There are a lot of small products that are made in Japan, particularly for hobbyists, that are hard to find outside that country. Assuming you’ve already check the usual U.S. dealers, the easiest way to find them is to look on Ebay or Amazon. But, if you’re lucky enough to find what you’re looking for, chances are good that the seller has hiked the price up, knowing that you probably don’t know any other way to get it. But, you may have alternatives.
English Language Support
If you’re looking to buy something from Japan and are lucky enough, you may find a dealer that has a website available in English that also ships internationally. One such dealer that I’ve bought from on many occasions is Zootoyz. I can recommend this company wholeheartedly for those looking for Woody Joe kits, Tamiya plastic kits, and the small variety of other things sold on their site. The site isn’t perfect, but the service is excellent. If you have a hard time using the site or finding an item, just use the contact button on their site to ask about it.
You might also find what you’re looking for through Hobbylink Japan. Their website is more sophisticated, but they mostly deal only with plastic kits and accessories. If you’re a wooden ship modeler, what you’ll mostly find there seems to be out-of-stock Woody Joe kits that list as taking 4-6 weeks to ship. Their prices are slightly discounted, but you’ll find that Zootoyz offers slightly discounted prices too. Those discounts don’t show up until you add the item to your cart.
Beyond these kinds of shops, buying from Japan can be difficult. Many sites are in Japanese only, and searching for a product usually requires you to be able to type in Japanese, or at least to find text that you can cut and then paste into your search window to find what you’re looking for. Bing and Google translators can be very helpful, but they don’t work with secured sites like Amazon Japan. With a little bit of knowledge and familiarity with Amazon.com, you might be able to get by as I have.
Even though you can’t open secure web pages using Bing and Google translators, you can still copy and paste text into them to figure out what the text is that you’re seeing. Using this method, I was able to set up an Amazon-Japan account, enter my payment information and place the order. However, the sellers I purchased from wouldn’t ship internationally.
Many Japanese sellers do not provide international shipping. The easiest way around this is to know someone in Japan that would be willing to do you a favor. If so, you might be able to impose on them to forward the shipment to you. If you deal with an online seller that does ship internationally and you are a good enough customer, they might be willing to forward something for you. But, if you’re not in a position to ask anyone to help you out, there are still alternatives.
I recently signed up with a company called Tenso.com. This is one of many shipping agents that provide you with a Japanese address that you can have your orders shipped to. There is no cost to join, and they will ship anywhere in the world for a small processing fee that depends on the weight of the shipment. For a 1kg package (2.2lbs), that’s 600¥ or about $5.
If you want to save a little money, they will also hold your shipment for up to 30 days and combine your items into a single package for you. This way, those who have a hankering for Japanese products and don’t want to pay the premium often charged by importers or Ebay and Amazon sellers can order easily.
I haven’t tried out the service yet, but I have signed up and expect I will try it soon. Ω