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  • Tangent: Getchan on Japan Post’s recent anti-terrorism half-measures regarding parcels

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 4th, 2010

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    Hi Blog. For the last tangent of the new year holidays, here’s Getchan with a report on his latest tribulations at the Japan Post Office, where he talks about recent measures they’ve taken to foil terrorism that are not all that well-thought-through. Not an issue that’s necessarily “NJ-related”, but for those who use the posts, here you go.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    ================================

    Hi all.  The recent foiled suicide bombing attempt on a US plane from Amsterdam to the US prompted “Japan Post” to take radical measures in cooperation with domestic airlines to prevent bombs from getting aboard planes.

    Here’s how it’s done.

    “Japan Post” offers flat rate envelopes. For a flat rate of 500 Yen (approx. $5.50), snail mail users can buy a ready-to-mail cardboard envelope. Maximum weight is 20 kg!! There are no limits on distance, and anything within the framework of the law can be enclosed. Each envelope has a detachable bar code label, that the sender keeps, and another that the delivery man takes off upon delivery. The flat rate envelope can be deposited in mail boxes, and at P.O. counters for immediate dispatch (ah, well, next outbound mail truck, that is…). Contrary to 1st class mail, these envelopes are transported by air, which makes them real fast! From my place to Southern Japan, which can easily be 1,000 to 1,500 miles, it’s mostly next day delivery, as can be verified by online tracking.

    The parts to be filled in are: Sender’s data, recipient’s data, and description of contents. The latter has been mandatory since the aftermath of 9/11 for ordinary parcel post, which carries automatic insurance of up to 100,000 Yen ($1100). The flat rate envelopes cannot be insured, but my buyers prefer it over registered 1st class mail, just because the envelopes are sturdy, and delivery is a day or two faster! Fine with me, as I don’t have to spend money on packing materials.. ;-).

    A few days after the foiled attempt on the Detroit flight, I had to send

    1) $350 worth of merchandise to a buyer near Tokyo – I never write “Stamps” on the outside of the flat rate envelopes – even though our mail system is very safe, I just don’t want to push it!

    2) A Bon Jovi CD as a birthday gift to a friend in Osaka.

    As I deposited the items at a P.O. counter, the cute and very nice lady told me I had to note the contents outside, new rules imposed by Japan Post. I said, that one contained valuables, and one contained a birthday present, and I added that there was no way I was noting “stamps” on the outside of the first item, as I wasn’t going to invite thieves, and no way I was noting “CD” on the outside of the second item, as I wasn’t going to spoil the surprise for my friend. I took the items back & deposited them in a mail box outside the P.O., and everything would be fine.

    WRONG!

    Next day, I found a form letter in my P.O.Box, informing me that both items had been sent surface and would thus be delayed by a day or two.

    I went to see the postmaster to tell him, that this was totally useless, as – except for imminent, clear and present danger – Japan Post employees are not authorized to open and check the mail for contents.

    Postmaster: “These are the new rules, airlines won’t accept parcels and flat rate envelopes for air transport, if the contents are not noted on the outside”

    Me: “But they get X-rayed anyway”

    Postmaster: “NO, they DON’T!” (now, was he supposed to tell me that???)

    My conclusion – potential and active terrorists in Japan can be trusted in this country. If they wanted to mail a bomb and blow up a plane that way, they would have to mark “bomb” on the parcel, and that would thwart their efforts, would it not? Japanese authorities have everything under control and would be able to sort out any flat rate envelope marked “Bomb”, while the CIA lets known suspects slip thru… ;-)

    And BTW, 1st class registered mail doesn’t need to have the contents noted outside, but can weigh up to 2kg – terrorists don’t use 1st class registered mail, as they would have to give their return address…

    Wow, do I feel safe… Happy and safe New Year ;-) Getchan

    ENDS

    9 Responses to “Tangent: Getchan on Japan Post’s recent anti-terrorism half-measures regarding parcels”

    1. Tom R. Says:

      I know it misses the point but, why not just lie about the contents of the package? Its not like they know whats inside the package anyway.

    2. phil adamek Says:

      I think my own anecdote helps to make the NJ connection.

