The aging of the population has become a prominent issue in Japan's social development, and when the elderly die, there are sometimes no relatives to claim or clean up their belongings, or even hire others to do the cleaning. Meanwhile, in Japan, houses full of stuff and garbage are found every day, which is what americans call a "hoarder's house."
The picture painted by minimalists such as Marie Kondo and exponents of the tidying up movement is far from the reality in Japan. But it's worth noting that one of the reasons these movements are popular in Japan is that the Japanese want to follow the Americans in minimizing the possessions in their homes.
How to deal with the items in Danshari
My friend Jung-ja Han is the director of the Tail Project, a six-year-old company based near Tokyo that cleans the belongings of the dead. Han Jung-ja, 50, has been retired from her job as a flight attendant for 10 years, but her rapid pace of speaking and efficient way of doing things reflect her former life.
Han's business card lists three professional qualifications: a second-hand goods dealer's license; a certificate issued by the Japan Heritage Collators Certification Association, which represents Japan's 8,000 cleaning companies; and a third as a consultant certified by the association for "end-of-life activities" (the process of preparing for death). This last certification is rare in Japan.
There is a great need for this industry. In 2018, there were 921,000 births in Japan and 1.369 million deaths. This is the lowest figure since 1899, when Japan first recorded a minimum number of births, and the eighth consecutive year of total population decline. Japan's population has fallen by a third in the past 50 years, despite decades of government efforts to encourage people to have more children. As a result, the Japanese industry for dealing with the aftermath is growing fast. "End-of-life events" trades are common in Japan, where people can meet many shroud sellers and estate planners. In Japan, too, books abound on how to manage end-of-life affairs in an orderly fashion. People can also consult business owners like Ms. Han about what to do with a person's belongings after they die, or hire someone to give them away.
Han was impressed by one thing. One day, she had to clean out the apartment of a woman whose husband had been killed in a car accident. This woman doesn't want to keep heirlooms but, like most Japanese families, needs a thorough cleaning of their home.
"Some people will ask to leave something, but most people don't want anything." Such an approach would have been unthinkable 60 years ago. At that time, Japanese families were extended families, most of whom lived in the countryside close to each other, and people were willing to take responsibility for dealing with the future. That soon changed, however. In the postwar years of Japan's booming economy, young Japanese wanted to make a good living by securing a stable, well-paid job in a big city far from home. Driven by a booming economy, The Japanese are spending more than ever before.
In the 1960s, the Japanese rich jokingly said that the Japanese myth of the three "artifact" - the sky cong Yunjian, eight zhi mirror, eight feet qiongjiayu, has been television, washing machine, air conditioning these three modern appliances replaced.
Later, many things were added to people's homes, and televisions and washing machines were no longer unusual items. In the late 1980s, Japan's bubble economy burst and it fell into recession. From then on, the jokes stopped being funny. For young Japanese in particular, opportunities for stable employment are dwindling, replaced by informal jobs with low wages and poor benefits. Economic insecurity is causing young Japanese to delay marriage or have children altogether.
Japan is one of the world's oldest countries, and it is particularly common for older people to keep working after retirement.
As a result, Japan's post-bubble economy has left it with the world's oldest population, with millions of families accumulating wealth during the boom years and few heirs. Japan has eight million vacant houses, commonly known as ghost houses. By 2040, Japan could have an area the size of Austria, according to a recent government study.
Japan is not alone. Elsewhere in developed East Asia, populations are aging at an accelerating rate, leaving a similar legacy. Western European countries are also facing demographic challenges. One British insurance company estimated that 3.8m fondue sets were piled up unused in British households in 2003, but what happens to them? Even if most fondue sets were still usable, it's hard to believe that the population would grow enough to create a secondary market that could absorb them.
Fortunately, there are plenty of clean, environmentally friendly ways to recycle or clear out unwanted items. If metal junkyards don't recycle fondue sets, they can be burned in state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly incinerators (Japan has some of the best in the world). All you have to do is put it in an incinerator and pay for it, which is expensive. It costs about $50 to dispose of a trash bag full of stuff in an incinerator, and $100 to dispose of a futon. Some of the items that are about to be burned may be sold again, but sorting them takes longer and costs more, so it's not worth it. At least that's what Han Jung-ja thinks.
But lately, she has found that her clients think differently. "They want to hear that someone is still using their old stuff," she said. "It makes them feel a lot better." As a businesswoman, she wanted to provide the service.
An apartment to be cleaned up after the owner died.
A relic organizer from Tail Project works in a house that needs cleaning.
Han's friend, Nai Hamada, editor of recycling Communications, was one of the first experts on Japan's second-hand goods market.
