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3 Ways to Shop Online from Japan and Buy Japanese Gear

by , May 3, 2019

How to Buy Japanese-Only Goods

Japan has long been a top innovator in the carry world, releasing high-quality products that explore new dimensions of functionality and design. Unfortunately for consumers outside of Japan, getting your hands on Japan’s most coveted gear and clothing is often a difficult process.

Many Japanese retailers — Bape, Amazon Japan, Beams, just to name a few — don’t ship overseas and, even if they do, their process is complex, expensive, or both. And that’s assuming they even accept international credit cards and you were able to navigate a poorly translated Kanji-to-English website and find the product you want to buy.

However, there are ways to buy and ship gear overseas from Japan. In this article we’ll go over three main methods:

Then, scroll on to get a full list of recommended Japanese brands to shop from, and the best way to buy from each.

So, if you have your eye on a Japan-exclusive release of a new backpack, or a highly-technical sweatshirt by a small Tokyo-based designer, here’s how to take your gear from digital wishlist to physical mailbox.


Using a Proxy Service to Ship Items from Japan

A proxy service, which acts as a middleman between you and Japanese retailers, is the best and easiest way to buy items from Japan and ship them internationally. Part mail-forwarding service, and part marketplace, these websites will order items on your behalf, ship them to a warehouse in Japan, and then handle the process of shipping them to you — wherever you are in the world.

How it works

While there are several proxy services for ordering items from Japan, ZenMarket is one of the largest and most trusted. For this article, I tested ordering a few items from ZenMarket, which ended up being far less painful than I expected. Here’s how it worked:

Find your item

Find the item you want to purchase, either on the retailer’s site or through a larger marketplace, like Zozo or Amazon.

how-to-use-zenmarket-to-buy-japanese-gear

Add it to your cart

To do this on ZenMarket, you’ll enter the URL of the product you want to buy in the search bar, select the size and color, and hit “add to shopping cart”.

how-to-use-zenmarket-to-buy-japanese-gear---checkout page
japanese sling bag in shop window

Add funds to your account

Once you have all the items you want to purchase in your shopping cart, add funds to your account. You can do this via PayPal or with a credit card.

Purchase

After adding funds, you can finally click “purchase”. After that, you’ll see your items’ status change to “awaiting buying”. You’ll then wait about 1-2 business days for your items to be bought, then another week or so (depending on merchant) for them to arrive at ZenMarket’s warehouse.

Zenmarket buy screen

Approve shipping method

Once they have your items, you’ll then have the opportunity to select your shipping method. While there are a lot of options, EMS is the standard method and each proxy service has a full guide to help you navigate your options. They usually ship within 2 days of receiving your item.

Shipping to Australia? Watch out: you’ll be charged a 10% customs fee for any purchase under $1,000 AUD. Unfortunately, this is a fee controlled by the Australian government, and you’ll encounter it on all proxy services, not just ZenMarket.

Receive your item!

Finally, the last and most exciting step: receiving your purchase! While shipping times vary, you should receive your item within 1-2 weeks.


Benefits of using a proxy service

There are three main benefits to using a proxy service when ordering from Japan. First, these websites are in English and a lot easier to navigate than local marketplaces and retailers.

Second, these services take care of everything — placing the order with a local retailer, shipping, parcel insurance, clearing customs, and ensuring that your order ends up on your doorstep.

And finally, they’re set up to receive international payments, either directly through your credit card or via PayPal.

Downsides to using a proxy service

However, this service isn’t cheap and you’ll encounter a number of fees on top of your standard shipping costs. For example, when I went through the process of purchasing two bags from Japan and shipping to Australia, I received the following fees:

  • Shipping within Japan: 200 JPY ($1.80 USD) per item. 400 JPY ($3.60 USD) total.
  • ZenMarket fee: 300 JPY ($2.70 USD) per item. 600 JPY ($5.40 USD) total.
  • Shipping cost to Australia: 4,814 JPY ($43 USD) for the whole parcel.
  • 10% customs tax for Australia: 1,598 JPY ($14)

In addition to the cost of the bag, I ended up paying an additional 7,412 JPY or $66 USD for my order.

PRO TIP: To cut down on your overall cost per item, wait until you have a couple of items in your cart before shipping them to yourself, since shipping costs are calculated per package, not per item.


Best proxy services to use

There are a number of proxy services out there. While we went with ZenMarket (which supposedly has the fastest shipping) for this article, DEJAPAN is good if you don’t want to deposit funds in advance. Depending on what you’re ordering, DEJAPAN and From Japan might also end up being more affordable in the end — especially if you’re only ordering from one seller or brand.

