Adventures on the Internet - buying goods from Japan

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Many will know by now that I’m a keen international shopper! - buying various goods from the four corners of this earth. When I say 4 corners, I mean the reputable and reliable parts of the world - those countries where fraud is kept in check, and you get what you ordered - largely at the price you ordered. To-date I have ordered goods in from most countries in Western Europe, as well as USA, Hong Kong and Japan.

Most of my shopping online is music-related, but I do also buy various gifts, accessories and of course ’Vinyl Art’. My favourite International retail experience to date is actually from Japan and occurred several years ago now. I was looking for a rare UK White Label 12" Bootleg Remix of Human League track ’Love Action’. I had trawled all UK resources, and major marketplaces, including Discogs and GEMM. I was then back on Google, and several pages in I discovered that the record was available from Jet Set Records in Japan. I ordered online on Friday afternoon, and was more than a little surprised when the record arrived on Tuesday morning - 1/2 a week! When I order in from Germany, it typically takes a week to arrive - the Japanese are evidently more efficient!

As you may have read from other posts on this site, I am a sometime collector of Touma Vinyl Art - which mostly emanates from Japan. These limited edition figurines used to be regularly available in some UK stores, but not so much any more; one occasionally turns up on eBay every now and then, but usually you have to order in from one of USA, Hong Kong, Singapore or Japan. With Touma being Japanese, it stands to reason that the principle marketplace for Touma collectibles is Japan itself.

The key resource for buying Japanese goods is massive online marketplace ’Rakuten’ - really the Japanese equivalent of Amazon Marketplace in most respects. However, there is an issue here, in that a large number of Rakuten retailers only deliver to domestic addresses. How then do you buy something from Japan which can only be delivered to a Japanese address?

Well of course, you need to use an International Forwarding Service - like ’Tenso’ - which I use. The other key tool you need is Google Translate, and a good sense of idiomatic and semantic translation - to get the gist of some of the Japanese emails, as many of the confirmations and notification from the originating stores arrive in Japanese.

What Tenso does is give you a Japanese (Tokyo) address which you can order goods to - incorporating a User reference in the address. Goods arriving at Tenso are assigned to your account via the unique identifier, and you then pay a handling fee, plus of course international shipping to get said goods forwarded to you or me in my case - in the UK. This is not the end of it though, as anything bought in from Japan is subject to somewhat spurious customs / handling duties, which seem to be a minimum of £24 - so that obviously the value of goods needs to be worth it to justify this price point. Once your package arrives in the UK, it sits around waiting for customs clearance (2-3 days), it then gets sent to the depot - where they take a further few days to send out a customs invoice - which you must pay online or by phone. The UK side of the shipment usually adds a week to proceedings, where the more complex Japanese component takes the equivalent amount of time. All things being well, it should take approximately 2 weeks for you to receive your Japanese-bought goods.

When I first entered into such a transaction, I was rightly a little apprehensive, but not overly so, as I am fairly familiar with Japan and Japanese culture. I’m not saying that there aren’t any fraudulent retailers in Japan, but the culture is very much founded on a tradition of honesty and honour, so that this should be one of the safest retail environments you can be involved with. There is some degree of inherent complexity in such a transaction, and just a minor leap of faith is required, but if the end result is not worth the effort, you should not be doing it in any case really. For myself, the most frustrating parts of the experience are not the Japanese components, but the wasted time that occurs on the inefficient UK-side. It’s noway near as easy as ordering from Amazon, but then you cannot get these goods on Amazon, I for one really love the Rakuten / Tenso experience - I love that it is at all possible!

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