In 2016, Japan's second-hand industry earned $16 billion, accounting for about 4% of the country's total retail sales. In fact, the second-hand industry has had an even bigger impact on Japan. In Japan, for example, 20 million people, or about one-sixth of the population, bought used clothes in 2016, according to Hamada. Although sales of second-hand clothing are generally inferior to those of primary clothing, they still account for 10.5 per cent of total retail sales in the clothing market. Second-hand goods are a form of identity for young Japanese.
'Against waste! Hamada expresses his attitude towards waste and the desire to cherish things. "There was such a spirit in Japan until the 1960s," she explains. "Even in the Edo period, kimono recycling started." But that all changed in the 1960s when Japan entered a period of rapid development. "The Japanese have forgotten what they used to be and just buy and buy."
In her view, that climate has slowly changed over the past two decades, thanks to Japan's slowing economy and changing demographics. Hamada also cited another cause: the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March 2011, leading to the fukushima nuclear disaster.
"Since then, people have rediscovered themselves and started to donate their things to tohoku because people there have become destitute. People are thinking, maybe they should recycle."
Japan's house-cleaning industry predates the earthquake. In the beginning, the business had little to do with the second-hand industry, just emptying owners' belongings quickly and efficiently. In this sense, the house-clearing industry was a derivative of Japan's mid-20th century economic boom that changed in the early 2000s.
Hokkaido is famous for its scenic beauty and tourist economy. Several house-cleaning companies in Hokkaido have been found to dump their products in the natural environment to avoid paying high waste disposal fees. The ensuing media coverage caused a social uproar and increased public awareness of the regulation of the cleaning industry, leading to the creation of the Japan Heritage Collators Accreditation Association. Part of the association's effort to reverse the industry's negative image is by providing in-depth training for cleanup companies on how to profit from recycling and reuse.
In recent years, even monks have become involved in the trade. Japan's Shinto and Buddhist religions believe that the spirits of the dead dwell on objects that have been used for years. "After a loved one dies, the family goes to the temple to ask the monks to pray for the deceased," Mr. Hamada said. "Then the monks go to the deceased's house to clean things."
The business model is so attractive that some clean-up companies choose to work directly with temples to meet the spiritual and material needs of the deceased at once. But while the Japanese have re-embraced traditional values, contemporary ones remain hard to shake.
In the early 20th century, modernising Japanese officials and industrialists embraced Frederick Winslow Taylor's principles of "scientific management". Frederick Winslow Taylor was an American mechanical engineer and the world's first management scientist. Almost everyone knows his "Taylor system", which seeks to maximize office efficiency, clean up waste and save time.
Toyota Motor Company adopted the concept of "Taylor system" and established the famous "lean production" management system, which has become synonymous with the superb skills of Japanese manufacturing industry. But the Taylor system applies to more than just factory management. For a Taylor office, the manager's desk must be near the door, because the manager is constantly in and out of the office. Public goods must also be placed in designated areas so you don't waste time looking for things.
Some followers of the Taylor system in Japan believe it can be applied to family life as well. The late 1940s saw the emergence of advice books that advocated reducing waste and increasing the use of things in household life. For example, in 1949, Koichiro Ohmoto published his book the Science of Family Life, which sought to create the best model of division of labor in the family under the premise that housewives acted as managers. Taylorian advice, such as "things should be kept in designated areas of the home, and containers such as boxes and cans should carry labels describing their contents," remains the norm in the second decade of the 21st century.
Almost everyone knows the Taylor system, an attempt to maximize office efficiency, clean up waste and save time.
None of this advice is for minimalists or anyone who wants to become less dependent on stuff. In fact, the advice is aimed at Japanese shoppers to help them sort through the growing number of items and waste in their homes. Few countries enjoy shopping as much as the Japanese. Trends change so quickly that people buy new gadgets and throw them away as soon as they come out.
But even during Japan's economic boom in the mid-20th century, there were skeptics. In the 1970s a new environmental movement began to undermine Japan's materialism. The concerns of environmentalists are increasingly merging with those of society. In 1979, when Japan conducted its annual national survey on lifestyle, respondents for the first time indicated that "spiritual fulfillment" and "a comfortable life" were more important to them than material wealth. "Living comfortably" is roughly "finding time and space to enjoy life." As the tumultuous 1980s receded, so did discontent with materialism.
Iko Maruko Siniva, one of the earliest historians of waste and waste in Japan, writes of those who pursue "living well" : "It's not just about whether it's necessary to buy something, but whether it makes people feel genuinely happy." It is not a big leap from buying things that make people feel good to adopting Marie Kondo's famous "heartache" tidying up method of keeping only things that make people happy.
Prof Siniwa, like Mr Hamada, believes Japan's long economic malaise is partly to blame. But she conservatively points out that, despite the recession and growing environmental awareness, Japan's tidying movement is mostly about a quick sense of personal happiness and saving space by tidying things, and has nothing to do with money or the environment. Marie Kondo is popular in Japan for the same reasons she would be in the United States or other relatively affluent, mass-consuming societies. That is, she focuses on dealing with the problem of overabundance, a problem that can only occur in a certain class of people with high purchasing power. But in fact, she did not solve the problem from the consumer side.
