Buying toys from Japan, when I'm in the US (California)?
June 9, 2016 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I collect toy robots including vinyl toys. How do I shop and buy from Japan when I don't speak Japanese and don't have an address there?

Most of my purchases have been at Comic-Con's, toy shops (San Diego, L.A., Seattle), eBay (with sellers in Japan, China, Italy), and via Amazon. And always in English. As I have increased collecting, I have come across things on .jp sites and don't see ways to buy if I'm not in Japan. This toy: Cosmic Cat Lobo vs. Great Negora by a designer called P.P.PUDDING ends up leading me to a blog post in Japanese. NOTE: At 14,040 Yen it's above my budget (I keep all purchases under US$100), but looking at these sites, I see many cool toys that are newer and not much in the way of mechanisms to purchase. When I peruse stateside vinyl toy collectible sites, I do sometimes see items I saw on Japanese sites but they're often sold-out.

How do folks collect things from Japan to the US without being in Japan or speaking the language?
posted by artlung to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Toy Tokyo might be a good resource.
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hobby Link Japan is a good place.
Also, there are various buying services, such as White Rabbit Express.
posted by wintersweet at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't bought anything from them in years, but back when I actively collected anime and J-punk related stuff in the '00s, J-List was a pretty good resource. IIRC, they also had toys and other collectables. I won't link directly to them since I'm at work (a certain percentage of the stuff they sell is of an "adult" nature) but the linked Wikipedia page should point you in the right direction.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:22 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "White Rabbit Express" seems quite promising! I added a blog post in Japanese with the price and it autogenerated a "quote" that could be followed up on. I kind of wish I was certain I wanted to go higher in price to try it out. Next toy I see with a Yen price that converts a bit lower I'll be trying them out.

Toy Tokyo looks good too. I'll look at J-List when *I'm* at home too. :-)
posted by artlung at 11:50 AM on June 9, 2016

If you're ever in NYC, Toy Tokyo have a shop here.
posted by griphus at 12:08 PM on June 9, 2016

Seconding Hobby Link Japan. I've been a customer for years and years.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:12 PM on June 9, 2016

P.S. HLJ is having a big sale right now.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:19 PM on June 9, 2016

The most popular website for Japanese figures and toys among the collectors I know seems to be amiami. For secondhand toys you can try Mandarake (hint: if you know the Japanese name of the toy you want it's better to search using those terms, since their English translations aren't the best).

As for proxy services that can forward things to you when the original seller won't ship outside of Japan, I've used Big in Japan before and like them a lot.
posted by Dante Riordan at 12:36 PM on June 9, 2016

If you are interested in going with a proxy service I can personally recommend Kairai
posted by Julnyes at 1:10 PM on June 9, 2016

I can vouch for White Rabbit Express. My younger brother had a fascination with those Japanese 'make your own candy' kits one year, and I was able to pick up some really weird ones for him for Christmas.

Thanks to this, I can sadly say that I've never had Takoyaki, unless you count the gummy candy version...
posted by destructive cactus at 2:52 PM on June 9, 2016

I don't know about toys specifically, but a lot of fountain pen people use J-Subculture to buy japanese-only fountain pens, inks, etc... they have a huge selection of stuff, including a toys category...
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:33 PM on June 9, 2016

Amazon Japan's web site has an English translation you can turn on. (Look for a globe icon near the top of the page.) They'll ship to the United States.

Another good choice is CDJapan. Likewise; you can view the web site in English and they'll ship to the US.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:50 PM on June 9, 2016

Lots of vinyl toy producers are small companies that release toys in limited amounts, often only through events like Wonder Festival (the one in Tokyo, not the one in Kentucky). This means that if you're not there in person, or don't have someone there to purchase one for you, it can be extremely hard to get your hands on them. For toys like this, HLJ, amiami, CDJapan, etc, are pretty much worthless because those sites only sell toys released through wide distribution.

There are a lot of services (typically run by foreigners in Tokyo or Osaka) who specialize in getting their hands on limited edition toys/mail aways/convention exclusives. I can't personally recommend any, but poke around on toy forums or Facebook groups for recommendations.

Because of the limited nature of a lot of these cool toys, your best bet is often going to be the second hand market. The easiest way is probably trying to find it through Mandarake (mentioned above), but for rarer items you'll want to check them regularly because they have a lot of stores and stock turns over regularly.

The other option is Yahoo Auctions, which is the dominant auction site in Japan. It's decidedly unfriendly for those who aren't living in Japan, but it's going to be your best bet for finding rare, old, or out of print items. Keep in mind that searching will require using Japanese, so put together a list of keywords you're interested in (memail if you want some help with that).

Buying from Yahoo Auctions overseas will require the use of a middleman service to bid on your behalf and reship items to you. There's a ton of companies doing that these days, but the best is Goody Japan. Their site isn't as slick as others, but from my experience they're the best for a couple of reasons: 1) they respond to emails quickly and they're super helpful and 2) all of their fees are in yen. Most middleman services will charge you fees in USD to help protect against exchange rate fluctuations, so using Goody Japan saves you money as long as the yen remains weak. I've ordered a lot through them and I'm a big fan.

Note that ordering from Yahoo Auctions gets pretty expensive (consider you're paying the auction price + bank transfer fee [YA still predominantly uses bank transfers for payment] + domestic shipping + middleman fee + shipping to you in the U.S.), but often it's still cheaper or just the only option for rare stuff. What's great is that middleman services like Goody will ALSO order stuff for you from smaller Japanese retailers that otherwise wouldn't ship overseas, so for new, limited availability stuff they're really useful. Send them a list of links and see what they say.

Hope this helps.
posted by yellowlightman at 12:16 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can vouch for HLJ, Mandarake (which has LOTS of vintage stuff and resin garage kits) and White Rabbit too. Another shopping service that's been around forever is Noppin (formerly Crescent Shop), and Rakuten has Tenso as an associated shipping service. Hobby Search is another toys store.
posted by sukeban at 4:44 AM on June 10, 2016

When I'm browsing Japanese-language web sites selling things, and see a Japanese-language description of something, I copy-and-paste it into Google Translate. The translation is far from perfect but it's usually good enough to figure out what's going on.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:39 AM on June 10, 2016

« Older Going to Cuba. Help me avoid landing in a jail...   |   Chinese Please Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.