Postal problems…

Hi All,

As some of you may have discovered, through one of several means, that Japan Post has placed severe restrictions on airmail to the United States.

Actually, severe is not a strong enough word. I can’t actually place the correct words here without breaking something…

Here are the facts, as I know them having spent many, many hours scouring the interweb, talking to the Post Office here and learning all I can.

The DHS in the US has imposed limits on incoming airmail packages, as a result of someone trying to send a bomb in a printer through the mail. The limits are no more than 1 lb./16oz./453gms. of any printer toner, ink or printer cartridge.

Most countries in the world have mirrored these restrictions in not allowing more than the proscribed amount of verboten material to be sent through the mail.

The reason for this is that mail often travels by vacant space on passenger aircraft. If some of this material could be fashioned into a bomb, it doesn’t just affect the mail, but also the people on that airplane.

Japan Post has decided that it is too difficult to screen out only printer materials (which are rarely posted from Japan since they are too expensive) and pushed a blanket ban on ANYTHING being sent by airmail to the US that is over the 1 lb./16 oz./453gms. limit. Even if you send a brick (which I do), it’s not allowed.

Exceptions are made for business customers who have a mail it now/pay for it later account which is available if you have a mail volume of over xyz number of pieces per month. That actual number is difficult to nail down, hence the fuzziness of it.

Holders of such accounts are exempt from the blanket ban, and the account must be more than 30 days old at the time of the ban being placed.

Japan Post customers (like me) who do not have an account are not allowed to send anything over the proscribed weight limit, and even if we apply for and are granted an account, the ban still applies. This is as it was told to me by the Post Office and may be incorrect.

Japan Post is the only postal organization that is confirmed to have placed such a ban on airmail to the US. Most other countries postal systems have only made restrictions on printer items, nothing else is affected.

(If it sounds like I am piling it onto Japan Post here, I am. Trust me, I am being as nice as I can be. The person(s) responsible for this lunacy should be strung up.)

Kuroneko Yamato, a private delivery company here in Japan who work with UPS in the United States have no such restrictions in place, except for limiting printer materials. They do have a requirement that any receiving parties in the US supply a Social Security number in order for the package to clear customs. Failure to supply said number will delay processing until the number is supplied. No number, the package will be returned. This is NOT a requirement made by Kuroneko, rather by UPS in the United States.

So, those are the facts of the matter. In short, I got caught by a snap decision by the power that be, and there was nothing I could do about it. These business accounts are rare, I do not know anyone who has one. I am lead to believe that even though I spend more money at Japan Post than anyone else I know, I still cannot get an account. I just don’t send out enough stuff. Apparently, spending anything from US$300-800 per month isn’t enough. If I was sending letters at $1 a piece, they’d be screaming at me to get an account.

To see people walk in, and have letters weighed (because there are hundreds of letters and would take too long to count), and then pay cash is quite common, showing that they do not have account.

(I’m trying to paint the picture here that an account really is a rare and difficult thing to have, according to the information I have been given. I may be incorrect…)

Now, that I think it’s fairly obvious that I cannot send much through the Post Office to the United States for the foreseeable future, I am looking at ways to completely avoid using them. The only choice available to me is Kuroneko Yamato.

I have read that the difference between the Post Office and Kuroneko is horrific, even when using EMS, the premium tacked/insured/registered/high speed mail service. It is repeated so often that it has almost become an assumed truth.

This is false.

Granted, Japan Post (hereby reduced to JP) does offer SAL/Small packet, which I have used hundreds of times (really, over 400 packages) which has a 2kg weight limit, and is priced by 100 gram increments at the princely sum of 100 yen per 100 grams. This is a very economical mail service, but it can only be registered meaning that there is a liability of only 6000 yen per package. It also takes 2-3 weeks for packages to arrive.

Kuroneko offers what they call Kokusai Ta-Q-Bin which translates as ‘international delivery’. This is their economical service, and, shock of shocks, the pricing is not too bad, and when you look at what is included, it’s the bargain of the century. The problem is that this service is priced by the kilogram in 1, 2, 5 and 10kg increments. Vastly different to the 100gm. increments of SAL/Small Packet.

