We got some questions on Twitter about buying merchandise from Japan, and I figured I’d be able to answer them better here. This is all based on my experiences so your mileage may vary. Note also that I live in Europe. It is cheaper and faster for me to order directly from Japan than wait for American sellers to stock these items – and eventually some of the merchandise will get a release in the States for the fans there, it has been confirmed by Viz.
1) Insane shipping cost: shipping costs more than what I was buying.
Let’s face it, buying items internationally usually means shipping is going to be expensive. There really is no other way around it than to pick places that offer multiple shipping options. EMS and other express shipping options will always cost a lot (most I’ve paid is triple the value of the item in shipping), so picking SAL – in some countries it’s called Economy Air Mail – will save you a lot of money. The downside is that you will often have to wait several weeks to receive your order. For some reason – at least for my country – registered SAL is much faster than unregistered. Unregistered can take 2-3 weeks, registered is usually here in a week. So far I have never lost a parcel from Japan shipped by SAL unregistered, but the mail service in my country is also pretty reliable in general.
Personally, my preferred method is Registered Air Mail, which usually is only a few days slower than EMS and costs 1-2k JPY less depending on the order. Another way to save on shipping costs is finding a friend who wants to order something from the same place and splitting the cost.
2) Exchange rate: some sites list prices in JPY only. How do you know the cost in USD/EUR/GBP/[insert local currency here]?
For example Amiami, Hobby Search and CDJapan have built in currency conversion options. It seems Amazon Japan doesn’t show conversion on the item pages, but there are plenty of currency converters online. Just google for “currency converter” or “exchange rates”, or whatever it is in your own language for local versions. If you have Win7 (I think this was also in Vista), there’s a desktop widget for currency conversion – it’s what I use.
Note that you will be charged in JPY if the shop you’re buying from is located in Japan. If you pay via Paypal you must place the payment in the currency the shop requests, and Paypal will perform the conversion for you, charging you according to the day’s exchange rate. If you pay by credit card, you must also pay in the currency the shop requests and your bank will perform the conversion and charge your account accordingly.
3) Out of Stock: with T&B being so popular both in Japan and here things are selling out fast and may not get restocked. Has that happened?
This has happened quite often, actually. Especially with the figures (good luck getting one if you didn’t get a preorder in) but also with other merchandise. Limited Edition Blu-ray volume 1 sold out ages ago. The first Official Hero Book seems to be out of print (you may still get lucky if some store has stock left) so it might be hard to find. Gossips book is selling really well so it might go out of print soon, unless the publisher decides to print more (update: it got a reprint in October). In general, I think that it’s better to preorder if there’s something you really want than wait for it to be released and then order – especially if it’s a figure (but then you better be ready to fight the bloody preorder war).
4) Amazon.co.jp and Amazon.com gift card: does Amazon.co.jp accept Amazon.com gift cards?
As far as I know and have been able to find out, the answer is “no”. Gift cards are region specific.
5) Trustworthy shopping services that won’t require me to sell my organs to afford getting the item here?
I’ve had good experiences with Yokatta shopping service. Their commission is affordable, I’ve gotten good service, and they have good communication. There are many other options, it’s best to do some research and ask around to find the one that you’ll be comfortable with. Many shopping services only accept Paypal.
The thing you should note with using a shopping service is that the final price of your order will be item price + domestic shipping within Japan + shopping service commission + international shipping from Japan. This can really hike up the price, but a lot of the T&B merchandise is available in stores that already ship internationally so it’s best to do some research before you contact a shopping service. Places like Animate, Premium Bandai, and some places that sell fanmade items require you to use a shopping service, though.
The downside of using a shopping service may be their reaction time. Differences in timezones, local holidays etc. may delay the placing of your order and stuff may get sold out. I often look up alternative items incase something has sold out.
6) When you preorder do you have to put money down or will you be billed later?
Depends on the store, and every store has a FAQ describing the order and preorder process. It’s best to read the store FAQ carefully before placing an order because some have restrictions on order cancellations.
Preordering through shopping service always requires payment in advance, and usually you will be asked to pay in two installments, item price + domestic shipping + commission when you place your order, and international shipping once the shopping service has the items for you.
Recommended stores for official merchandise:
- Amazon Japan
- Hobby Search
- Hobby Link Japan
- Animate (requires shopping service)
- Premium Bandai (requires shopping service)
Fanmade merchandise (mostly doujinshi but also other things):
- Mandarake (also sells second-hand items that may be hard to get)
- Toranoana (requires shopping service)
- K-books (requires shopping service)
- YouClub (requires shopping service)
There are other options, but these are the ones I have some experience with. Most of these places accept Paypal, though Mandarake has restrictions when ordering adult oriented items. The sites that don’t ship internationally and require the use of shopping service are only in Japanese so you’ll need an online translator or at least basic knowledge of the language to navigate them.
Last updated 2011/12/12.