2014 Okazu Guide to Buying Anime and Manga from Japan

January 5th, 2014

glsign-aniA number of folks are asking about buying from Japan, or buying Yuri in Japan. I’ve written about this a number of times but sites close down and stores go out of business, so I’m going to do an updated guide. This is not meant to be comprehensive – any attempt at comprehensive in a rapidly changing world is doomed to fail. ^_^

I want to clearly note that this is not a definitive Guide to Shopping for Yuri. It is a guide to shopping for Japanese items; manga, anime, etc. I want to make that clear, because there is no one-stop-you go here, all-Yuri-ever neatly arranged in English for you, place, either online or off. (Amazon has not updated their storefront ever, so even the Yuricon shop has fallen behind. I’ll put updating that on this year’s To-do List.) Shopping for Yuri is still a scavenger hunt. (This is true for any genre. There is no store in Japan that sells every BL comic, or Seinen comic ever published, either. Manga stores in Japan give store space to the new and the best sellers, just like American bookstores.)

I’ll be using Manga as the default example, so unless otherwise noted, the item in question is a book. And in Japanese. ^_^

Also, this is not a guide to buying Yuri anime or manga you can get from western companies. RightStuf, Funimation, Sentai Filmworks and Seven Seas, are all available on Amazon.com or other retail sites. I trust you to be able to look those up for yourselves, or use links provided here on Okazu. You should be able to place manga orders with your local comic book stores or chain stores, and there are any number of  respectable online websites like Anime Castle and Robert’s Anime Corner that stock all sorts of toys, anime and manga.

Before I get to the meat of this post, let me remind you of two things:

1) This is an Okazu Guide. It comes imbued with common sense and a dose of harsh reality. ^_^ Manga, Anime, Figurines and Games are Luxury Items. You do not need them. You want them. The presumption of all market forces is if you want a thing, you have to be able to afford it.

2) You can get things you want but one way or another you will pay for them. When I buy Japanese manga, one of us, the manga or I, has to travel 6500 miles to get it. Either way, it costs money. ^_^

That having been said, here we go!

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Part 0. Know What You Are Buying

Before you start shopping, I strongly recommend you learn at least a few things:

1. The actual Title of the Manga in Japanese.

It’s all well and fine to say you like “Chatting at the Amber Teahouse” but there is no manga with that name. There is only an illicit scan. No bookstore, no website can help you find that. The title of Fujieda-sensei’s manga about two women and a tea shop is 飴色紅茶館歓談. That is what you will need to have with you when you search.

2. The Author’s name in Japanese. Wikipedia, AnimeNewsNetwork and other encyclopedias are a huge help to identify this sort of thing. Put an author’s name in a search engine and you will find that Fujieda Miyabi is written 藤枝雅. For Part 2, Shopping in Japan below, you might want to print out the title, publisher and author’s names for yourself. For Part 1, Shopping Online, cut and paste will do.

3. When you plan on shopping in person, it also very much helps to know what demographic audience the book is for. This is indicated by the Publisher and Imprint. We’ll get more deeply into that in Part 2.

 

Part 1. Shopping Online

Let me state again that this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. I’m sticking with three popular sites and will leave you to investigate further on your own.

Amazon Japan is my default. I choose them because 1) their selection is very good (often better than shopping in stores in Japan); 2) I am an affiliate, so every time you buy through a Yuricon Shop or Okazu link, I get a few yen to support my own habit and;  3) It is very easy to use.

Let’s say you click through an Okazu link for Aoi Hana, Volume 8. Here’s what you see:

AJP1

 

Everything is in Japanese, except one thing. Notice the red arrow on the right? It points to a sentence that reads “Would you like to see this page in English? Click here.”  If you click the link, the page looks like this:

AJP2

Things like this book is “In Stock” and the “Add to Shopping Cart” button turn into English. The title, the author, the publishing company do not. They don’t, because the title of the book is still 「青い花」 and the author’s name is still 志村貴子.

What that English link does do is make checking out much faster. ^_^ If you’ve ever used Amazon, you probably don’t even need to bother turning the page to English, the checkout is the same, all the buttons shapes and sizes are the same. But if you want to lessen the friction, just click that English button and it’s all words you know.

Shipping: Amazon only ships by air. You can choose that you want the items grouped or separate, but no other shipping options exist. My advice is to order about 20 items at a time, grouped into one order. That brings the shipping cost-per-item down to $4, which is totally palatable. Exchange rates will make a difference too. Shipping that might cost $100 when the exchange rate is good could be a lot more when it’s poor. If you choose “group them together” and something hasn’t been released yet, sometimes Amazon JP send it separately when it gets in stock and sometimes they hold the whole order and I have not been able to figure out what the triggers are. It’s often haphazard.

There is no Yuri category on Amazon JP. Yuri books are listed under the BL category. Book>. Comic/Light Novels/BL> Comic:  本 コミック・ラノベ・BL コミック You need to know your title, or your author’s name in Japanese.

