How to buy and import exclusive products from Japan?

How to buy and import exclusive products from Japan?

2048 1369 Nipponrama

“How can I buy this Japanese product?” Is one of the most frequently asked questions in groups and forums related to Japanese culture on the web. Members of these communities often talk about expensive solutions like import shops, while there are other methods. In this article, I will talk about services that are much more flexible and less expensive.

I created this guide to explains why, how and where to buy Japan-exclusive products. With my advice, you will be able to buy anything from Japan without moving from your chair. All you’ll need is an Internet connection and a few pennies in your bank account.

Summary

This article is rather long, with about 3000 words. So I made a menu that will help you go directly to the subtopic that interests you:

Why buy Japanese products online?

Before going further, I will introduce three reasons to import products from Japan. These cases are enough to frustrate any anime or J-RPG fan.

Japan is…

Many exclusive products.

The Japanese market offers many exclusive products throughout the year. Some collaborations between brands are only available in the Land of the Rising Sun. That’s why it’s the perfect place to find rare goodies!

Products that do not exist anywhere else.

From kotatsu to shirt fans, Japan is full of imagination. Japanese companies create crazy products that would not find any buyer elsewhere. Except you, maybe?

The best second-hand market.

Some vintage products never come out of Japan’s borders. Besides, Japanese users take care of their items. By buying Japanese used goods, you are sure to get items in very good condition.

But … The Japanese market remains rather inaccessible

Japanese culture has conquered our hearts. Some of us are real junkies of anime or J-Pop. Despite this, Japan remains the end of the world for most of us. Even in the era of the Internet, where all the barriers that separate us are supposed to have fallen. Japan stays a country that knows how to fascinate while isolating itself from the rest of the world.

Why is it so difficult to buy in Japan?

Japanese e-merchants are not exceptions. It’s often impossible for foreign consumers to buy on their websites. Because…

1
The e-commerce sites are only available in Japanese. This makes browsing complicated for anyone who does not master this language.
2
Resellers do not always deliver abroad.
3
Some sites only accept Japanese payment methods. You will not always be able to pay with your credit card or PayPal account.
4
Customer support for these shops is only available in Japanese. You will not be able to find someone who can speak English.
5
Pre-orders and limited edition sales require to be available at a specific time. This specific time is often in the middle of the night when you live several time zones from Tokyo.

These reasons will discourage most foreign buyers. Thankfully, there are alternative solutions to buy Japanese items on the web. Keep your hopes up! I will now introduce the methods that will help you add rare Japanese pieces to your collections.

How to import from Japan?

Import shops

The most popular solution to buy exclusive products in Japan is to visit import shops. Most of the time, their prices are a little higher on rare products and their stocks are rather limited. You will be very lucky if you find the limited edition figurine you are looking for in this kind of store.

These e-commerce sites do the job when it comes to buying Japanese candies or snacks. But you’d better turn to other solutions if you’re looking for a specific product.

Fortunately, there are other types of services that can help you buy anything you want from Japan. They are not subject to stock restrictions. That make them the perfect suppliers for Japanese items collectors.

We can group these online services into two categories: proxy-buying services and forwarders. I’ll now explain what they allow and what differentiates them from each other.

Proxy-buying services

Proxy-buying services are companies that buy products on demand. Those web services are really easy to use. The buying process is as follows:

1. Say what you want to buy.

You give the links of the pages on which the products you want to buy are displayed to the proxy-buyer. Then you’ll receive a quotation.

2. The buyer get your items.

Once the proxy-buying service receives your request, someone will purchase on your behalf.

3. The buyer ships the items.

You’ll receive a notification when your package will be delivered to the proxy service. From there, you can choose an international shipping method.

With this method, you pay the buyer’s working time and shipping costs in addition to the product price. This can inflate the value of your items. But it remains the best solution at your disposal if you are looking for a very specific good.

White Rabbit Express, the service I recommend

To be totally transparent with you, I work with White Rabbit Express. But as always I do not promote projects in which I do not believe.

