Many people have approached me in private messages on either Facebook or Instagram, asking where I buy the Japanese resources I show in my stories or posts. The answer is simple and only singular: online.
I live in Poland and here there are simply no opportunities or places to purchase Japanese resources from – at least, you won’t find a Kinokuniya branch store or a Book-Off here. You can find some books on auctions online, there are also some Polish publications, but I abstain from those – on my level, I stick to resources published in Japan, so that means the necessity of importing them. Here I’m going to discuss what online shops and services I use to purchase my resources, that is books (be it textbooks, workbooks, novels etc.), mangas, games and other resources (like I have an elementary school kanji poster in my office, so I can peek at it while I’m busy working – something always sticks!).
Before I list my favourites, there are some things that I need to underline. First of all, in terms of games, you have to pay attention to what platform the game was released on. Why is this important? Because some consoles are region locked, meaning you won’t be able to play a Japanese imported game on it unless you have a Japanese version of that console. A device of any other region won’t simply read the disc. Yes, there are some ways to bypass region locking, but remember that they are NOT LEGAL (e.g. jail-breaking the console or using special programs like Swap Magic for PS2).
Apart from region-locked PlayStation (1) and PlayStation 2, here you have to pay attention to Nintendo consoles especially, since they used to be region locked almost always, like its latest handheld console, Nintendo 3DS (and its 2DS and XL variations). However, Nintendo Switch did not continue its predecessors’ trend (namely Wii and Wii U’s) and you’re free to import Japanese games for it (I myself am considering purchasing Switch because of it). Also, Xbox games used to be region locked, too (both Xbox and Xbox 360), so be careful with those.
On the other hand, there are several consoles which do not have this region-dependent feature (or it’s limited to some titles, like for PlayStation 3 a game called Persona 4 Arena was region locked). It means that if you have such a console, you’ll be able to play the Japanese version of games on it no problem; yet, be sure to check if a game itself is region free before purchasing! Such ‘unlocked’ consoles include PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Playstation Vita, Playstation Portable, Nintendo DS(i), Xbox One.
“What about PC?”, you may ask. However, since I haven’t imported any games for PC yet (and I’m a Mac user so that’s definitely not going to happen any soon), I can’t really tell you about it. The only thing I do know is that there are some games the distribution of which is limited to Japan only. Meaning, even if you found those on, say, Japanese Amazon, if you provide an international address, you’ll probably be notified that you cannot purchase this item because it isn’t shipped outside Japan. This case is quite common with Z CERO rated games (18+ games). However, thanks to proxy services, which I will also cover in this list, you can purchase those but they will cost you a little more money (due to the proxy fee and double shipping).
But consoles are not the only medium which is locked. Be careful when buying a Japanese DVD – they’re also of a different region. Japan is region 2 for DVDs, just like most European countries, but the USA, for instance, is region 1. The situation is just the opposite with Blu-rays: Japan is region A, just like Northern America is, but Europe is region B. So, before jumping at those anime DVDs you’d found, be sure to check if your DVD player can handle reading the disc, so that you don’t have to scream you’d just spent your money on something you can’t use.
Anyway, here come my top online shops for Japanese resources:
What is sold: manga, books, CDs, games, DVDs, light novels, others.
CDJapan is the number 1 resource I use. There are several reasons for that. First of all, they offer a wide range of goods – I purchase my books, games, drama CDs, magazines or other goods like figures or posters there. And that’s not all they offer – for example, I’m not a fan of possessing a physical copy of music CDs, but CDJapan also sells them.
Apart from the fact that I’m able to find almost everything I look for there, I love CDJapan’s Reward Points system. For every purchase, you receive points which directly equal to Japanese yen. With your next purchase, you may use them to get a discount. What’s more, they offer extra points for bigger orders. Usually, when you order items costing over 5000 yen, you get 300 points extra plus the number of points you get from goods themselves (the number of points depends on the type of product – check product’s description for info on points given for purchasing it). As a result, you can stock up on those points quite often and quite easily. I remember that in the era when I was importing tons of otome games, I had several thousand yen collected in their Reward Points which cut the cost of purchasing a game tremendously. Moreover, CDJapan is brilliant at special offers and they often have either sales, coupons for discounts, customer satisfaction surveys available (and they give 50 points for filling those out!) or they give additional points or double the extra points you receive.
I personally like to play with their system and I admit I often split my order into several small ones because of that. First of all, sometimes, due to special deals, they reduce the bottom limit for those 300 points extra to 3000 yen worth of goods and if I order something worth just over 6000 and split my order into two, I get double the points.
