Think about a recent model of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, brooding not in regards to the deserves of existence (“to be, or to not be”) however quite about whether or not or to not make an internet buy. A call to purchase would set off a series of occasions in a fancy system during which labor, finance, promoting and the distribution of products and providers converge. To click on, or to not click on, that’s the query.
Procuring on-line has change into commonplace within the period of COVID-19, throughout which the pandemic has turned even abnormal grocery store forays into anxious, infection-threatening affairs. If right now’s model of the metaphysically tortured Hamlet decides to go forward and purchase, the results of his rumination-fueled motion in a lot of Asia would be the supply of a corrugated cardboard field to his door.
So it’s that, right now, in Japan, such nationwide firms as Yamato Transport, Sagawa Specific, Japan Put up and Seino Transportation, in addition to numerous native outfits, appear to be doing a booming enterprise continuously shifting stuff round.
Earlier than the pandemic, common guests to Tokyo may take the heartbeat of what seemed to be sizzling in fashionable tradition and shopper conduct just by strolling by way of the capital’s varied neighborhoods. One yr, dog-grooming parlors and doughnut outlets appeared to be popping up on each nook. Extra lately, in a single fashionable district, I’ve observed a surfeit of dry cleaners, hair salons and dentists’ places of work.
Right this moment, nonetheless, delivery-service firms seem like a few of Japan’s hottest properties. Their presence might be felt nearly all over the place. In any city or metropolis, like swarms of busy bees, uniformed staff of the largest firms, and extra courier providers than one can rely, could also be seen buzzing round purposefully, pushing carts, sputtering alongside on bicycles and scooters, or pulling up in spectacular, refrigerated vehicles proudly emblazoned with their firms’ logos.
With clipboards, cell phones, and waist-mounted, distribution-tracking, digital gizmos, they provide vivid reminders that, in Japan, at any given second, somebody, someplace is delivering one thing to someone, whilst, elsewhere, different clients could also be providing up but extra packages to be whisked away by these fashionable heirs of Hermes, the fast-moving messenger of the gods of historic Greece. They smile. They bow. They zap no matter passes by way of their palms with digital devices. They fill out mysterious varieties in quintuplicate.
Lately, the proud motto of the U.S. Postal Service applies extra appropriately to the tireless dispatchers and supply staffs of Japan’s package-handling firms. “Neither snow nor rain nor warmth nor gloom of night time stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” the USPS slogan declares. Nor will the snack-food temptations of the various konbini (comfort shops) from which Japanese supply brokers routinely decide up packages clients have dropped off — one other handy service their firms present.
Within the U.S. and another nations, “service” seems to have change into a pejorative phrase for a lot of service-sector staff. However for foreigners in Japan whose dwelling nations are recognized for his or her surly, unfriendly store clerks, many a customer-service expertise might come as a nice shock.
Not too long ago, I clicked a small order of workplace provides into existence. Two days later, a Sagawa courier in a bright-blue outfit introduced a small field to my door. A number of days later, the second portion of this order arrived, however I used to be not current when its bearer turned up.
As a substitute, I arrived 20 minutes later to discover a custom-printed Sagawa advisory informing me of the courier’s identify and private cell phone quantity, in addition to of the hours throughout which he could be working in my neighborhood that very same afternoon. Respectfully, the discover invited me to name the deliveryman myself to let him know when he may once more try and drop off my package deal.
Instantly, I referred to as and recognized myself, solely to be greeted by a jovial voice and regaled with niceties by a Sagawa courier who may have been my long-lost brother. Simply quarter-hour later, he was at my door with a tiny padded envelope, whose humble measurement and contents — applicator caps for glue bottles — appeared to me to be immeasurably unworthy of the bathe of politesse with which it had been conveyed to me.
Conceptually, on a grand scale, one may think the complicated, fixed movement of Japan’s legions of courier-service staff as constituting some form of real-time, perpetually shape-shifting efficiency artwork or choreographic occasion.
If seen as Shakespearean messengers in a modern-day industrial pageant, now, greater than ever, the collective position they play is one which has change into very important inside Japan’s economic system. They work feverishly. They’re all over the place. Someplace, proper this minute, one among them is loading a cart with packages.
And in the case of offering indispensable providers, all of those hardworking messengers — they actually do ship.
Edward M. Gomez is a Tokyo-based artwork historian, arts journalist and critic, specializing in Japan.