Japan has a rich economy but an aging population, which has created a mountain of goods. This problem is usually solved only after death, when the consumer is no longer happy with the items and the person who comes to clean them up may be a paid helper.
The largest chain of used books in Japan
BOOKOFF is the second largest buyer and retailer of used goods in Japan. Takashi Komoka is the pr director for BOOKOFF, where most of the second-hand items come from end-of-life events.
BOOKOFF got into the business in the 1990s, when Japan's second-hand market was geared toward low-end consumers. Today, BOOKOFF has more than 800 stores in Japan and buys and sells everything from books to camping gear. The company is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, along with a dozen other firms dealing in second-hand goods.
BOOKOFF, which has more than 800 stores in Japan, buys and sells everything from books to camping gear.
Scattered throughout BOOKOFF's warehouse are hundreds of red and blue trolleys, each carrying about 40 junk bins. Each box contained at least 20 used books, DVDS and CDS that people had sold to BOOKOFF, According to Kohatsu. On the Internet, BOOKOFF is also rapidly expanding its e-commerce section. Instead of taking them to second-hand shops, people send them to BOOKOFF, which has a much simpler recycling process.
BOOKOFF created its own simplified unloading process: Just pack things in a box, print out a shipping label, and call a pickup truck to tow them away. Takaku says BOOKOFF receives 3,000 boxes a day, totaling about 150,000 items, most of them books. This isn't about clearing used books -- BOOKOFF is a black hole for unwanted books and gives them a new lease of life on the shelves.
BOOKOFF is the largest buyer and distributor of used books in Japan, but not every used book is bought, so BOOKOFF is also the largest recycler of used books in Japan. His company sends 35,000 tons of books to waste paper recycling stations every year, which is about 3.5 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.
The numbers are heartbreaking, especially for an author. BOOKOFF Online is long and narrow on the second floor of the warehouse, where brutal sorting takes place all day. The warehouse is filled with bookpiled carts and flanked by about 30 workstations, where employees spend much of their day opening boxes sent by customers and assessing their contents.
The sorting process is simple. If the book has flaws, such as a bent spine, broken inside pages or a faded cover, throw it in the recycling bin immediately.
"It's actually more stringent than our quality standards for bricks-and-mortar bookstores, but the problem is that online customers can't check a used book for themselves before buying it. So books have to be as good as new, and we don't want customers returning them because of quality problems." "Takashi said.
BOOKOFF's used books are inspected for appearance, scanned for bar codes and assessed by a large, constantly updated database and buying algorithm. BOOKOFF does not disclose this information or the identity of the information manager. Decide which book to buy, use, however, what is the mode of payment is based on a series of factors, including what books sold in the past, the company responsible for pricing expectations which books can sell (if there is a book is being made into film, and the original has to stop selling, the company may pay attention to the related books available in the market), and which books have been sold.
"Most of them are Japanese comics, which are disposable goods in Japan." This refers to Japan's unique comic books and graphic novels, which are printed in the millions. "Also, we don't want to have too many comic books on the shelves, although some are very popular. So, those books go to the recycle bin, too."
Every time a book is scanned, it beeps and the computer screen shows whether it should go into the recycling bin, red or blue bin.
For example, a hardback novel from 30 years ago, which is very good and rare, will fetch a good price if it is sold in a traditional second-hand bookstore. But there are so many books on BOOKOFF, and not only is there no bar code, there is no INTERNATIONAL standard book number. "So BOOKOFF's system has no way of pricing it." Small harbor said.
The assessment process is brutal, but necessary. Finding the price of a book can take five minutes without an INTERNATIONAL standard book number; With bar codes, it takes five minutes to scan and sort 20 books. If BOOKOFF accepts only a small number of books per day, it can do without a barcode scanner. But if BOOKOFF is to stay in business and provide a place for consumers to dispose of their stuff without feeling guilty, it will have to accept thousands of books a day.
Every book here comes with an invoice. A copy of the invoice is emailed to the customer, who simply needs to receive the invoice to receive payment. Eighty percent of customers do this, and 20 percent prefer to pay for the books to be shipped back to their homes. Few offer better prices than BOOKOFF, especially when shipping is added. They are usually valued by the number of books.
Once the seller has settled on a price, the book can be shipped to BOOKOFF's two warehouses. A small number of books are transported to the second floor of the warehouse, where staff pack them up and ship them to BOOKOFF stores across Japan. Title, author and subject matter are not important. Bookstores only want books, any kind of book.
This is not a library. Books are not arranged by title, author or subject. Toyota has designed a system that classifies shelves only by their number. If there is room on the shelf, books will be put on it. When someone orders the book, the navigator helps the staff find it and send it. The service itself is an intangible good that BOOKOFF offers to buyers.