The other advantage of this solution is the manipulation of shipping costs and customs. If you’ve ever ordered something bigger abroad, you’re probably aware that customs are just waiting to imply extra fees on you. It’s annoying because the cost of buying this product rises – and you’re buying it just for personal use! But, if you don’t include much in one order and the total price of the purchased goods (be careful, shipping costs, unfortunately, are included in customs’ calculations! At least in my country) doesn’t go over the quota that your country has set as ineligible for customs and tax – you’re safe.
Shipping is another reason why I tend to make a few small orders instead of one big order on CDJapan. The cheapest method is SAL, but this is an unregistered parcel, meaning if it’s lost, you won’t get your money back. This is why I tend to send 1-3 books in one package maximum. If I lose them, it won’t hit me that hard. Moreover, I’ve been ordering at CDJapan since 2011 and I’ve NEVER had a package lost! They come pretty quickly too (as for SAL) and I usually have a package in 2 weeks (though they can come even 8 weeks after the purchase).
The other reason is that if you buy books or magazines, those are heavy and quickly add up to the shipping costs! So if you don’t want to pay a fortune for sending 3 thick magazines, check how much it costs to ship them separately – it might be a better (and cheaper) option. I’ve also used SAL for my games, so don’t be afraid to use it for that too, especially that games are very light (unless it’s a limited edition – then definitely choose at least registered air mail so that you can get a refund in case anything happens to it).
However, there’s one more reason why I love CDJapan – they have a shipping calculator included at the checkout and if you select your country, you’ll see all the shipping prices presented in a nice table, making it easier to choose your shipping method. I often use this calculator to check how many books I can fit into a package without increasing the shipping costs at all or increasing it slightly, so that it still pays off to send them together. For instance, if adding one more book to the order makes the shipping costs equal or more expensive than ordering that book on its own, I’d order that book separately or leave it for the next batch.
It’s also worth mentioning that CDJapan, as of recently, is offering proxy service! Of course, as it is with all proxy services, you have to pay a fee for it. However, I’d say that they’re quite fair about it and don’t ask you to pay too much. For example, I had to proxy Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, because that was the only HP volume they were missing in the shop. I chose my desired copy (you can choose where CDJapan is supposed to buy the copy from, its condition and other details as well – it’s all listed in the proxy request form) and because it was proxied from a Book-Off, I didn’t have to pay for the double shipping, only for the proxy service fee and for shipping the package me. This was a pleasant surprise since normally when you use a proxy service, you have to pay for: the goods, the shipping from the seller to your proxy service provider, the repackaging and checking the goods’ condition (if chosen and available) and then the shipping costs from the proxy service provider to you. CDJapan wins in terms of proxy service because they do the repackaging and combining the proxied item with other items you bought in their store FOR FREE. Normally you have to pay for that.
As for payment, there are several choices. They do Paypal, so if you’re a user of this one, CDJapan accepts payments via Paypal. They also do cards (debit, credit), Alipay or they can wait for money sent via registered mail. There’s a difference when you’re doing Paypal, though. You have to pay for the goods immediately, even if it’s a preorder. If you choose to pay by card, however, the payment is postponed until the preordered item has been released – then the proper amount is blocked on your card and finally taken as payment. For items already on the market, it makes no difference – you’re paying right away, even if it’s stated that the goods are back-ordered, meaning you’ll have to wait up to 3 weeks till they’re finally shipped.
There is one last thing I forgot to mention, especially that I’d just told you about preorders – in case of games they often include special bonuses (pictures, drama CDs(!), booklets or any other extras). The bonus is stated in the item’s description. Careful – the numbers are limited but if you pay attention and check frequently – you’ll definitely make it in time.
What is sold: everything!
Amazon works kind of similarly to CDJapan for me. Actually, I tend to check both places before I purchase anything. Yet, I usually order from CDJapan because Amazon has three major disadvantages: high cost of shipping, the import handling fee and limitations on sending stuff abroad.
The cost of shipping is self-explanatory. They use courier service (for me it’s usually DHL) and thus its fee runs high. On the other hand, you receive your items fast, even within the same week (especially if you order on Monday – I often get the package by Friday).
