Japanese importation: the complete guide

Importing products and cultural goods from Japan / Asia

Numerous amateurs of Japanese culture end up importing products and other cultural goods from Japan. Importation has several advantages, whether it is to :

  • please yourself and complete a collection;
  • offer an original gift to a close relative;
  • take advantage of interesting prices, depending of the Ten exchange rate, especially on (neat and clean) second-hand products;
  • or simply find an object solely existing in Japan.

But there are also a certain amount of drawbacks and it is safe to be fully documented before giving up on the temptations from online stores or bringing back objects from Japan. You will find in the following lines a guide where we grouped a maximum of things to know before importing from Japan.

Delivery modes, delivery fees and custom taxes

Ways of sending and postal charges

The amount of postal charges are defined by each seller, usually depending on the weight of the package, but they often follow common rules.

There are two main types of transportation for import packets:

Private carriers are very fast for a delivery: count about 48 to 72 hours to receive an order after being sent. Their packages are insured and they all possess a tracking number, but be careful, their delivery is authorized only with a signature. If you are not home while they attempt to deliver, you can ask the carrier to come back or to deliver to another address, or even can go get the package in one of their deposit locations (usually around the big cities).

The Japanese post office offers several types of delivery:

  • SAL is the cheapest one but also the most uncertain, by being slow (count from 2 to 4 weeks, more during holiday seasons) and quite uncertain (no tracking number nor insurance);
  • SAL “improved” : same as above but with an included insurance (up to 6,000¥) as well as a tracking number (only on the Japanese territory);
  • EMS, more expensive than SAL but faster (less than a week), insured up to 20,000¥ and of course with a tracking number;
  • Air Mail, cheap and quite fast (between EMS and SAL) but limited to 2kg (4,40 lbs) maximum.

To track a package sent by the Japanese post office, read this page.

Authorized maximums and customs charges

Obviously, importation is ruled by national laws. According to the US Customs and Border protection, if your merchandise complies with the requirements and you import only for yourself, you are not required to have a license.

When your purchase from the Internet, you are responsible for complying with the laws. For personal use, imported goods are not subjected to quotas (only made-to-measure suits from Hong-Kong) and of course, goods must not be forbidden to enter your country's territory (no narcotics or child pornography for example). 

You will find a complete guide and information on the US Customs and Border Protection website. Also, you might want to know the Duty Rates of your import; you can check them on the online tools provided. All tax payments can be requested on delivery or later by mail.

For a purchase made in Japan, the maximum is $800 free of duty. If you are bringing home more than $800, you have a choice to:

  • either declare at the customs office at the airport and pay the duty fees;
  • or say nothing, at your own risks, and hope you won't be controlled.

Be careful, the Japanese VAT increased from 5 to 8% and may reach 10% in 2019. Tax refund is possible in Japan, for the purchase of products worth more than 10,000¥. To have the benefit, show your passport to the seller.

For your information, the maximum cigarettes are 200 and 1 US quart of alcoholic beverage per person of 21 years or older.

Compatibility of Japanese products with American/European material

Video games and consoles

It is not certain that Japanese games and a European games console (and the reverse) are compatible. It can be blocked by the console or by the games. There we speak of "free" (authorized) or "locked" (blocked).

Here is a list of eventual compatibility to know regarding the most recent consoles, before ordering imported games.

  • Playstation 4: the console is region-free but some games can be blocked, to be checked one by one
  • PS Vita: region-free, no problem
  • Wii U: region-locked, no compatibility
  • 3DS: region-locked, no compatibility except for region-free DS games
  • Xbox One: region-free, no problem

DVD and Blu-Ray

No disk reader is compatible with foreign DVDs and Blu-Rays, which are delimited by a zone and therefore restricted by geographic blocking. It is advised to be careful depending on the video support.
More and more, disks are region-free (or "zone 0"), specifically the Asian versions, but some studios remain strict on the electronic locker and it is recommended to control case by case, especially on Blu-Ray.

Regarding DVDs:

  • Zone 1 : USA and Canada
  • Zone 2 : Japan, France and Europe, South Africa, Middle-East
  • Zone 3: South-East Asia, Hong-Kong
  • Zone 4 : Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America
  • Zone 5: Russia, India, Africa
  • Zone 6: China

Regarding Blu-Ray:

  • Region A: Japan and South-East Asia, Americas and Oceania
  • Region B: France and Europe, Africa, Australia
  • Region C: Russia, China, Inde and rest of Asia

List of trustworthy online stores

Play-Asia and YesAsia

Play-Asia and YesAsia are the two biggest video games, music, DVD/Blu-ray and Japanese goodies stores. They are famous and have attractive prices, especially on “Asia” products. They are based in Hong-Kong and possess warehouses in Europe, which limit the customs charges.

Amazon

Amazon is very present in Japan and their delivery costs are not as expensive as they used to be.

Rakuten

Rakuten is an equivalent to Amazon for online commerce in Japan. The website is a must in Japan, and it is now possible to order from foreign countries.

Japan Centre

Japan Centre delivers in several countries of Europe as well as in the USA. They mostly offer kitchen objects and also Japanese pantry items.

Ebay / Yahoo Auction

We had to add one section about auction online stores. Ebay possesses a very diverse collection of items if you take the time to dig into the website. It is still possible to enjoy good deals if the seller is trustworthy. Yahoo! Auctions (YahuOku) is the Japanese counterpart but reserved to those having a local address in Japan.

Watch out for intermediaries offering you to order online, they take sometimes big commissions.

Physical stores

They are numerous stores selling Japanese products in big cities around the world, however their prices can be quite high.

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