Comparison shopping: Ordering Japanese books and media online
This is not quite food related, but I thought it might be of interest if you're reading this site and like to order Japanese books, DVDs and other media.
I go through books like I can go through a bag of potato chips. I order quite a lot of books almost every month from Japan. I don't have a local Japanese bookshop available, so I get everything from online stores.
I've ordered books in the past mainly from three sources: Amazon Japan, Yes Asia and JList. (Disclaimer: Just Hungry is an affiliate of all three companies, and product links do contain affiliate code that helps to pay costs for running the site.) Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The immediate disadvantage here for a lot of people is that the site is in Japanese. While it's possible to switch to an English version, the only parts that do actually switch to English are the ordering info parts. None of the reviews, descriptions, or even the product name are translated. This is not an issue for me, but it would be if you didn't read Japanese.
The main plus for Amazon Japan, and the reason why I personally shop here the most, is that the selection is huge, and as with other Amazons the stock situation is usually accurate. The base price of the books is the lowest of all three vendors, since they just sell at the retail price. (There's usually a discount for DVDs, CDs and other media. New books are not discounted by any bookseller in Japan.) And as with all the Amazons the ordering process is dead easy and familiar.
The big minus to Amazon Japan is that as of March 2007 they eliminated all shipping options for overseas shipping except for the very expensive courier service (which is usually DHL here, though occasionally it's Fedex). On the other hand, delivery is very fast - I usually get my orders within about 5 business days if everything in my order is in stock.
JList (or the PG-rated version of the same site, JBox), the mailorder source for all kinds of fun things from Japan, is based in both Japan and San Diego, USA. The site is entirely in English, and prices are in US$. Ordering is a breeze here, and there are several delivery options. In my experience quoted delivery times are quite accurate. The main drawback for book lovers is that the selection of books is very small. Also, the base price of each book is quite high.
Yes Asia is located in Hong Kong. Their site is available in four languages - Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Japanese - besides English. It's easy to switch between each. The main plus of YesAsia is that international shipping costs are included in the price. You can also get the prices in your local currency. It's the most internationally aware site of them all.
There is a drawback to YesAsia though, and that's the delivery times. In my experience they can be sometimes so slow that I've forgotten I've even placed an order by the time I get it. It's taken up to 16 weeks to receive something from then, though usually I do get things within 4 to 6 weeks.
Neither books nor other media here are discounted off of the suggested retail price, at least for Japanese products.
Comparison shopping - ordering a single book
I tried placing an order for a single book, up to the point where I have to enter my payment information, on all three sites. The book I tried is Watashi tachi no obento (Our Obento). Shipping is to Switzerland, and the cost may vary for your location.
- YesAsia lists it at US$19.49, which includes shipping. The site says it is 'usually shipped within 21 days'.
- JList lists it at US$18.50, shipping not included. It's indicating as being in stock. Shipping options range from $5.80 for Economy Air, up to $18.00 for EMS.
- Amazon Japan lists it at 1300 yen, which is about US $12 right now. There's only one shipping option though, "International Express", which will cost a whopping 3700 yen. That makes this book cost me 5000 yen, or about $45.
My recommendations for buying books and media from Japan
- If you do have a local Japanese bookstore, be sure to check there first for anything you are looking for. They've already paid the shipping cost to get it to your town, and you might as well take advantage of that. And you won't have to pay customs duties (you'll have to pay sales tax in some locations of course). Most Japanese bookstores also handle magazine and newspaper subscriptions. If you don't have a bookstore near you, ask at your local Japanese grocery store if they offer subscriptions, or try contacting OCS, the company that handles most subscriptions for Japanese publications, directly.
- If you just want a single book and don't mind waiting, try YesAsia.com.
- For single books, try looking through the Marketplace listings for the book on Amazon Japan, where you will find used book prices (sometimes manga books will be as little as 1 yen each). Look for vendors who will ship overseas - the phrase to look for is 海外への発送が可能です. If you have I-Click ordering set up, then it's just a matter of clicking the familiar I-Click button. I've never had a problem ordering from any Amazon Japan Marketplace vendor.
- If you can find the book on JList and you're ordering other stuff with it to combine shipping with, go with them.
- If you are ordering in some quantity, it can make sense to buy from Amazon Japan. You may want to do some comparison-shopping between YesAsia and Amazon Japan and see what your total will be. Try pooling together your order with friends - especially for things like Japanese craft books, which are usually terrific and not that hard to decipher if you read knitting and crochet charts and the like.
- The last resort is eBay sellers. I've never seen a Japanese book listed there for a price lower than what I could get the same book for from the above sources. But, you may get lucky.
One more option is to use a package consolidation and delivery service, such as DankeDanke. I have not used any of these services, so I can't say anything about them, but they might be worth a try. They are good for things other than books too. (I can occasionally use my mother for a 'free' version of this service but I don't want to bother her too much either!)
I hope this has been helpful. If you have any experiences with other ways of buying books and media from Japan, please let us know in the comments.