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Buying Otaku Stuff Online

Best places to purchase Japanese media online

23 December, 2010 by

At some point of time, those that are into Japanese music or otaku interests will eventually have the need to actually purchase some original goods from overseas. Most people will already have their favorite online store which they return to. But this post is directed toward those looking for a place to start shopping for the first time. This is the low down between Yesasia vs Play Asia vs CDJapan vs HMV.

The alternative.

This post lists down some of the online shops that ship music, toys and books outside of Japan. I’ve included some personal experiences with the different stores, so you can decide for yourself which is the best place for yourself to purchase Japanese goods online, based on individual requirements.

If you are in no hurry. Play Asia is probably the cheapest way to purchase toys.

Play Asia

As the name suggests, Play Asia actually focuses on stuff you play with. So while it has the widest range of figurines and video games among the shops featured on this list, it doesn’t stock up as well on music related items. Whatever items it does sell are also limited in stock.

The main draw for Play Asia is that shipping within Asia and South East Asia is free with purchases of just USD$20 and up. It also has the cheapest expedited shipping options among the shops on this list. Since it is located in Hong Kong, the faster Fedex and UPS are even cheaper than EMS when shopping with Play Asia.

The prices at Play Asia are also often lower than their suggested retail selling price in yen, with the added benefit of being delivered directly to your doorstep. They also send include a USD$5 coupon whenever you spend more than USD$50. These coupons can be used with a minimum purchase of USD$50, so technically you are getting up to 10% off.

For example, take AKB48’s latest single release Chance no Junban. Its retail price is 1600 yen, which would mean SGD$25 with current exchange rates. But it costs only $23 from Play Asia. Two CDs should be enough to hit the minimum order for free shipping.

As mentioned, the main downside to Play Asia is its poor stock. Items often sell out quickly and are never restocked. From experience, pre-ordering items with Play Asia doesn’t seem to help either.

I’ve had cases where Play Asia emailed me weeks after placing a pre-order to tell me that an item is sold out. What’s the point of taking pre-orders then? Once, they even shipped a normal edition of a particular CD despite having pre-ordered the limited edition too.

As such, I cannot recommend purchasing items of limited availability through Play Asia. If you really can’t afford missing out on a pre-order item, look elsewhere. But if you’re living in Asia and are looking for something that is still in production, Play Asia is still the most affordable option.

Combine orders to meet the free shipping requirement and YesAsia becomes a viable option.

YesAsia

When compared to Play Asia, YesAsia carries a wider variety of music and video related goods. It also carries goods from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, in addition to Japanese items.

YesAsia also provides a free shipping option (via normal airmail) but only with orders above USD$39. When this minimum is not met, shipping is more expensive than Play Asia. This is despite the fact that individual items are already more expensive than retail price to offset shipping costs.

For comparison, the same 1600 yen Chance no Junban CD costs $28. $3 more than the retail price and $5 more than Play Asia. On the plus side, “free shipping” is worldwide and not just limited to Asia.

Sadly, YesAsia doesn’t offer the choice to ship with other express couriers other than EMS, which is still slow because it still has to rely on the local mailman. Both Play Asia and YesAsia ship from Hong Kong but from experience, YesAsia orders still take a longer time to reach as items are only shipped out a couple days after an order is taken.

I haven’t had any problems with any pre-ordering with Yes Asia though, so even though items are shipped out late, at least the limited stock items are stilll shipped out.

My biggest worry when shopping with them is their haphazard packing. And you can’t choose how you’ll like items to be packed either.

I’ve had lots of CD cases come damaged because of YesAsia’s shoddy packing and the staff even folded my Kamikyokutachi pencil board in half to squeeze it into a CD sized envelope. Why couldn’t they just use a larger envelope? Needless to say, the item was completely destroyed. Horrible.

If stock is limited, grab it from direct Japanese sources like HMV or CDJapan.

HMV Japan

HMV is of course best known for being a music and video store. Their online store offers the widest music and video selection among all these choices, while also carrying some Japanese video games and magazines.

HMV sells all its products at the Japanese retail price in yen, minus local tax, so the items are actually cheaper than normal. Prices in yen can be good or bad depending on how well the currency is doing. Still, the transparent pricing system is often a draw for many. Shoppers also benefit from a point system where 1% of your money spent is rebated as credits for future purchases.

Unfortunately, HMV does not offer free shipments outside of Japan and all shipments are done with EMS only. Again, the efficiency of EMS shipping will depend in part to how well your local mail service is.

Thanks to their connections, HMV stocks up its item earlier than most other shops. Items are sent overseas in advance of their release date, so you can sometimes get your item earlier than others (in good mail conditions). They also start opening up pre-orders sooner than other shops, if that is important to you.

My only issue with HMV is that shipping prices are not calculated on purchase. Instead, you get a rough estimate on checkout and the final amount charged to your credit card often works out to be slightly more.

HMV and CDJapan often have exclusive pre-order bonuses.

CDJapan

So far, CDJapan is the shop which I’ve had the best experience with. Which is only why I’ve decided to host their ads, when the other sites above pay much better commissions.

While limited to Japanese goods, the shop carries an extensive range of music, movies, games, magazines, and toys. CDJapan also combines the benefits of many of the shops listed above.

For starters, all items are sold at their retail price in yen. And CDJapan follows the same system of rewarding customers with credits but offer an improved 3% worth of credits as opposed to HMV’s 1%. As an added benefit, a 500 yen voucher is also given with purchases of 5000 yen and above, which is kind of like what Play Asia does.

No free option is given but shoppers will be able to choose from economy, air mail, registered mail as well as EMS and Fedex shipping. Prices are transparent and charged at actual cost on checkout so you you won’t get any unwanted surprises. The 500 voucher and 3% of credits do help to offset the shipping by quite a bit so ordering with CDJapan ends up cheaper than HMV in the long run.