  • ZenMarket was launched in 2014 and has quickly become the best and most versatile proxy service for shipping items from Japan. Through it, you can order from just about any Japanese store or marketplace.

  • From Japan, like ZenMarket, is versatile and allows you to purchase items from just about any website. They charge fees per seller/store, not per item, but charge an additional fee for consolidating items across multiple sellers. They’re best if you’re ordering multiple items from a single store/seller.

  • Buyee is Zozo’s dedicated proxy service but it limits you to the products available on their international website — which doesn’t include everything in their Japan catalogue.

  • Buy Smart Japan partners with Tokyu Hands, one of Japan’s largest retailers, to help international customers order and ship items from this marketplace.

  • DEJAPAN, like ZenMarket and From Japan, allows you to purchase and ship items across a number of different retailers. They have a better search functionality on their platform, and are said to be one of the most affordable and responsive proxy services out there. Also this is a service approved by Beams Japan (one of our favorite retailers!).

  • Parcl is not technically a proxy service but a mail-forwarding service. With Parcl, you’re responsible for ordering the product via the store’s website, then shipping to a warehouse address provided by Parcl. Then, they’ll forward the package internationally. They ship to and from 80+ countries.

For a more detailed comparison, I’d recommend looking at this breakdown written by DEJAPAN.


Shipping Directly Through Online Marketplaces

While you’ll most likely end up using a proxy service to purchase goods from Japan, there are a few brands you can purchase from directly via their website. There are also several online marketplaces, or websites that facilitate shopping from many different sources (sort of like how REI is a marketplace for multiple different outdoor brands), that support international customers.

In these cases, you’ll be able to add a product to your shopping cart, hit “buy”, and select a shipping method — aaaalmost just like you would if you were shopping on a website in your home country.

rakutan product page

Benefits to shipping directly through online marketplaces and brand websites

The biggest pro of this method is its simplicity and, if you’re only buying one or two items, it can seriously cut the cost of using a proxy service — especially since you won’t encounter any additional service, packaging, or consolidation fees. On large marketplaces, like Rakuten, at least, it’s also a pretty straightforward process, easy enough to navigate in mixed Kanji/English via Google Translate, and you can pay via PayPal.

Just note that the shipping cost won’t be calculated until after Rakuten has received confirmation from the seller you’re buying from, in a follow-up email. You then have the opportunity to accept the cost or cancel the order. For example, for a small Mystery Ranch bag, I was faced with the following cost:

  • Bag: 1,836 JPY ($16.40 USD)
  • Shipping: 1,864 JPY ($16.60 USD)
  • Total: 3,700 JPY ($33 USD)

Rakuten

The shipping cost, which was roughly $17 USD, ended up being about half of what I would have paid on a proxy service.

Rakuten

Disadvantages to direct shipping through marketplaces

Of course, there are a few downsides to this method. First, not all products listed on these marketplaces are available to international customers and, even if it seems possible, the shop may deny your request to ship internationally.

Second, these websites don’t have native English versions, so you’ll need to rely on Google Translate to navigate them.

Finally, while it’s often cheaper than a proxy service, it’s still not cheap — though, I guess what can you expect from buying items from abroad?

Also, pay attention to what international shipping means with each of these marketplaces. Some of them don’t technically offer international shipping, but have partnered with a proxy service to provide this for you.


Best Japanese marketplaces to use:

First, there are a couple of marketplaces that support international purchases, like:

  • Rakuten is Japan’s eBay and, like eBay, has items for sale either through auction or direct buy. Although not guaranteed, many sellers will ship direct to international addresses.

  • Yahoo!Auctions is another large auction retailer in Japan. Like Rakuten, it’s up to the seller as to whether or not they want to ship internationally. But it’s worth checking if the item you’re searching for isn’t available on Rakuten.

  • Zozo.jp is Japan’s largest Japanese retailer. They don’t directly ship internationally, but they have their own dedicated proxy service, Buyee. Just note that not every product available on Zozo.jp is available for purchase on Buyee.

  • Tokyu Hands, like Zozo, don’t technically ship internationally but partner with Buy Smart Japan as their preferred proxy service.

There are also some individual shops/sellers of brands we like who will ship to international customers:

  • Blue Lug, which sells bike bags and gear, ships internationally, accepts international credit cards and PayPal payments, and processes all orders in USD.