Amazon JP often will not ship figurines, but to be honest, I do better in cost these days buying figurines on Amazon.com. Last year, I would have paid $45 or so for a Saber figurine in Japan, then would have had to get it home on my own. I found the same figurine for $36 with free Prime shipping on Amazon.com.

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YesAsia is a popular choice for buying Asian goods. I have not used them in probably a decade, so I have no idea how good their service is. They do offer shipping discounts for orders over a certain amount.  If you want Japanese manga, but do not know any Japanese at all, they seem like a decent choice.

yesa

 

The site is in English, the dollar amounts are in USD and it looks like they still offer various shipping options, like standard mail and express. Their stock is not bad, you can search for authors and titles in romaji (English characters used for Japanese words, like “ameiro kouchkan kandan”).  The cost of the books is higher than on Amazon JP because YesAsia includes the cost of shipping to them in the cost of the item. Some books, especially newer books, might more expensive as a result. Thanks to Greg for the testimonial on them and  Laura for letting us know that YesAsia ships worldwide.

There is no Yuri category on YesAsia. You need to know your title and/or author’s name transliterated name in English.

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Rinkya is a buying and bidding service. They’ve been around more than a decade. I have never used them (for entirely personal reasons that are irrelevant here.) If you are bidding on an item on Yahoo JP auctions and want a buyer to bid for you, arrange the shipping and payment (since most Japanese auctions won’t ship internationally) they can do that. Sometimes they sell stock that people never claimed from their warehouse. They do offer slow boat options for shipping. Yahoo JP auctions are like the Mandarake of online shopping. People get rid of collections, old toys, rare items. It might not be cheap, but back in the day when I shopped the auctions, I got some amazing stuff.

BK1 used to be a popular book selling alternative, but they have become honto. AudioErotica has graciously jumped in to tell us that they still do ship internationally and yes, they have slower/cheaper shipping methods available.

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Part 2. Shopping in Japan

In November 2012, I wrote a guide to Shopping for Yuri in Japan. By October 2013, some of the store-specific information was already obsolete.

But this is where the info I mentioned in Part 0 really comes in handy. I have said this with every single buying guide I’ve written:

To effectively shop for manga in Japan, you need to know three things. Books are not generally shelved by genre, but by imprint. So first you need to know what age/gender demographic you’re looking at, then publisher/imprint, then author. And once you have found one publisher’s Yuri manga, don’t think you’ve found it all. The sign above might say “Yuri”, but there could be more under a different publisher’s imprint elsewhere.

Know if the book you’re looking for is for girls (少女), boys (少年),for women (女性), for men (男子) – these  are not necessarily listed as sections in the bookstore, you just need to know who the title you’re looking for is targeted to. Then look for the publisher, (Hobunsha 芳文社, Ichijinsha 一迅社, Futbasha 双葉社) then look for the imprint (YH Comics, Tsubomi Comics, Mangatime KR Comics) then look for the author. If you are new to this, and don’t read Japanese, take a printout of the cover you’re looking for. And take a look at the spine of the books you do have and memorize the characters. The publisher is listed at the bottom of the spine, the imprint along the top. Get to know your books!

The main areas of Tokyo for manga shopping are:

Akihabara for guy-focused stuff (which includes Yuri)

Ikebukuro for girl-focused stuff (which includes BL, but you can find some Yuri)

Nakano Sun Mall for older stuff, like classic Yuri.

Shibuya for another Animate and Mandarake.

Stores change their location, stock, layout and focus all the time, so check out other resources for what is open and what isn’t. Every large city in Japan has its own geeky area. Check current travel guides or looks for Animate store locations as a orienteering hint.

There are, as of October 2013 no Yuri-only stores anywhere in the world. You’re going to have to shop the old fashioned way.

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Part 3. Shopping at Conventions and Bookstores

If you live near or within travel distance of a large city, you probably have two possible old-fashioned fan choices to shop in, that you’re not using.

Anime Conventions used to be the ONLY place a fan could go to get toys, anime and manga. Because it is so much easier to shop online, a lot of fans forget that cons are still a good place to go to find stuff. But they are. ^_^ What cons aren’t any more is…rare. So the old wheeze that if you shop on Sunday as people are packing up, they’ll give you a good deal doesn’t apply much. What the dealer doesn’t sell this weekend goes with them to the next con and the next, and the next. If you have a local con and you haven’t been in a while, drop by…you never know what you’ll find. But…fashion and media still go hand in hand. If you’re looking for old school items, don’t be surprised when all the vendors are carrying the new, the hot, the hip. They want to sell stuff. Carrying that girl-type Ranma 1/2 figure around for a decade until you decide you’re ready to buy it isn’t really cost efficient, when they can sell 1500 Attack on Titan things instead. ^_^

Japanese bookstores. Kinokuniya and Sanseido are two large Japanese bookstore chains that have US locations. They will order books and magazines for you, but you still need to know the publisher and title. (Bring along a print copy of, say,  コミック百合姫、一迅社, to let them know you want Comic Yuri Hime put out by Ichijinsha.) If you’re in a location near or within travel distance of either store, it’s worth a visit, so you can see how the manga are arranged by demographic/publisher/imprint/title. (English manga is arranged alphabetically by title, and who can blame them?)

