The Falling ¥en and You (or why you should be shopping at Amazon.co.jp)

This is more of a PSA than a normal blog post, but I felt like letting the people who follow this blog a secret.  Stuff from Japan is pretty cheap right now.  Hold on, before you cash out your life savings and spend it on stuff from a US based webstore, I should warn you, it takes a little work to take advantage of this.

A little back story first.  If you want to cut to the chase you can skip this paragraph, it’s not essential.  I just don’t get many chances to trot out my Economics/Finance education, because most people find it boring.  Imagine that.  I won’t go into details, because I doubt anybody wants to read a term paper, but Japan’s economy has been struggling and in order to increase exports the Japanese version of the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan has been printing money like mad.  OK, technically that’s not what they are doing but the result is the same so stay with me.  Japan wants to sell more to sell more to other countries and it wants to avoid deflation (deflation scares the hell out of central bankers).  So the Bank of Japan decided (with the help of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) that the value of the Yen is too damn high.  The Yen has fallen dramatically (by about 30%) over the last three years, and that’s good news for US otaku.

Unfortunately, that US-based webstore isn’t passing on that savings to you, but it’s not necessarily because they are just greedy.  They might just be trying to recoup what they paid for the merchandise back before the price dropped to current levels. I recently bought six volumes of the  Devil is a Part Timer (Hataraku Maou-sama) manga for ¥ 3,694 (app $31.40) from Amazon.co.jp.  The price from kinokuniya.com is $54.90.  Amazon.com didn’t have all six volumes, but going by what they had the price would have been about $37.  Prices can be “sticky” like this for a number of reasons, but there is no reason for you to deal with the stickiness (eww), because you can order directly from Japan like me.

Now, I can imagine your issues, so let me try to answer them:

This doesn’t help me, I don’t read Japanese.

Just like amazon.com, the .co.jp version has tons of non-book items.  From bento boxes to wall scrolls and from PS Vita games to Figma figures.  You can even get cosplay items if that is your thing.

No you idiot, I just can’t read the damn website.

First of all, .co.jp has an English option.  Unfortunately, since everything is listed in Japanese it is only useful at checkout. (btw, you can just use your Amazon.com login)  Fortunately this is 2015 and there is this nifty little tool called Google Translate.  Google is better for telling you what a website says, and not so good for telling you what to search for.  So I have a couple of helpful tips. コミックor 漫画 is manga.  The website generally uses the first one.  So let’s say you wanted the A Certain Magical Index manga.  First you need the name.  It turns out, most Wikipedia entries and MyAnimeList entries include the name in Japanese characters.  Boom, here it is とある魔術の禁書目録(インデックス).  Now to get just the manga results simply add the manga characters to your search. とある魔術の禁書目録(インデックス) 漫画 This works for other merchandise as well.  Want a wall scroll? Try adding アニメグッズ. This means “anime goods” and will bring up everything from key chains to posters.  Some things are even easier.  Figma and PS Vita are trademarked names.  Want a figure?  Just type in Figma after the name. Want a PS Vita game, well, you should be able to handle it from here.

But shipping costs are ridiculous!

Well you got me there.  You won’t get free shipping like you do in a lot of stores in the states. However, my experience with shipping from Japan was amazing.  I placed the order on Monday afternoon and DHL had it in my hand on Wednesday afternoon.  If I wanted to pull the trigger on the sweet Major Kusanagi Figma I’ve been looking at, I’d pay ¥ 4,782 or $41.83, plus $8.75 in shipping ($50.58).  $8.75 is hardly unreasonable for the kind of service I got.  Consider that the same item is $66 including regular shipping on Amazon.com, and ordering from Japan is an awesome deal.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws in ordering this way.  Not everything will ship to the US.  When you try to check out, you will be told if one of your items is not available outside Japan.  This is mostly going to happen with used items.  You also don’t know what you are paying for shipping until checkout.  It’s also useful to copy an item’s listing and run it through Google Translate to be safe.  Getting a folder instead of a poster or a Light Novel instead of a Manga would suck.  These issues seem pretty minor to me though.  Even if you decide not to buy anything, you should be able to do some window shopping with the info I’ve given you.  100 = app $.86 give or take a cent or two.  Enjoy.

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