I recommend White Rabbit Express because it has an almost perfect score on TrustPilot, Facebook and Google Reviews. We are far from catastrophic customer feedbacks from the market leader: Buyee.

Why do people like White Rabbit Express?

Because customer service is always listening. And also because you receive a quote instantly and the app is super easy to use compared to what competitors do.

Forwarders

Forwarding services are even more affordable than proxy-buyers. Indeed, these companies only offer to collect your parcels in a mailbox which is allocated to you. Then, they send them directly to your home.

Forwarding services do not help you to buy the products. Thus, it is up to you to place your orders on Japanese e-commerce sites. To do this, you’ll have to use the postal address provided by the forwarder.

When to use a forwarder?

While everyone can use proxy-buyers, forwarders are only for people who can read Japanese. They are perfect if you buy only from sites that accept international payment methods but cannot ship overseas.

Yet, I would recommend using a proxy-buying service if you wish to take part in an auction or buy products from individuals. Both of these situations require a lot of interactions with resellers. But, this is very difficult to handle when you are not living in Japan.

The forwarder I recommend

There are several forwarding services in Japan. But my first recommendation is Blackship. Their customer service is perfectly bilingual in English. Your parcels can be kept in their premises for up to three months. This can be convenient if you want to merge many packages into one. Moreover, consolidations can help you save on your international shipping costs.

Where to buy Japanese products?

I will now present a selection of websites on which you can shop using the import methods I talked about before.

Classic e-commerce sites

There are many e-commerce sites in Japan. You will find generalists shops like Amazon, specialized stores like Zozotown or Tower Records, or boutiques reserved for very specific niches.

Here are some of my recommendations:

Amazon Japan

If you don’t know Amazon it’s because you’ve probably lived in a cave for the last twenty years. The e-commerce leader has a Japanese site on which certain products cannot be shipped abroad.

Clothing stores

The two most reputable Japanese clothing sites are Zozotown and Uniqlo. Although Uniqlo exists in many other countries, the brand offers Japan-exclusive lines.

Buy cultural products

Suruga-ya is one of the largest retailers of cultural products in Japan. Manga fans will also go shopping on Toranoana, MelonBooks, and Animate. As for J-Pop fans, they will find their happiness at Tower Records.

Game Publishers Boutiques

Square Enix, Capcom or Bandai offer products derived from their flagship licenses. Some of them are only marketed in Japan. If you are an experienced gamer, you should visit their Japanese sites.

Second-hand market and auctions

Japanese consumers are very careful with their items. For this reason, it can be interesting to buy second-hand products from Japan. There, it is quite rare to have unpleasant surprises. That’s even true when you are directly dealing with individual resellers.

Yet, keep in mind that most auction and P2P sites require interactions in Japanese. Moreover, resellers very rarely ship their products abroad. Thus, you will have to use a proxy-buying service or a forwarder to purchase your goods.

Mandarake, used Japanese goodies

Mandarake is a famous chain of second-hand shops. Japanese and foreign collectors go there to sell or buy rare goodies. This sign also has an online shop where you can find items available in their display cabinets. Why don’t you take a look at it?

Yahoo Auctions, the leading auction house

Eclipsed by many other web companies in the West, Yahoo is still at the forefront on the Japanese web. Its auction site is one of the most visited in the country. This platform is a real treasure cave for collectors of Japanese items. You will find vintage products or limited edition items at affordable starting prices.

Marketplace apps

Several P2P marketplace apps appeared on the Japanese app stores these last years. There are three main ones that are accessible on mobile or with a web browser.

Mercari

The market leader. This service has become so popular that it has been exported to several countries including the United States and Canada. However, products listed in Japan cannot be purchased from abroad.

Otamart

The outsider! This is an online flea market where you can find products derived from your favorite video games and anime. Unfortunately, it is impossible to buy products outside Japan without a proxy-buyer.

Rakuma

This application was formerly known as Fril. Rakuten, the giant Japanese web group, bought it and renamed Fril into Rakuma.

