How to buy Japanese CDs from abroad

2019年3月4日

The very first Japanese CD I ever purchased was a Pokemon Meowth’s Party mini CD in a cardboard sleeve at New York City’s Kinokuniya bookstore at approximately age 11. The second was T.M.Revolution’s Coordinate at an anime convention he attended as a guest in 2003.

Excellent album of songs I didn’t hear live because Mom wouldn’t let me stay at the convention past the opening act. 🙁

Fast-forward several years, and I found myself enamored with Jpop girl groups, first Morning Musume soon followed by AKB48. New to the scene and fairly clueless, I relied on generous friends and forum download links to acquire the music I was falling head over heels for. But things have changed a lot since 2009, and it’s easier than ever to get your hands on physical or digital copies of the music you want with the added bonus of supporting the idols you like! It can be hard to know where to start, so I want to look at some of the options I’ve had experience with, and some others I’ve heard good things about.

SHOPPING SITES

CDJapan – When I lived overseas, this was my go-to for access to idol CDs. They offer a bunch of shipping and payment options, a rewards program, song samples and bonuses like preorder and first press rewards (photos, postcards, etc.) The shipping can get a little pricey if you choose the faster and more reliable options, so if you’re ordering several CDs with varying release dates, it’s best to wait until they’re all on sale so they can ship together!

HMV – HMV is generally comparable to CDJapan in selection, preorder bonuses and rewards programs, but with a few big differences. As the partnership between Japan’s convenience store empire Lawson and HMV has strengthened in the past few years, it seems like HMV Japan’s English page has gotten more accommodating to English speakers living in Japan than those overseas. For addresses outside Japan, EMS is the only shipping method and PayPal isn’t accepted. But if you’re an idol fan living in Japan who doesn’t want to decode all-Japanese sites, this is a great resource AND you can receive and use points with your Lawson Ponta rewards card.

Amazon.co.jp – Amazon.co.jp is, embarrassingly, easily my most-used online shopping service here in Japan, but I’ve recently discovered that Amazon Global can be a solid way to buy idol CDs, photobooks and DVDs even from overseas! During my test purchase, it looked like a base shipping rate of ¥950 for 1 CD, with an increase of ¥350 for each additional CD, making it the most competitive shipping rate out there. (Your prices may vary.) The selection is more limited than music-focused sites but it’s worth a look if you’re into mainstream, popular groups.

Mandarake – Secondhand collectibles chain Mandarake has a surprisingly extensive English (and Spanish, Russian, Italian…) site where you can sift through a treasure trove of idol CDs, photos, goods, and who knows what else. Obviously not the most reliable for new releases, but if you’re like me and enjoy searching for old, rare, vintage idol treasures, it’s pretty great. Oh, minus the occasional questionable name or group translation. Why are most Dempagumi.inc items listed as “Propogation.inc?” An unsolved mystery. Shipping is a flat ¥2000 for packages up to 500g and then increases incrementally by weight. (A typical CD is roughly 100g, for reference!)

YesAsia – I’ve known about YesAsia since before I even got into idols, and it’s generally reliable with a pretty extensive music selection, even including older and harder to find CDs. One big difference you’ll find is a markup reflected in item prices themselves, with the trade-off being that it’s pretty easy to qualify for free international standard shipping at orders over $39 (at the time of writing.) They accept PayPal, but all payments are only accepted in US dollars.

PROXY AND OTHER SHOPPING SERVICES

ZenMarket – You may not always be able to find what you’re looking for through foreigner-friendly online shops, but you’ve still got options! Shopping, forwarding and proxy services are all worth a try. ZenMarket is a shopping service with one of the lowest service fees on the market (¥300 per item) that will purchase items for you directly from Japanese online stores and even bid on auctions on your behalf.  I admittedly had some difficulty finding what I was looking for due to the autotranslation into English in the built-in marketplace, so I’d recommend using Japanese search terms if you can.  ZenMarket will also buy for you from online shops outside of their affiliates, which is great for idol goods sold directly through the agency or record label! Plus, no additional fee to combine multiple orders.

Tenso Japan – If you’ve got a bit of confidence in your ability to navigate Japanese web shops but just lack a Japanese shipping address, a service like Tenso is a huge help. Signing up assigns you a real Japanese address to send your goods to, after which Tenso will forward your packages straight to you when you’re ready. They charge a small fee to combine multiple orders and accept credit cards, PayPal and Alipay.

A Tenso address is also an excellent thing to have if you’re visiting Japan for a short time. Say you come out to make it to your favorite group’s concert, but then find that the only way to get a handshake ticket to meet them after the show is to reserve their upcoming single that comes out weeks after you leave Japan. What do you put in the address field?? You could beg a random stranger to let you use their address, make up something fake and let it be lost to the ether, or make a reasonable choice and have it sent to your Tenso address when it’s released. Much less stressful.

Buyee – Though Tenso is exclusively a shipping service, they also have their own proxy site, Buyee.  They’re affiliated with lots of Japanese webshops and have a built-in Yahoo! Auctions browser, and have even developed a browser extension to make shopping on over 150 sites easier. They have a 0% service fee on the big shopping sites Yahoo! Shopping, Rakuten and Amazon.co.jp, and a 5% charge on auctions and other shopping sites. Lots of shipping methods, but not the cheapest options out there.

FromJapan – [grandpa voice] Back in my day, we didn’t have all these new-fangled proxy services and shipping sites with reasonable commission rates and shipping options! We took what we could get, and what we could get was an item that ended up about 3 times its original price after processing and shipping from FromJapan! No but really, FromJapan’s been around for years and has served me well, and though I definitely have memories of them being pretty expensive, it looks like competition has driven them to lower prices! Their current rate is ¥700/order for buyer protection, and ¥300/order for basic forwarding, which is much more reasonable than I remember.

Do you have experience using any of these services, or maybe even others? Let us know in the comments!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, highlighting some options for digital enjoyment as well as where to look for CDs when you come visit Japan!