Shop Japan! Using Amazon.co.jp and Tenso.com from the U.S.
I lived in Japan for several years, and maintain an interest in most things Japanese. Ten years ago, when was in Japan, it was difficult to buy Japanese products from abroad, but advances on the Amazon.co.jp web site and the rise of reshippers like Tenso.com have made it much easier to shop. Amazon.co.jp has sold books internationally for a long time, but has recently added video games to the products they’ll ship abroad, for example. For me, this means I get to read Japanese books and play video games in Japanese.
Still, even with those sites, it may be intimidating to shop from Japanese sites if you don’t read Japanese. My goal in this guide is to help you set up your accounts on Amazon.co.jp and Tenso and use them to buy products like games and books.
A few notes before we dive in. First, my examples are Amazon and Tenso, because I have experience with them and they’re (seemingly) the easiest sites to get started on. Second, this guide was written in response to questions on Reddit’s /r/gamecollecting community, so the examples purchases are video games, though the guide should work with anything (at least if it’s sold online and not barred from being shipped abroad), including game and character goods unavailable outside of Japan.
Finally, I’m providing this information based on my own experiences using these sites. I’m not tech support for any of these companies, and I’ll probably ignore any tech support type questions. While I’ve never had an issue with either site — and I’ve been using Amazon.co.jp since 2002 — you’re purchasing from these sites at your own risk.
With that out of the way, let’s walk through buying on Amazon.co.jp.
Though for Japanese consumers Rakuten might be a much bigger ecommerce site, Amazon.co.jp is an easy and safe way for shoppers abroad to buy from Japan. It’s especially good for video games (both new and used), Japanese books (again both new and used), and some hobby goods (like figures, children’s toys, etc.). You can even use Amazon.co.jp to buy Japanese household goods (though it’s probably not worth the expense). Buying from Amazon, if the item is sold by Amazon itself, is relatively easy, but let’s start with a step-by-step walkthrough just in case.
First, throw amazon.co.jp into your URL bar (or just click the link!). You’ll see a screen similar to this one.
If you don’t read Japanese, you’ll want to click the toggle for English. The entire UI will change to English, and it should be much easier for you to navigate.
Our next step is to sign up for an account. Use the “New customer? Start here” link you see in the above screenshot.
From there, it’s not hard to follow the steps in the next screen (shown below). The name pronunciation field is for Japanese people (and others who write their name in Chinese characters) to write the pronunciation of the their name in kana. You can just re-enter the English characters for your name.
Enter your information, and you’ll get immediately logged into Amazon. Success!
From here, you can use the familiar Amazon search bar to find whatever it is you’re looking for. You’ll have much better luck finding what you want if you know the Japanese title for it. If you already know the Japanese title, go ahead and enter it.
Let’s assume you don’t know the title, though. Using that Super Famicom classic Super Mario RPG as an example, our first stop is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is almost always the best place to start if you need the Japanese title of something. The first line of the game’s Wikipedia entry shows us the title of the game in Japanese, スーパーマリオＲＰＧ. Copy and paste that into Amazon’s search bar.
Voilà! Our first result is exactly what we’re looking for, the SFC cart for Super Mario RPG. The other results are interesting too. The next result on the right is a download code for Mario RPG on the Wii U. The next result on the right is the soundtrack CD.
You will notice that the results are in Japanese. Even though you chose English, that only changes Amazon’s UI. There’s no way for Amazon to translate the titles or description of individual products, so you may need to click through various results to find what you’re looking for if it’s not already obvious.
If you click the first result, first you will see that the description and information for the game is in Japanese. Again, Amazon has no way of translating this, so if you don’t read Japanese, use the photos to make sure you know what you’re buying.
You will also notice, that Amazon isn’t directly selling this game. When you only see “Buying Options,” the game is only for sale through third-party sellers. The important thing to understand is almost no third-party sellers will ship a game abroad for you. If you buy used games (or even new ones) through third party sellers, you will have to use a reshipper (and since used prices are often great, you’ll likely want to). I’ll explain more about a reshipper I’ve used, Tenso, later on in this article.
For the time being, let’s use another example we can buy new: Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We can check Wikipedia for the Japanese (ゼルダ, though we’d likely find it even searching in English). Searching the Japanese string on Amazon brings up the game in our results. Amazon even helpfully tells us the popular results.
The basic layout for this page is similar to Amazon.com. There’s a buy button, “Add to Cart” and you can verify this game is being shipped by Amazon (under the green “In Stock” notice). Click Add to Cart and let’s move on through our example.
From the next screen you can continue shopping, or finish up. For our example now, let’s assume we’re done. We can click “Proceed to Checkout.” Since you’re going to enter your address and payment information, Amazon may ask you to sign in again with you password. Once you’ve done so, Amazon will ask for an address for your new account. Click the “Add an International Address” option and fill out your shipping information.
You can choose whether this is also your billing address (it’s easier if this is the case), and then choose continue at the bottom.