Like HMV, items are shipped out directly from Japan. CDJapan also stock up their items in advance of the release date so you with the right shipping option you can get your pre-order items faster than if you were to purchase them from a store. This works especially well with Fedex’s courier services as they deliver on weekends too.

If you’re in no hurry you can still ship via normal airmail. Since you’re paying retail price and not inflated “free shipping” prices, this works out to be cheaper than if you were to purchase the items from other sources. To stretch savings though, you’ll want to make orders as close to the 5000 yen mark for the additional vouchers.

Comparison

For comparison’s sake, here’s how much damage you would incur to ship all three versions of Chance no Junban or any other CD with a retail price of 1600 yen.

Play Asia
CD Cost: 3 x SGD$23.28
Shipping (Air Mail): Free
Shipping (Fedex): SGD$16.50
Vouchers: USD$-5
Nett (Air Mail): SGD$63.34
Nett (Fedex): SGD$79.84

YesAsia
CD Cost: 3 x $28.38
Shipping (Air Mail): Free
Shipping (EMS): SGD$24.65
Nett (Air Mail): SGD$85.13
Nett (EMS): SGD$109.78

HMV
CD Cost: 3 x 1441 yen
Shipping: 1100 to 1380 yen
Credits: -42 yen
Nett (EMS): 5858 yen to 6138 yen (SGD$91.97 to SGD$96.37)

CDJapan
CD Cost: 3 x 1600 yen
Shipping (Economy Air): 850 yen
Shipping (Air Mail): 1550 yen
Shipping (Fedex): 1800 yen
Voucher: -500 yen
Credits: -135 yen
Nett (Economy Air): 5015 yen (SGD$78.74)
Nett (Air Mail): 5715 yen (SGD$89.73)
Nett (Fedex): 5965 yen (SGD$93.65)

Conclusion

If you’re ordering a backdated item, go with Play Asia for maximum savings. Otherwise, CDJapan offers the most options for every budget.

From now until 28th December, you’ll also enjoy another 500 yen off at CDJapan instantly and will receive 1500 yen worth of vouchers instead of 500. So if you intend to make another purchase again with the vouchers the final nett cost is effectively another $23.55 less than the price above.

CDJapan also offers other promotions throughout the rest of the year, so do keep a lookout. Earlier last month, they even offered free Fedex shipping on all orders.



Chad

Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.
  • Ripple

    Does PlayAsia offer bonus photos?

  • pot
  • mchan1

    Now, if someone can post information on how to buy items from the AKB48 store directly!

    The AKB48 store prices are comparable to the online stores so that's not an issue.
    It's the shipping that'll kill you as well as the amount of stuff you want to get!

    • Sho

      As long as it's within Japan, the prices are a fixed retail price. Like most Japanese stores, the AKB48 Shop does not ship outside of the country, so buyers will still need to acquire the help of a 3rd party or concierge service.

  • Tasche

    Very Comprehensive list of retailers that ship overseas. On a side note, should include an article on the exclusive Japan only stores and a list of Proxy services, many use that option obtain their "Hard" goods.
    But, Kudos on this post. First time reader of your site and very much liked the content. Bookmarked. =3

  • mchan1

    I've ordered from all 4 online stores.

    The least favorite is YesAsia even though it has more selections than PlayAsia but more costly in item costs. Their shipping method is relatively expensive. If you do qualify for "free shipping", it takes 3-4 weeks usually for items to ship from HK to N. America πŸ™ That's not a "bargain" since you have to wait that long for your order!

    HMV JP has become my choice to order items esp. CD/DVDs, especially pre-order items. Not only do many have Pre-order bonuses like pictures/trading cards, the shipping is almost the same if not less expensive than CDJapan but still costly.
    Yes, the 1% rebate for future purchases is good but it's less than CDJapan's of 3%. HMV JP ships not EMS International but it "really" ships via Fedex International which takes ~4 days from JP to N. America πŸ™‚

    CDJapan is the best choice if you want to pre-order most JP items BUT the item costs still cost more than HMV JP and the shipping cost is also HIGHER πŸ™
    CDJapan does ship via EMS International and it takes ~4 days for delivery from JP to N. America. Problem is… some items are so Hot that pre-orders literally sell out on the "First Press Editions" quickly which is quite absurd!! The company only gets an allotment of goods so certain CD/DVDs from certain artists (i.e AKB48 and Scandal) sell out IMMEDIATELY especially on Pre-ordered items so order as soon as possibly!

    It's too bad many JP companies REFUSES to sell internationally and focus ONLY on JP customers. The companies can make SO much money by ALSO selling to their international fans!!

    I guess the JP companies (i.e. AKB48 and Scandal) doesn't want to deal with Customs, various shipping costs (which is irrelevant since buyers pay shipping costs anyway) and/or dealing with foreign orders or all of the above.

    There are JP services that will buy JP items for you then ship it to you if you live outside JP but their fees are dependent on the total cost of items or the weight depending on where the order has to be shipped! Haven't tried them YET but will soon!

    I need my AKB48 and Scandal fix πŸ˜‰

  • Mike

    I've personally have used all these websites mentioned. In my experience CDJapan has been the best overall for online shopping, the external bounses are nice as well. Play-Asia I have only ordered 2 items from them like 4 years ago haha so I couldn't say much about them. As for YesAsia, I buy almost if not all my asian movies from them, but I agree with you on their terrible packing methods, my Shinoda Mariko PB had a bend in the top corner due to the packing.

    • Sho

      Yeah, I think shipping is really a big factor. Considering that the people making such purchases are hobbyist and collectors, we really can't afford or bear to have these items damaged on their way.