extend to many shops, as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approach.
The cost of transporting your luggage depends on its volume and the distance between pick-up and delivery. There are six standard object formats accepted by Ta-Q-Bin (the size corresponds to the sum of the length, the width and the height):
- 60 centimeters and 2 kilograms max
- 80 cm and 5 kg max
- 100 cm and 10 kg max
- 120 cm and 15 kg max
- 140 cm and 20 kg max
- 160 cm and 25 kg max
The last category is usually the maximum volume allowed by airlines for your checked luggage. So there is a good chance that 160 cm is the range you are looking for in the Yamato fee list (available in PDF - 722ko).
For your information, transporting such a suitcase from Tokyo to Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka...) costs ¥1,890 / ~US$ 17.00, or ¥4,520 (~US$ 40.70) between Hokkaido and Okinawa. Or, for a small suitcase (generally in the 100 cm range) delivered from Fukuoka to Hiroshima, it costs ¥1,160 ~US$ 10.40. It is up to you to work out how much it will cost you to use takkyubin with a currency converter. Note that KuroNeko offers a ¥100 (~US$ 0.90) yen discount if you drop the package at a collection point yourself.
Yamato Official website (in English)