Once upon a time, the only way for overseas fans to buy idol music and merch directly from Japan was via CD Japan, Tokyo Otaku Mode or by using a byzantine network of auctions, buying services and proxy shippers. It was neither simple nor cheap.
Those days have largely passed. Now, major online Japanese retailers like Amazon.jp and HMV & Books not only accept foreign payments and offer overseas shipping, they even have English-language versions of their sites available to browse. If you can’t find who or what you’re looking for at one of the major retail sites, the vendor options for underground and independent artists without distribution deals have also greatly increased.
Spending all of your money on Idol merch has never been easier!! Try looking in the following places:
BASE is an e-commerce platform based in Japan that many independent and underground idol units have adopted for their online stores. Stores on BASE have the option of accepting foreign payment methods such as PayPal and offering overseas shipping. For those stores that don’t have these functionalities enabled, you may still need to use a proxy service.
Many groups use BASE including:
IDOL UNDERWORLD is an English-language site offering goods and CDs from a large number of underground idols.
Chaotic Harmony Imports & Events
Chaotic Harmony maintain a web store of Idol and Visual Kei goods and often sponsor special opportunities to purchase autographed merch and cheki.
Before there was BASE, there was Bandcamp, and some artists still opt to use this platform to reach their Western audience.
If you encounter a site that requires a Japanese address, doesn’t take foreign payment methods or doesn’t offer overseas shipping, you will need to use a proxy to purchase and ship the desired goods. There are essentially two types of proxy services:
Proxy Address and Shipping Services
For sites that don’t do international shipping, a proxy like Tenso will provide you with a Japanese shipping address. The proxy will then receive the goods for you in Japan and re-ship them to you overseas. You end up paying for shipping twice, but for some items, it’s worth the price.
Having an address in Japan has some additional benefits. It will allow you to make donations on a site like Campfire, enter concert ticket lotteries or participate in other activities that require a domestic, Japanese address.
Proxy Buying Services
Proxy buyers take things one step further and both purchase AND ship items to you. They are especially useful for auctions, and there are proxies that specialize in concert tickets as well. Some of the more popular service providers are:
Remambo lets you set customs invoice charges (and may slip sweets into your package). This can be very useful if you live in a country with picky customs requirements. FromJapan will similarly let you set the invoice charges but will only let you reduce them by 30%. However they do offer free consolidation of packages and fee free ordering from Amazon and Rakuten. They also give 5% off all Rakuten orders from Wednesday to Friday (Japanese time).
Here’s step by step guide on how-to use a proxy buyer from Kerrie:
FromJapan is the primary service I use for ordering items from Japan. There’s two ways you can use this:
- To buy second-hand merchandise and take part in auctions
- A regular ol’ shopping service
FromJapan has a nifty little search bar so you don’t have to go browsing site-to-site for what you want. Just like eBay, you type in a keyword (and select a category if you want to narrow it down) and FromJapan will generate links to items related to your search from a variety of sites, including Yahoo! Auctions, Rakuten, Amazon and more. Simply click on whatever catches your eye, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can read more information and the option to buy or bid on the item. Handy if you are looking for something that’s not being sold on an idol’s official website!
From there, you can either use FromJapan to buy directly, or to bid on an auction. You have to provide a deposit in order to bid on auctions, but that method is fairly straightforward; you add enough money to your account to cover the price of the bid or sale. You can then use this deposit to buy whatever you want. Sort of like adding money to your Paypal balance.
The other option is as a regular shopping service. Say you want an item and you know exactly what site to get it from…
NOW WATCH IN WONDER AS I BUY MYSELF A NEW SHIRT
Because of course I’m gonna buy that SiS t-shirt. Do you know how long I was in mourning when they were brutally murdered by management? Since I’m buying it, I thought I might as well show you so that you have a better idea of what to do.
Okay, so if you already know where to buy your items from, just go on the webpage with the item you want…
(btw, if your Japanese is a bit rusty, I recommend Rikaikun for Chrome, it gives you helpful little translations if there’s a term on the site you don’t understand)
Copy the URL and paste it into FromJapan’s search bar, then click the search button.
You’ll then get an order form where you can add more details about your order. Copy-paste the name of the item you want, and if needed, put the size/style/etc. you want in the comment box. They prefer the orders to be in Japanese, but don’t worry if you don’t understand it.
There, they will take you to a page where you can upload images of your item. This is optional, but it helps to give the service a better idea of the product you want (and for you to know what you’re getting if you bought lots of stuff in one go and now have a queue of items waiting to be ordered).
Usually, FromJapan automatically picks up the images from the website for you to upload right away, but in this case it only brought up the logo for the SiS movie and not the shirt itself, so I’m going to pick the manual upload option, save the image of the t-shirt from the website and upload that from my computer.
Click add to cart, and then all you need to do is wait until FromJapan emails you (or you can log in and check) with their payment request. This usually takes between a couple of hours to a day or two, depending on how busy they are at the time.
Now you’ve got the request for the first payment, click on that, confirm everything looks good and then proceed to checkout, where like most online stores, you’ll be given options of payment (and sometimes options regarding the domestic shipping, aka from the seller to FJ’s warehouse). Choose whichever you prefer and complete your order.
Congratulations, you’ve just ordered and paid for some shiny new idol merchandise!
Then, you’ll have to wait a little longer for them to order and receive the item to their warehouse. Once that’s sorted and ready to send to you, they’ll contact you requesting you provide shipping instructions. Go ahead and fill in your address, and what kind of packaging you’d like your item to be in.
Here’s one I made earlier (and by that I mean as of writing my t-shirt hasn’t arrived at FromJapan HQ yet, however I did win an auction on some CDs last week that just showed up):
Then pick which shipping option you’d like. This is mainly for packaging purposes, so you’ll be asked again once you have to pay the second charge.
Wait just a little bit longer and you’ll be requested for your charge 2 payment, which will cover shipping and handling. Luckily, all of the shipping options will show the price tag, and some will also show the estimated delivery time, so if you want to choose the cheapest or the fastest delivery, you’ll have a bit more of an idea of what option to choose than when you were first asked about shipping.
Choose how you want your item to be shipped, pay the shipping fees, and you’re done! Depending on what shipping option you chose, you’ll have your idol merchandise delivered very soon!
So I hope this helps you, and if you have options of ordering idol merchandise from Japan that I didn’t cover in this article, please mention it in the comments, because the more options us foreign fans have, the better. Have fun guys!