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Conclusion

Shopping for Yuri is still challenging, but do not despair! The hunt is part of the fun.  Take this opportunity to learn a bit of Japanese, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to understand more of what you’re buying, as well.  ^_^

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19 Responses

  1. Greg Carter says:

    I’ll reiterate that Wikipedia is your friend for getting the original Japanese titles and authors. That is a must-have. And, as you said. ANN is a great backup.

    Also gotta give props to yesasia.com – I got all 8 volumes of Aoi Hana from them for example, and a lot of stuff that my local Japanese book store couldn’t get. Yesasia has decent pricing, reasonable shipping, plus it’s fast and easy. I’ve only ordered books, CDs, and music-related DVDs from them, but they have a ton of anime as well. I don’t think they have a lot of translated stuff, but for original Japanese releases I’ve come to rely on them heavily.

  2. AudioErotica says:

    Erica, as far as I can tell Honto still ships internationally. I ordered from them at the end of November choosing SAL and my order arrived this week. Worth the wait for the lower shipping charge plus Honto has a points program and frequently gives out coupons.

    Here is a breakdown of the cost of the order:

    Item Subtotal: 24,393 yen (tax inc.)
    Shipping: 8,560 yen
    Coupon: -300 yen
    Point use: -2,000 points
    Billing Price: 30,653 yen (tax inc.)
    Acquisition plan points: 1,000 points

    With the yen /dollar conversion the total order was $295.19. Not bad for 26 yuri titles if you do not mind waiting 3-6 weeks for shipping.

  3. Laura Carletti says:

    Erica, YesAsia ships worldwide. I had ordered tons of things from Italy :)

  4. Grisznak says:

    Getting regular manga isn’t big deal, problems start when you want to buy doujinshi…

    • That’s a different article entirely. ^_^ For me, personally, there’s no thrill in ordering it from a service. The hunt, the shows, are everything. doujinpress.com is a service some people have used. I have not.

  5. dm00 says:

    Amazon.co.jp has recently switched to DHL, and their shipping fees are about 2/3 what they used to be (baseline seems to be about $22 instead of the $30 it used to be). I used to prefer CDJapan.co.jp (which now sells manga as well as music and DVDs) a good deal because Amazon.co.jp’s fees were too high. CDJapan will ship slow-boat, but lately Amazon.co.jp’s DHL has seemed competitive even with that.

    Doujinshi: I’ve gotten a few things from mandarake.co.jp. The internet has killed the thrill of the hunt for me.

    I’ve used Rinkya a fair amount. Their fees, if your purchase exceeds 1000 yen, are pretty high, but sometimes worth it for that rare out-of-print series. I’ve also used them to buy from the Amazon.co.jp marketplace of used materials.

  6. Jye Nicolson says:

    I’ve found amiami really good for figurines. Sorting out what you can actually buy from the pre-orders/out of stock can be annoying, but once you’ve placed your order delivery is extremely prompt, even to Australia. I haven’t compared their prices with Amazon, but they’ve been significantly cheaper than anywhere else I’ve checked (and stock more than figurines, I got an awesome Fate/Zero armour watch through them that’s nice enough to wear out).

    Shopping for manga in Japan, I’d stress that if you’re starting your collection, it’s worth going into every single manga store you come across. I built my Yuri library during a trip in May 2013, and despite buying all that I could physically carry during trips to Den Den Town and Akihabara, I still found books in Kyoto and Nagoya that I hadn’t managed to get earlier.

    On a related note, sending your manga home via EMS isn’t cheap but works very well. My books got home well before I did :) Also, clothes tend to be low density, it’s worth considering mailing your clothes home (it’s cheap) and filling your suitcase with manga for the flight back, so long as you don’t exceed your flight weight limit.

    • We tend to bring an extra bag if we’re doing heavy shopping, I get 2 free checked bags, so we’ll put socks, underwear and delicate stuff in a carry-on, and check the luggage with books, if we shop that much. We also learned that baggage overage is cheaper than shipping stuff home and it gets home when we do. ^_^ We haven’t had an overage in ages, though, and we throw old clothes out after we wear them in Japan to make room. It’s worked really well.

  7. ItAintEazy says:

    Don’t forget about ebooks. I recently registered to ebook Initiative Japan and am loving their wide selection of books and manga that comes with no exorbitant shipping rates and instant gratification (I’ve been finding manga there that’s not available for download anywhere else, legally or illegally).

  8. ItAintEazy – Is that downloadable outside Japan? I’ve tried to use a few of the ebook services, but cannot because my IP is in the US. I’d love to be able to dl e-books from Japan.

    • ItAintEazy says:

      Oh yeah, I’ve been able to register and download content from ebookjapan.jp/ebj and melonbooks.com so far without any problems. But you’re right, there might be some services that require either a Japanese IP address or a regular Japanese postal code before you can register (I just use my Tenso code for the latter.)

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