Tips for shopping for Japanese books and magazines

Since there seems to be interest in Japanese cookbook reviews, I will be posting some here periodically!

The question is, where is the best place to shop for Japanese books, magazines, DVDs and such? If you have a Japanese bookstore near you, that’s the best place. One tip for buying magazines: the most recent issue of any magazine has been airmailed to the store, so the price you’ll be charged is for the cost of the magazine plus that airmail cost. However, if there are any issues left after a month, the stores may sell them for a discount. (Kinokuniya in New York and San Francisco both do this.) Since most food magazines are not that timely, this works out well.

If you don’t have a Japanese bookstore near you, the two biggest and most user-friendly online bookstores for Japanese language material are Yes Asia and Amazon Japan. I’ve bought stuff from both, and in terms of customer service and so on both are pretty good.

If you want a mostly hassle-free experience, Yes Asia is the one for you. The site is also in English (other languages are available) which makes things a lot easier if you don’t speak Japanese. Also, in most cases they include the shipping cost in the price listed (aka “free shipping”). This works well for single items; however, they don’t do any combined/reduced shipping as far as I can see, and when compared to the barebones price of the item the shipping cost isn’t that cheap. Another minus of Yes Asia is that they do take their sweet time before actually mailing out your order, so you usually have to wait 4-6 weeks or more to actually get your stuff.

So, the online store I recommend buying Japanese language materials from is Amazon Japan. Just Hungry is an Amazon Japan affiliate, but I do use Amazon Japan for my personal shopping in any case. You can buy current magazine issues here too, which you can’t do at Yes Asia. If you live in Japan and can order more than 1500 yen worth of stuff at a time, the shipping is free. You can even order if you don’t have a credit card, since they offer payment via convenience stores too. Otherwise, they accept all the usual credit cards that Amazon.com does, with the exception of Discover I think. (is Discover useful for anything at all?)

International shipping costs can get expensive, but they are comparable to the included ‘free’ shipping prices of Yes Asia, and they do combined shipping of course. I do have an issue with the fact that they seem to have gotten rid of the seamail option - the cheapest shipping option for me is a slower version of DHL. On the plus side that means I usually get all in-stock items delivered within about a week after ordering.

The other problem with Amazon Japan is that the site is predominantly in Japanese. At least the ordering businesss parts of the site can be switched to English; this is what you should do when opening a new account there. (I think that the customer databases for all the Amazon stores used to be connected, but they don’t seem to be any longer, so you will have to establish an account on Amazon JP even if you have an account on Amazon.com or other Amazons.) The product reviews and detailed descriptions don’t get translated though, so it can be a bit of a bother to navigate around if you don’t know Japanese.

Another minus for international shoppers is that most Amazon JP Marketplace sellers don’t ship overseas. This is a real shame, considering that you often see things like old manga books listed for a yen each!

When I list/review something here I’ll be sure to include the appropriate Amazon link, so you should be able to order with confidence. Of course, that helps to generate some revenue towards the upkeep of the site too :).

As a starter, I’ve established a new Amazon JP “Instant Store”, which is the same as the Amazon.com astore with a different name. It’s listed on the store page too. So far I’ve just put in my favorite food-oriented magazines, but I’ll be adding more to it over time.

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