A man walks into a “kinken shop” – a discount ticket, coupon and card outlet – carrying a large bag. “Would you care to buy some New Year’s cards?”
The clerk nods. “Forty-three yen each?”
“All right. We’ll take 1,000.”
From his bag, the man (let’s call him Mr Mori) draws five bundles of 200 cards each and receives 43,000 yen. He leaves with a sigh of relief. He’s just lost 7,000 yen but it could have been worse.
If anything seems bland enough not to cause misery, traditional “nengajo” (New Year’s postcards) ought to qualify. Their message is simple and friendly: Happy New Year. It’s that time of year again, and people are buying them by the tens and hundreds – not in such bulk as used to be the case, greetings like everything else having gone from postal to cyber, but still – tradition is tradition, and this one holds.
All the same, when you trek to your neighborhood post office to buy or send this year’s batch of “nengajo,” you might want to consider this: Postal employees, says Shukan Josei (Jan 1), have quotas. Each is expected sell a minimum number of “nengajo.” Thousands of them. If they don’t, they must buy them themselves – or else risk a poor job rating and possibly be denied promotion.
That’s what brought Mori with his bag to the shop in Tokyo’s Kanda district. He is a part-time post office employee. For part-timers, the usual quota is between 3,000 and 5,000 cards. For full-time employees, it’s likely to be 10,000. The going post office price is 50 yen per card – 50,000 yen for 1,000. Mori swallowed the 7,000-yen loss, and will probably do so once or twice more before he’s done.
“I’ll tell them at the office I sold them to relatives,” he tells Shukan Josei.
Since when have postal employees been saddled with these quotas?
Since around 2003, the magazine finds. Two factors were involved – falling sales due to the Internet, and the looming privatization of the then-public postal system.
“Post office managers wanted to show that privatization was not necessary,” explains postal union official Noriaki Shimomi. “They wanted to say, ‘Look, our sales are going up, we don’t need privatization.’”
It didn’t work, and privatization went ahead, leaving the quota system intact. Each branch imposes its own numbers, but it’s pretty well universal across the nation’s 1111 post offices.
Staffing those offices are some 260,000 employees. Sixty percent of them are part-time. Most of them, Mori included, want to be full-time, naturally. Part-timers do the same work as full-timers for less than half the pay and negligible bonuses. Nor are full-timers content with their present lot – they want promotions and raises. The pre-condition: Meet the quotas.
To an outsider the post office looks like a pretty comfortable place. But even here, beneath the calm surface the competition is cutthroat.
Shukan Josei leaves Mori on his way to the next kinken shop. He still has 2,000 cards to sell.