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'Moving refugees' increase with spring personnel shuffles, industry labor shortages

Workers from Tokyo-based moving company Apple Inc. (Photo courtesy of Apple Inc.)

The period just before the start of the academic and fiscal year in April is prime moving season in Japan, but with labor shortages and work-style reforms, moving companies are taking less requests and fees are sky rocketing, creating more "moving refugees" unable to relocate to a new place on time.

    Last month, Junko Kameyama, 29, of Kawasaki's Miyamae Ward in Kanagawa Prefecture inquired with several moving companies online on the estimated cost of moving her family of four to her parents' home within the prefecture at the beginning of April. Her elder sister had made a move under roughly the same circumstances two years ago for about 80,000 yen. However, she was surprised to find that "many operators requested the moving dates be changed, and in some cases they charged as much as 400,000 yen."

    In the end, Kameyama contracted with the moving company with the lowest offer -- 93,000 yen -- but lamented, "There must be people who have no choice but to accept the high prices."

    From the beginning of March, claims related to moving fees have been flooding into the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, such as "the estimated cost was 1.5 million yen" and "I was billed 200,000 yen for a single person moving within the city." According to one employee at a major moving company, "Because we have to give priority to corporate contracts to assist personnel transfers, we don't have room to make contracts with individual customers."

    At mid-sized moving company Apple Inc. based in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, even now there is no end to the calls from customers requesting services during this bottleneck moving period. However, because of improved labor conditions in the delivery service industry, the company lost 10 percent of its some 70 drivers to career changes in the past year alone. The company has been left with no choice but to reduce the number of jobs it takes.

    "Last year, we only refused a dozen or so cases, but this year, that number has already exceeded 100 moves," a representative explained.

    As labor shortages become a reality across multiple industries, the moving sector has taken a particularly hard hit as the requirement of hard labor, such as moving heavy items like furniture and home appliances, has job-seekers avoiding it.

    Last year, the Osaka-based major moving company Art Corp. decreased the amount of orders it took by 20 percent compared to the previous year, citing "work-style reform." While the company has slightly increased the amount of contracts this year, it will not reach the number taken two years ago before the changes were made.

    The entire industry is stuck in a rut of not being able to meet consumer demand for services, and the Japan Trucking Association is calling for users to avoid the congested spring season.

    Companies that have shifted the time period for personnel transfers have also begun appearing. Since 2016, Tokyo-based national wedding venue operator Escrit has kept the appointment of personnel changes on the traditional date of April 1, but in order to avoid the busy period, has allowed its employees to shift their actual moving period around two weeks earlier or later than the official appointment date. If the employee has no choice but to stay in a hotel until they can move into their new residence, the company will shoulder the fees, but a representative said that the company has managed to hold down the cost of moving its workers about by half.

    "If the current approximately two-week period of maximum moving congestion was expanded even to roughly one month, the conditions would improve significantly," said Yuji Yano, a professor of logistics theory at Ryutsu Keizai University. "Both companies and individuals should cooperate and aim to spread the demand period."

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