      After purchasing a hand-crafted kitchen knife (包丁、ほうちょう)as a Christmas gift for my sister and her husband, who live in the US, I went straight to the main post office in town to mail it, indicating in both Japanese and English the contents. I was told by an employee there that he didn’t think I could send it through the mail. He asked me how long it was. (How long?) He checked his computer screen, scrolling down the list of prohibited items. It seemed that he didn’t find it. I asked if it was there and he kept silent. Then, looking back at me, he seemed to gain sudden confidence and said, “There’s no way!”(絶対ダメ!)Then he evoked a scenario — animatedly enough to attract the attention of everyone behind me in line — in which the item gets loose in the cargo hold and — you can imagine what he said might happen next. He didn’t say the “t” word but did everything he could to suggest it.
      Faced with this dramatic behavior, I requested the cover sheet I had filled out and slithered out of the line. As I walked away, the man remarked, in a raised voice, that if I tried to send it, it would be sent back to me. I took the item to my local post office where people know me, and it was sent off without a word. It arrived 8 days later, two days before the holiday.
      This is the sort of reaction to foreigners you have to get used to in Japan. If that had happened to me in the first year or so of my arriving here, I would have probably just kept the item and assumed that it had been my oversight not to check the list of prohibited items.

    3. Getchan Says:

      @Tom, that’s one point.

      Only honest terrorists would never lie…

      @Phil

      in my case, absolutely no “NJ connection”. Folks @ our local P.O. have known me for the past nine years. Same with your local P.O., I guess. It’s just half-baked, totally useless “anti-terror” measures, that makes no sense and wouldn’t even prevent an after-five hobby terrorist from planting a bomb on a plane in broad daylight. The “measures” apply to NJ and Japanese alike.

    4. Kaka Says:

      The fact is that no one can prevent terrorist attacks in Japan or anywhere else. Robots drones are the next tool for terror attack, just fly a small helicopter with explosives, poison or any hazardous material right into the Shibuya crossing. The only way for preventing attacks is monitoring people and the Japanese police (And any other security service as a matter of fact) doesn’t have the training or capacity to do that.

    5. Getchan Says:

      @Kaka,

      we all know that – if you look at the half-asleep policeman behind the security check area in Chitose, or at those badly positioned policemen in Haneda, shined boots seem to be all that stands between the Japanese police and hobby terrorists…

      The point was, that the measures they come up with are totally useless, and the only effect they have are a hassle for the general public.

      Now don’t give them any ideas, as the reaction would be to outlaw toy choppers. It’s only a matter of time till kitchen knives will be outlawed, when politicians find out, that sticking them into people has the same effect as doing so with hunting or survival knives…

    6. Andi Says:

      Ridiculous. I’d be indignant about this measure if I weren’t still sitting here, days after reading this piece, in utter bafflement over what exactly they think this is going to achieve. It’s like the ludicrous “are you part of a terrorist organisation bent on damaging the United States” question we have to fill in for US customs; the only people who they’re going to catch are the cretins who declare that they have a bomb for laughs.

    7. CJ Says:

      The “are you a terrorist” type questions on government forms may seem stupid, but if a possible terrorist does lie on the form, then they can be charged with perjury which gives the government that much more leverage and control. gives the government something else to use against suspects.

      I think the real issue with stupid Japanese regulations is often not “will this accomplish the stated goal”, but “who will be held responsible if something goes wrong?” Responsibility avoidance is the name of the game most of the time. If the postal clerk let that knife in the mail and something wrong happened… well, it would be his fault, wouldn’t it?

    8. Leon Says:

      CJ has got the core of it – its responsibility avoidance and plausible deniability. If you throw a bomb in your so-called parcel of baby-clothes, the PO will simply look the other way and go “well we thought it was baby clothes”.

      The PO ranks up there as one of the places I avoid like the plague (1. being Town Hall, 2. Immigration, 3. License Centers… ugh).

    9. Charles Jannuzi Says:

      Restrictions on mail have got tougher because of Japan adopting US-imposed guidelines (US-imposed more or less). BTW, even the once-great EMS type mail has got very slow when sending to the US. I used to expect stuff to arrive in the US in a few days. The last EMS, which I paid the EMS price for (high price=fast service–NOT ANYMORE!) took over two weeks to arrive at its US destination.
      I have never had trouble mailing kitchen knives (cutlery is a speciality in this part of Japan–Fukui, Niigata, Gifu all have famous knife-making centers) before, but I haven’t tried recently.

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