Moving is a hassle. Moving across the world is a gamble. You might receive your beloved items, they might be returned in pieces, or they might vanish, never to be seen again. Anyone in the military can regale you with horror stories of lost belongings, damaged furniture, and ruined heirlooms. Sadly, it’s what we’ve come to expect.
However, when friends of mine talk about the ordeal of relocating, their number one complaint tends to be about the movers, not the move. They stunk of smoke, they used foul language, they mishandled the items. The list goes on and on. And, frankly, it’s akin to what we experienced in the States as we packed up our home in Norfolk, VA in preparation for our move to Japan. Movers are underpaid and underappreciated. They have a very physical job that, at times, must be painful, so I guess it makes sense that they don’t always put their utmost into every job. And, to be fair, I must clarify that this is just my experience, but by no means a condemnation of every mover in America.
I can state, however, that here in Japan, movers are quite different. From the company, we were given the usual spiel: they will arrive between 8am and 5pm. Please be at your place of residence or they will not be able to deliver the goods. Usually this means you must be there all day, but can expect them to show up in the late afternoon and then rush through the job to finish by 5.
Ha. Not in Japan!
Move-in day was big for us. We took possession of the house that day. In addition we expected two shipments of our household goods, a collection of new pieces from an Ikea shopping expedition, delivery of all our appliances, a visit from the gas man to turn on our heat and check for leaks, a run-through with our real estate agent, and, of course, the landlord’s real estate agent, as well. Needless to say, it was going to be a long day!
So we got up at the crack of dawn, packed up the last of our belongings from the hotel we called home for the past two months and drove to our new house. We arrived at 7:30 (Starbucks in hand) and found two moving trucks waiting for us. Yes, my fellow Americans, they were a half-hour early! And actually seemed confused as to why we were late!
True professionals, they got to work right away, laying down padding on the floors so they wouldn’t damage the hardwood. Removing doors and windows for easier transport of heavy items, and hauling bulky boxes up the spiral staircase, lifting them above their heads to avoid damaging the walls. Watching two average-sized men manhandle a 300 lb dresser 8 feet in the air while making a 180-degree turn is amazing. Alex and I stood below and clapped in appreciation!
Not only did they unpack quickly and efficiently, they – like the rest of Japan – do not wear shoes indoors. (Indeed, it is written in our lease that we are never to wear shoes inside.) So, as they hauled hefty items into our home, they removed their shoes one by one before stepping onto the wood, and then nimbly put them back on before exiting the entrance. What a sight to see!
Because of the tight staircase, some items were too big to be maneuvered up the stairs. The answer – obviously – is to remove the bedroom windows and create a pulley system to hoist them up to the second story. Mattresses, box springs, and headboards easily glide to the upper level without breaking a sweat. (Well, that’s not true. Alex and I were sweating bullets down below!)
The truck was unpacked within an hour, and they then set to work unpacking the boxes and assembling the furniture. As one young man tackled all of my kitchen paraphernalia, he noticed me struggling to adjust the shelf heights. Stopping his own work, he got down on the floor with me and together we spent 30 minutes perfecting the shelving, til our fingers were rubbed raw from the process. It wasn’t in his job description, but he insisted. And I was very grateful.
Honest beyond fault, the head mover walked me through the entire house and pointed out the three broken items, making sure I marked them down on my claims sheet. Now truly, would you ever expect that in America? Out of 124 boxes and 26 pieces of furniture, only three were broken: our trashcan was dented, my 10” dressing table mirror was cracked, and a picture frame arrived shattered. All of which he set aside for me to see. Incredible.
One could argue it was a fluke. Perhaps we got the best moving service in the world. But to this I would say, first – the Navy paid, so you know they can’t be that expensive! Second, all of our friends here had similarly wonderful experiences, and third, this Tuesday we worked with not one, but four sets of movers, all of which were fastidious and efficient. Surely, that isn’t coincidental.
Two days later, the piano movers arrived. Because a crane – yes, crane – was needed to lift my piano to the second floor, the movers suggested it would be better to hire a private piano-moving company (courtesy of the United States taxpayer – thanks!). In and out within 45 minutes, they backed a three-story crane up our steep hill, parked it in front of the house and went about gently handling my beloved instrument. They lined the floor with thick pads and carefully put the 440 lb piano harp onto its base before moving it into place. Clearly, Japan recognizes movers as professionals, and they, in turn, respect their work and do a better job. Something to think about, America!
Words cannot describe the difference between our pack-out in Virginia and our move-in here in Japan. I was astonished by the care that every mover put into his work, and was thrilled with the result. The house is far from finished. Japanese homes are small, and American furniture is big. (We asked them to adjust the living room set-up six times until everything actually fit!) Bathrooms with no storage space have left us with a pile of medicines, humidifiers, and shampoo bottles sitting on our landing floor. And piles of cardboard left over from our numerous Ikea pieces are scattered about the traditional tatami room, rather ruining its meditative purpose.
To remain sane, we are taking it one day at a time. Alex is now a pro at Ikea diagrams, and I’m having a mini-Christmas as I reunite with my beloved treasures after many months apart. Our living room is finished so we can at least sit down at the end of a long day, and the closet looks like a bomb went off. But, that’s what moving is all about!
As they left, I noticed our mighty crew looking around at the chaos, clearly wondering what was wrong with us! Crazy Americans – they have way too much stuff. But it will fit. I am determined!