Moving in Japan can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. From full-service movers where a team of professionals will pack and unpack every single item you own to Akabo’s customer-assisted moves for 10,000 yen or less, there are an incredible variety of options.
I’m moving in a couple of weeks, and last Saturday, we had four moving companies in to give us estimates (the joys of having a penny-pinching Osakan wife). We finally got a company to move all the stuff from our three bedroom apartment for just 40,000 yen (we are just moving to the next ward), which was quite shocking for me, because I thought it might be around 100,000 and I thought I’d share a little of what I learned.

1. Get multiple estimates. All of the companies came down in price when she mentioned that we were getting multiple estimates. She was careful not to tell them exactly how much the other companies had offered though, because if she mentioned a price, they might argue about how their service was better or included different things.

2. The cheapest times of the year to move are June (due to the rainy season and it being after the peak), October, and November. The most expensive times are March and April when everyone is moving because of company transfers, during summer vacation in July and August, and Golden Week.

3. Weekends are the most expensive, of course, but Fridays can also be expensive because some people move then so they can have the weekend to unpack. You can get discounts for moving on a Monday or Tuesday.

4. The absolute best way to get a deep, deep discount is to say, “I’ll move whenever you have a truck available.” A lot of companies want to keep their workers busy, so if there is a day when they don’t have any moves, they’ll move you for little or no profit just to keep their staff working. If you tell them a five day period that you can be available it’s a great way to save.

5. You can get a discount of 10,000 yen or more if you’re willing to move in the afternoon. A lot of moves finish around 2 or 3 PM, so if the company can get an extra move in during the day, they’ll lower the price a lot.

6. There are price-focused and service-focused companies. Of the big five, Kuroneko (Black Cat), Nittsu (Nippon Express), and Art (0-123) are service focused, and Arisan Ma-ku (Ant) and Sakai (Panda) are price-focused. The service-focused ones tried to sell us on things like having a guy come to wait for the gas man, and special hanger boxes so you don’t have to fold your clothes, and cost about 30 percent more. Um, no thanks.
The price focused ones are still highly professional, and are, of course, bonded and insured. If you’re getting multiple estimates, it’s better to have the quality-focused companies come first so you can compare prices more easily.

7. You can often get a 2000 yen or so discount if you’re willing to take used boxes.

8. Here are a couple of phrases that my wife used during the negotiations:
*Hasuu wa jama janai desu ka? – Wouldn’t it be easier to calculate if you rounded down the figure? This seems to be something all the companies expect and they all did it willingly, so we are moving for 40,000 rather than 42,000.
*Dekireba, 4-man endai ni shite hoshii na. (If possible, I’d like it to be under 40,000.)

9. Different companies charge for different things. We are moving into a highrise building, and two of the companies said they had to charge us extra because it would slow things down using the elevator. Sakai and Arisan Mark had flatter rates.

10. This is a good website for comparing moving companies: http://kuchiran.jp/life/moving.html (Japanese only).

This is what I’ll be seeing from my living room. Now a beautiful view, perhaps, but an interesting one.
river harp view

Here are a couple of  options we didn’t use but are great if you don’t have much stuff and are on a really tight budget:
Akabo – This is an extremely cheap option if you don’t have much stuff and are willing to help load the truck. I used them a couple of times when I first came to Japan, and it was usually just under 10,000 yen for a move inside the city.  The trucks are quite small, so you will probably only be able to fit a single person’s belongings in them. I always found the drivers to be very helpful and friendly, and was really pleased with the service.

Couriers – For people who are moving between cities, courier companies like Kuroneko Yamato (Black Cat) will send your stuff in a “tanshin pakku” (singles’ pack) for as little as 12,000 yen. For example, sending a two-cubic meter box that you could put the contents of a six-mat room into from Tokyo to Osaka would cost about 30,000 yen.

Editor’s note: this post was originally published in June 2009 and has been updated.
Photo credit: daruyanagi

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