If your game is sold by Amazon, and everything is fine you’ll see the above screen, asking for delivery options. For international shipments, you’ll only have the option for AmazonGlobal Priority Shipping. For me, this has always shipped through DHL, which is a pretty decent delivery service (though you’ll either need to sign for the package or pre-sign for it — you can do this from DHL’s web site once your item has shipped and Amazon.co.jp gives you a tracking number).
If not, you’ll get an error, usually that the item can’t be shipped to your location. We’ll deal with that situation using Tenso, and I’ll discuss it further below. Let’s assume for now that our game will ship correctly. Amazon will next ask for your payment information.
Obviously, cash on delivery (COD) won’t work. Your easiest option, assuming you’re living outside of Japan, is to use a credit or debit card. The ones listed in the screenshot should work fine. Two points before you proceed, though. First, make sure you don’t get charged fees for international charges. Your credit card company can let you know if you’ll get charged (and those fees tend to be a small percent of your purchase price, so it may not be a big deal). Second, a sudden international charge on your card may raise fraud flags at your card company. Your card company may decline the charge, and your item won’t be shipped. You may want to give your card company a call and let them know you’re making an international purchase before checking out.
Enter your information, and add your card. For some non-Japanese cards, Amazon may allow you to charge the card in U.S. dollars, or some other options. This will let you know exactly how much Amazon intends to charge you, so if you’re able change to U.S. dollars (or your local currency). Otherwise, you’ll be charged in yen, and changing exchange rates mean the actual price you’re charged may differ slightly from day to day.
Click “Continue” to and Amazon will confirm your card’s billing address. You can use your shipping address or enter a new one (you’ll need to enter a separate billing address if sending to a reshipper).
Once you’re done with that, you’ll get a familiar-looking confirmation page. It’s here Amazon will show you the shipping charges. From what I’ve seen, from ten to twenty (U.S.) dollars per item seems common. Keep in mind objects like books or toys can be heavier, and may cost more.
If it looks good, there will be a button to place your order (if you can charge your card in dollars, the button will be “Place your Order in USD”). If you’re OK with the total, click it and you’re done. Amazon will alert you when your items have shipped, and you’ll be able to check tracking once that’s happened, just like on the U.S. version of the site.
What happens if Amazon won’t ship your item to you? Or you’re buying a third-party seller? Or if you want to shop on another site (like Rakuten)? You can use a reshipper like a P.O. Box to collect your items, and then have them ship your purchases to you.
The only reshipper I’ve worked with is Tenso.com, so while there appear to be a few other companies doing this in Japan, they’re the only ones I’ll discuss. I’ve never lost a package with them, though I’ve had a few occasions when they were slow to let me know my package arrived, slow to respond to support tickets, or to ship a box out.
Also, three notes on using Tenso. First, there’s a registration process that can take some time, so don’t expect to immediately be able to use your Japanese “P.O. Box” to reship to yourself, shipping can easily hit anywhere from $60 to $200 bucks depending on the weight and number of packages you send to Tenso (and this is from my experience living on the U.S. west coast, it may cost more in other parts of the U.S.). Finally, it's possible (though unlikely) for your box to get stuck in customs, in which case you’ll have to go pay customs fees.
The basic process with a reshipper is as follows:
- You make a purchase on a Japanese web site, and supply the address (exactly as given!) from Tenso (or other reshipper)
- The Japanese web site will mail your items to the reshipper’s warehouse
- The reshipper will let you know it received your package
- Optionally you can consolidate multiple packages. I know Tenso allows this, but your reshipper may let you send multiple packages to their warehouse, and then consolidate them into one package they send to you (keep in mind Tenso only allow you to consolidate packages that arrive within one-month of each other)
- You pay the reshipper’s fees, and they mail your box
Again, living on the west coast, once shipped, the boxes take about a week to get to the U.S. and through customs, though this time could be longer in other parts of the U.S. Tenso will provide you a tracking number, so you’ll be able to “see” your box (via Japan Post and USPS tracking sites) make its way over to you.
Keep in mind that Amazon.co.jp (at least) will be far less willing to help you if you have something shipped to your reshipper and something goes wrong. Once the package is accepted by the reshipper, most sellers consider that the end of their duty.
Visit tenso.com and you’ll see a site like the screencap above. The site will auto open the language selection element above. Tenso seems to be popular with Chinese and Korean shoppers, but you can go ahead and choose English, and then click the “Sign Up” button.
You can use Facebook to register, or your email address. I used my email address, which sends a verification email to my address.
Clicking the link in the verification email lets you fill in your information. Fill that in, and agree to Tenso’s terms. Once you register, Tenso will give you a Japanese address you can use on Amazon.co.jp or other sites.
You’ll also need to provide Tenso some identifying documents for it to actually forward to you. Click through the call to action above, which will send you to an informational page. You will need to submit your information and some form of ID to Tenso before they’ll reship to you. Per the page, in the U.S. your driver’s license or first page of your passport will do). Tenso will take some time to verify the information you submit, and if everything is OK you’ll be notified when the process is done.