Shipping methods in Japan

You want to export products from Japan? Japan Post and private carriers compete to offer you the most suitable shipping methods.

Import sites, forwarders and proxy-buyers offer most of these services. It is up to you to choose your shipping method, based on delivery times and price.

Japanese postal services offer several international shipping methods. Delivery times vary depending on the price you are willing to pay to have your package shipped to you.

Express Mail Service

This is the most expensive mailing method of the Japanese Post, but it is also the fastest. With EMS, you’ll have to wait a week before receiving your package. This is the method I recommend the most.

AirMail

Cheaper than EMS but also slower. This is the shipping method that I recommend to those who do not want to spend a fortune on shipping costs. Unfortunately, parcels cannot exceed two kilograms.

SAL

An affordable shipping method that does not have a tracking number or insurance. Using this option is like crossing fingers hoping that everything goes well between Tokyo and your home.

SeaMail

The cheapest method, for relaxed people. Your parcel crosses the oceans on a huge ship before arriving home. Delivery takes between one and three months. I don’t recommend this thing.

Private carriers

These are companies you already know … FedEx, UPS or DHL. With them, you can receive your parcels in two or three days. These solutions are often more expensive than Japan Post. But private carriers can be helpful for people in a hurry.

Japan import and customs fees

There, we enter the boring part of the article. But, it’s always important to stay legal when importing products from Japan. Customs rules are among those things that can sometimes be difficult for web consumers. Still, you are legally bound to respect them, and for that it will be necessary to know at least the fundamentals.

The customs rules are not the same depending on your country.

Prohibited products on importation

You should know that some products sold freely in Japan are not legal in every country. For example, *you can have problems if you import hentai staging underage characters. While this kind of manga can be easily found on the Japanese archipelago.

Besides, carriers refuse to ship dangerous materials or items controlled by law. These products are:

Dangerous products:

  • All types of products related to firearms.
  • Flammable, toxic, radioactive or explosive liquids, materials and gases.

Products prohibited or controlled by law:

  • Narcotic or psychotropic substances.
  • Living animals and plants.
  • Some countries also have restrictions on fruits and vegetables.

So don’t hesitate to ask your customs department if you have any doubt about a product you would like to buy.

Compatibility of Japanese products

There are several things to check before buying certain product categories in Japan. Here are a few.

Guarantees

Japanese products guarantees are in accordance with Japanese regulations. For example, some products with two-year warranty in Europe have only one year in Japan. In some cases, you will not be able to return the product when you are abroad. But, when possible, you will have to pay for shipping costs in both directions. Moreover, you can even have to use a Japanese forwarder to recover your product.

Electronic devices

Keep in mind that when you buy a Japanese device there is always a risk that you will not be able to change its language. I have experienced this with my camera, whose Japanese model is the only one without a multilingual option. We are never safe from this kind of surprise when we import items.

Also, the electric power is not the same in Japan as in Europe, Africa or Oceania. Japanese outlets deliver 110 volts, while in Europe and some African countries the voltage is greater than 200.

North America is an exception. The North American outlets have a voltage very close to that of the Land of the Rising Sun: 120 volts.

If the voltage of your country is very different from that of Japan, two scenarios are available to you:

  • Your product can support the voltage of your country: You will need a simple plug adapter to connect it.
  • Your product is not compatible with the voltage of your country: You will have to buy an electric transformer.

Video games

The compatibility of Japanese games with Western consoles depends on the platform. Indeed, some consoles, especially retrogaming platforms, are zoned. Which means that a video game cannot work with a game console bought in another part of the world.

DVD and Blu-Ray

As with video games, DVDs and Blu-Rays can be zoned. This is even more true for older records, as the market tends to open up. Yet, I recommend that you check the compatibility of each DVD or Blu-Ray case by case. This is the only way to avoid any unpleasant surprise.

Feel free to ask your questions in the comments below. I will answer them to help you import products from Japan.

Michaël da Silva Paternoster

French living in Japan since 2016. I work as a manager and marketing consultant for several Japanese and foreign companies.

All stories by : Michaël da Silva Paternoster

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