The import handling fee is something very annoying if you’re not used to Amazon. Basically, they take some additional amount in your name and if customs or taxes are applied when the package arrives in your country, you don’t have to pay extra anymore – it’s covered from that handling fee. And if no there are no extra customs to pay – you get the money back. YET! In my entire history of Amazon purchases (that counts for both Japan and the US branches), I had that extra money given back to me only ONCE. And I do believe that, in my importing experience, there were orders that were not applicable for customs – because I know my country’s laws and limitations in that department and that money was, well… It’s enough to say I expected it to come back.
The last thing is something I’ve already mentioned before – some items are blocked by the system as those that can only be shipped within Japan. That’s something I found very disappointing because there were quite a lot of things I wished to buy but was unable to do so because of Amazon’s limitations. Buuuuut… There’s a way to go around it and you already know it – proxy service! CDJapan doesn’t do proxy from Amazon, but Buyee does. I’ve written more on this service below.
Apart from Amazon’s huge selection, there’s one more advantage they have – ebooks and emanga. I won’t be writing how to obtain them, I could dedicate a separate post to that. However, as you probably suspect, those are region locked. Meaning, if you try to purchase them from abroad, the system won’t let you buy more than 5 volumes. After that, you’ll see a nice notification that “you’re probably travelling outside Japan and as of now are unable to buy more ebooks and emanga”. There’s a way around this, but as I said – maybe I’ll write on that later.
What is sold: manga, light novels, doujinshi, CDs, DVDs.
Did you know you can order from Mandarake now? No? Well, now you do! I’d visited Mandarake in the past but I’ve recently discovered that they’re opened to international orders too! And this is a great place to get your mangas, light novels, drama CDs, anime DVDs, artbooks or even DOUJINSHI from. Basically, it’s otaku galore. And if you’re open to learning from otaku media, Mandarake’s your new home. And your wallet’s new home.
The site offers an English version of it, so browsing is nice and easy. Pay attention to the goods’ conditions, though – they’re mostly used, but you’ll find new ones here and there. Just so that you know, Japanese “used” is nowhere near “used” you probably know. The mangas have almost mint condition – if it’s more used then it’s clearly stated in the item’s description, so read those carefully! What’s more, they often include the same bonuses that were featured with the items originally! For instance, my Love Hina set turned out to have all the stickers, booklets, cards or bookmarks that were included with some volumes! And no sticker was missing. AND, what’s absolutely best, the whole set cost me 2000 yen. Plus shipping, of course, but even considering shipping the cost of each volume was quite low. Purchasing manga pays off so much here I don’t buy them from CDJapan anymore.
Speaking of shipping, they offer a variety but I recommend using DHL. What, a courier service?! Yes! Because they have the cheapest shipping fare plus you get the goods within a few days (I usually receive them in around 5 days), so you can quickly dig into that title you were looking forward to.
Mandarake is yet another site (like CDJapan) where I like to play with the shipping cost. It pays off more to purchase more here, since the basic shipping cost is over 2000 yen anyway, so spending around 5000 yen in total (goods + shipping) is the most optimal solution.
However, be sure to check how many mangas you can fit into a package without increasing the shipping costs to another tier – just play around with the checkout a little. Being able to add even 1 more manga is beneficial because their prices start from even 50 yen to around 500 yen per volume in case of some titles (it really depends on the title). Manga sets come much cheaper but they also sell out fast, especially the popular titles (e.g. I’m still hunting for Haikyuu! and Yowamushi Pedal sets).
But even when spending that 3000 yen on manga (plus around 2000 for shipping), you can get so much! That’s how I have 18 volumes of Chihayafuru, complete Love Hina set (with bonus stuff), complete Kangoku Gakuen set and a few light novels on my shelf now. Of course, there are more titles in my favourites list that I’m looking forward to in the future. I’d definitely buy more but I simply don’t read them that fast (yet)!
There’s one last thing you have to know, especially if you’re choosing DHL. They usually impose customs on you, unfortunately. Those are not high costs – for all the orders I’d made at Mandarake, I usually paid around 20-30 PLN (that’s less than 8 USD) extra at delivery. However, it still pays off because thanks to cheap manga, relatively cheap shipping you still pay way less on the whole than at other shops.
What is sold: books, games, CDs, DVDs, manga, light novels
I haven’t got much to tell about YesAsia since… I don’t shop there anymore! It was useful to me a few years back, but today it’s become too expensive (they’d increased their prices). However, that depends on a person so you might find it different and thus I’d decided to include it in this list anyway. It’s a general shop like CDJapan with a variety of goods to choose from, Chinese and Korean included! So it might be used for other languages as well.