Now, to give you an idea of where this is heading, I’ll give a real life example of what is different.

Say I have an order for 3 sharpening stones, a #1000/5000/12000 set of Shapton Professional stones. Not an unreasonable order, and one that I have sent numerous times. The weight of the stones is 2.1kg (over the 2kg Small Packet limit) and with packaging, the shipping weight is approximately 2.52kg.

By SAL/Small Packet, this would cost 2760 yen, and would arrive in 2 boxes. It would not be registered/token insurance and would take 2-3 weeks to arrive to the US.

By EMS, the same package would cost 5400 yen, would arrive in 1 box, would take 3-5 days to arrive, with tracking and an included 20,000 yen insurance.

By surface mail (slow boat) it would cost 2900 yen, would arrive in 1 box and would take 3 months too arrive. Full insurance is however available, and would be advisable. This option is still available to the US, so keep that in mind.

The two airmail options are now unavailable, so how does Kuroneko stack up?

Well, to send this order would cost 4650 yen, would arrive in 1 box, would take 4-7 days to arrive, be traceable and fully insured to a value of 200,000 yen.

However, because I know that one of these stone can ship for under 1 kg, I’d send one by itself, and another two together. That allows me to send one for 1200 yen, the other two for 2750 yen, both with tracking and insurance and 4-7 days transit time for a grand total of 3950 yen. Because I always ALWAYS try to reduce the shipping cost as much as I can, only bill for actual shipping (and lose a little money in fees on every bit of shipping) and refund any excess billed over the actual amount paid, I’d do this every time, whenever possible.

This is only 1190 yen more expensive. add in registration for the SAL option, and the price difference is only 370 yen between SAL/Small Packet (the bargain basement shipping method) with 1200 yen insurance (not enough to cover the order) and 2-3 weeks shipping time and Kuroneko (4-7 days, full insurance).

Ok, Kuroneko is a little more expensive I can’t deny that. But at the same time, I’m not crying even a little bit about it.

And neither should anyone else. What’s on offer here is something that, now that I have been forced into really looking at it, I should have offered a long time ago.

Essentially, Kuroneko is offering EMS style service for SAL type money.

The more the package weighs, the prettier the picture becomes.

(And the office staff in Kuroneko are prettier too, but don’t tell anyone I said that!)

The really big caveat is the requirement for a Social Security or IRS number on the official invoice. I don’t want to ask for it, and really don’t want to know it, but it is required. Only I need to supply it, the local Kuroneko folks don’t need to see it. At the other end, the customs processing person needs to see that number there, not the delivery guy.

I am very sorry I have to ask for it, but that’s the way it is now and, for the foreseeable future, will be.

And that’s about it.

As soon as it is feasible, I will be adding Kuroneko as an option for all countries where it is possible to be used. There are some exceptions, but generally, I think it’s a good thing, especially with everything it offers for not much more money and actually quite a lot less than EMS, which is it’s direct competitor.

Folks in the US, you already have the option of using this shipping method, in fact it’s probably the only viable option to use. And I might just try to make it irresistible to NOT use it very soon. Only the sharpest people will jump in on this one…

I sincerely apologize for any angst, consternation or worry these changes have caused. Believe me, if you could see my face right now (and many people have asked me what’s wrong) there would be no doubt as to how upsetting and annoying this is to me. If there was any other way out of it, I’d take it without hesitation.

Thanks for reading,


(Oh yeah, I have scrambled eggs here. Well, it looks like egg, but says #13000 Ceramic on it… )

1 comment to Postal problems…

  • I just encountered the same thing with Thai post, I really believe this is just another level of protectionism based at curbing importing to strengthen the US economy, the same as the Buy American advertisements, and US preferences on Google.

    This will not put us out of business, but will increase our costs considerably. I really would suggest selling your e-bay stocks now, it will be very hard hit by this new law.

    Really it is just another freedom taken away from Americans, they can no longer be free to order more than one shirt at a time from companies such as mine, and we will have to increase price accordingly.

    I have never heard of a printer weighing less than about 3-4 pounds, so you can see the restrictions are overly strict.