Once that’s done, when you log in to Tenso, they will provide a Japanese address you can use on Amazon. Part of the address will including a number starting with “TS.” It is vital that you include that number in the address — it acts as the identifier for your account. If you ship without the TS number, Tenso may refuse to accept your package, or may accept it and not know that it belongs to you (I’ve had this happen, and was able to use the tracking number to identify the package, but I wouldn’t count on it).
On Amazon.co.jp, you can click on “Your Account,” and then “Manage Your Address Book,” to add your new Tenso address to Amazon. With the Tenso address, you can shop for items that can’t be shipped abroad. Just be sure to choose the Tenso address when you checkout (as an added benefit, shipping within Japan will be cheap or free through Amazon, and cheap through other sellers).
And that’s it. You can then use Amazon to buy used games, books, and other items, which you can then have shipped to Tenso. Once Tenso notifies you it has received the items, you can log into the site, enter your shipping address and your payment information, pay for the package and have it sent to you. Consolidated packages take a few days to get together, but otherwise work the same way. I usually choose the fastest EMS option, because the other options are not much cheaper.
Tenso also offers a service, Buyee, to help you purchase from Yahoo Auctions, which is Japan’s equivalent of eBay. I’ve used the service a few times, and Yahoo Auctions Japan is a treasure-trove of awesome, hard to find stuff. Explaining Buyee is beyond the scope of this article (and keep in mind buying stuff through the service is expensive!), but it’s worth checking out once you have a Tenso account.
Before concluding, there are a few miscellaneous tips you should be aware of.
Check Amazon.com and eBay. It may seem counterintuitive in an article about shopping on Amazon.co.jp, but often times, especially for older games and books, Japanese sellers will also offer them on the U.S. version of Amazon. The base price may be higher (say, $15 versus ¥300), but shipping will be relatively low (I think Amazon.com charges a low flat fee for shipping). If you’re shopping based on price, always check what your total will be on the U.S. sites before pulling the trigger on the Japanese sites, as those shipping costs add up.
Using the mobile version of Amazon.co.jp will reset your language to Japanese. Not a huge deal, especially if you read Japanese, but if you visit the mobile web version of Amazon.co.jp, the site will change itself to Japanese both on mobile and then on desktop because there’s no mobile English version the Japanese site can use, evidently. You can change it back on the desktop version of the site.
Watch out for region locks. It’s beyond this article to go into region-locking for video games, but make sure the software you buy is compatible with your consoles. For example, 3DS games you buy via Amazon.co.jp will only run on a Japanese (or hacked) 3DS. As another example, you can run Japanese Playstation 4 software on your U.S. PS4, but you’ll need a Japanese account to download DLC.
Use a currency conversion site if you need to. As noted above, Amazon will allow you to charge your card in dollars if you have a foreign credit card. However, there may be cards where this is not an option. Even with foreign cards, other sites may not offer that conversion. As a rough estimate, dropping the last two digits of Japanese price will let you know how much it is in dollars (e.g., ¥4,400 is close to $44). However, you may want to use a currency conversion site like xe.com or Google’s own currency conversions to make sure if the site only charges you in yen.
Use Amazon.com as a guide to Amazon.co.jp. The layout of both sites is very similar, so if you’re lost or need to find something (like the Help pages), you can navigate on Amazon.com, and that usually translates similarly on the English Amazon.co.jp.
Amazon.co.jp has English support. If you have questions about your order, you can utilize the chat option on Amazon’s support, and a Japanese English speaker will help you. The agent’s English may not be perfect, but it’s always been more than good enough for me when I have inquiries. If the site is set to English, when you go into support (click “Help” on the navbar, then “Need More Help” near the bottom of the page, and then “Contact Us.”). The only gotcha here is that while Japanese language support is available twenty-four hours a day, English chat support is only available during the day in Japan.
You can use tracking numbers to see where your package is. As noted above, shipments from Amazon.co.jp and (at least for me) tend to use DHL, and they will provide a tracking number, which you can check from your Amazon Orders page. For shipments from Tenso, for most shipping options they will provide a Japan Post tracking number. While the package is in Japan, you can check that number on the Japan Post web site. Once that package enters the US, the Japan Post tracking number will also work on the USPS tracking web site, which may provide more information about where your package is before it’s delivered to you. Also note that you probably won’t get a tracking number when you buy from third-parties.
Be wary of shopping on sites other than Amazon.co.jp if you can’t read Japanese. I recently bought something from the Hiroshima Carp baseball team’s web store, but had to go through a very involved registration process on the site and had to follow up with support about my order. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t read and write Japanese, so be careful about shopping on non-English sites.
Be a good citizen. I love Japan, and I’m providing my experiences to share that love. Please don’t be a jerk (by trying to trick Amazon, or third party sellers, or being bratty with support) when shopping from Japan — that will only make it harder for the rest of us to use these tools in the future.