I used to shop there in the past because the exchange rates were pretty good, but not so much anymore, unfortunately. Plus in terms of e.g. manga or books, I feel that their choice has declined and I’m rarely able to find what I look for.
They’ve also resigned from free shipping which was eligible for orders over $35. What was more, you could get extras for larger orders (I still have tiny Haikyuu! figures I got from them as a bonus!) – but again, it’s not so fancy anymore.
But if you’re willing to use it, go ahead – I had no problems with their service. I received all my packages without any issues, so that’s one thing I’m sure of – it’s safe to order from them.
YAHOO AUCTIONS AND BUYEE.JP
What is sold: everything is possible!
Ah, Japanese auctions. Unconquered territory for foreigners. The descriptions are in Japanese, the delivery address must be Japanese, sometimes even your credit card must be Japanese… But the goods that are on offer! Here’s where you’ll find basically EVERYTHING. Things out of print, limited editions, things that are not supposed to leave Japan’s territory (well, in my case I mean Japanese school textbooks and some games). It would be great to be able to use that, right? Especially that they’re auctions so you can buy stuff for very cheap if you’re lucky!
But that dreamland can be achieved.
You just have to use a proxy service provider. I personally have only used Buyee and I can definitely recommend it. I used it to import Japanese chuugakkou (middle school) textbooks for history and geography so that I can practice reading and get to know more about their country from the same perspective they learn about their own. I’ve also found some limited edition of games I was looking for thanks to the auctions and Buyee’s service.
I’ve already told you how proxy works – they purchase an item in your name and it’s shipped to their facility, then repacked and checked (if chosen, at Buyee that’s optional and costs extra 500 yen; however, if they check and the item was damaged in transport between the seller and them, they can apply for compensation for you) and finally sent to you. However, because of that, you have to pay for two shippings and wait a little longer to get what you want (even if you ask them to send it to you via courier service). Don’t worry, though, because the costs of Japanese post within Japan is not that bad. When you’re buying something light or small, the costs are around a few hundred yen.
What’s more, because this is a service, you have to pay for it. Shipping is one thing, but you have to pay them for doing their job – buying an item in your name and sending it. The costs are not super high, however, I usually pay around 500 yen for that but it depends on where you ask them to purchase from as they offer more than just Yahoo auctions (the most popular auction site in Japan). You can even ask them to order from Amazon and send it to you (via cheaper shipping method than Amazon uses AND without that import handling fee I told you about). It really depends on you and your calculations. Of course, you don’t have a choice with some items, like I didn’t have with the Japanese school textbooks – that was the only way. But take a look at their site to find out more about their prices and how the whole system works. After you do it once, it’s quite easy, I tell you!
Moreover, they offer browser extensions, so if you’re visiting Japanese Amazon, you can add an item to Buyee cart instead and later check how much would it cost you to order it at Buyee instead of Amazon directly. Sometimes it pays off more to go with a proxy rather than Amazon itself.
What is sold: games, soundtracks, walkthroughs, consoles, game merchandise
The last shop I frequently use is Play Asia. It’s a shop targeted at gamers as it offers a diversity of games and other items connected to gaming, that is video consoles, soundtracks, toys from game franchises, books (mostly walkthroughs, artbooks or other books based on a game) as well as… gift cards for various services such as Amazon (and its many branches), Netflix, Apple, Playstation Plus and so on – and for different regions, too! That’s great news if, like me, you’ve gained access to, say, Japanese Netflix or Amazon, but the system does not accept foreign credit/debit cards. That’s when gift cards come in handy since you can still pay for the service or orders BUT you don’t have to possess a credit card issued in Japan, for example. And Play Asia allows you exactly that – by selling gift cards.
Play Asia is also the shop where I buy my US and European games, especially for Nintendo because, unfortunately, Nintendo is not really present in my country and thus I have to import games for its consoles from abroad. They also have games for different game regions and since my consoles are all PALs (European versions), I need PAL versions of Nintendo games too. And, rather than importing the games from Amazon UK, I prefer Play Asia – the shipping is much cheaper (especially since game boxes are very light and small in size) and they give you a $5 off coupon with every purchase. So if you want to buy more things at their shop – you can basically get free shipping in exchange for that coupon (because the cheapest fare is around $5 for a SAL).
There’s also amiami.com but so far I’ve only purchased anime figures from there – I’m waiting for my first ever game bought from them to come to me sometime in mid-November, so this list will probably be updated with my experience at this site, too.