  • Resistant, a bike-centric carry brand, now ships directly to overseas customers.

  • Unby, while I was unable to find any specific documentation around international shipping on Unby, they do have an “outside Japan” option on their checkout page and support international payments. Also worth noting this is a kind of hybrid marketplace/brand website, as AS2OV owns this website and sells both their and other brands on Unby.

Hire a Traveler

The third and final way to receive items from Japan is to use a person-to-person delivery app that connects shoppers with travelers going between the country you’d like to order a product from and the country/city you live in.

Grabr

How it works

These apps connect you with travelers who are going between the country you want to buy something from (i.e. Japan) and your home country (i.e. Canada). You then pay them a small fee (around $20, depending on the item’s size and cost) plus the cost of the item you want to purchase, and the traveler will deliver the item for you.

Grabr
Grabr

Benefits to person-to-person delivery

This method only makes sense if you’re looking at exorbitant shipping costs or, for whatever reason, aren’t able to buy the item you wanted through the previous two methods.

For example, when I attempted to purchase a B Jirushi Yoshida from Japanese retailer BEAMS through ZenMarket, I was hit with an error message saying “this item is blocked by our system because we had a negative experience with this seller.” However, I was able to request the item through the person-to-person delivery app Grabr, and easily paid with my American bank account.

ZenMarket

Disadvantages to person-to-person delivery

Of course, there are some obvious cons to this method. For one, you won’t be able to return or exchange the item you received. Second, you do have to meet the traveler in person or pick the item up from a public location — which really limits this option just to people living in larger metropolitan areas, and is less convenient than door-to-door shipping. And finally, you’re not guaranteed to match with a traveler in a timely manner — or at all.

Best apps to use

Grabr is really the only platform that fosters person-to-person deliveries. It’s easy to use, get set up, and request items. The one thing I don’t like about it, though, is that you need to link up a bank account — not a debit/credit card or PayPal, which makes me concerned about privacy and security.


Best Japanese Brands for High-Quality Carry

Now that you know how to navigate Japan’s online shopping process as an international customer, what are you going to buy? To start, here are a few of our favorite Japanese brandslarge and small — at Carryology:

1. The North Face Purple Label

How to buy: Through a proxy service.

Like many major brands, The North Face’s product line in Japan, Purple Label, is different than what you’d find at home. Led by Japanese designer Eiichiro Homma, The North Face Purple Label blends urban street style with outdoor, technical fabrics to create a compelling line of clothes and bags.

2. PORTER by Yoshida & Co.

How to buy: Through a proxy service.

PORTER, the 57-year-old child brand of parent company Yoshida & Co., is well known in Japan and internationally for its meticulous craftsmanship and thoughtful designs. Look to them for carry across a number of different categories — from business to travel and everyday carry.

3. BEAMS

How to buy: Through a proxy service (ZenMarket doesn’t support BEAMS).

BEAMS is a prominent Japanese department store and fashion label, with a wide range of clothing, carry, and even furniture and homegoods. While most of their products are created under their own labels, they also have some extensive collaborations with brands like Arc’teryx, Manhattan Portage, Mission Workshop and Yoshida & Co. (B JIRUSHI YOSHIDA).

4. master-piece

How to buy: Through a proxy service.

master-piece’s bags blend functional design and high-quality craftsmanship with a unique, fashionable aesthetic. As the Carryology team said in our roundup of favorite Japanese brands, master-piece “places high value on superior craftsmanship, creating each of their bags by hand in their BASE OSAKA workshop and taking great pride in showcasing the skills of Japanese artisans to the world.” They’re worth the effort to get your hands on one.

5. Resistant

How to buy: Directly through their website.

Born in the back of a bike shop in the early ‘00s to solve for Japan’s lack of messenger bags, Resistant has now grown into a full-fledged brand creating all-weather gear you can rely on. From backpacks and messenger bags to belts and, yes, even a coffee koozie for your bike, Resistant’s line of bike-centric gear is worth a look. Bonus points: they ship direct to overseas customers.

6. Blue Lug

How to buy: Directly through their website.

A bicycle shop with experience in the bike carry world, Blue Lug carries a great range of totes, backpacks, pouches, and bike bags made from quality, water-resistant materials. You can also purchase a variety of other brands, such as bike bags from Fairweather via Blue Lug.

7. HERZ

How to buy: Through a proxy service.

Rather than Gore-Tex and outdoor-ready designs, HERZ focuses on beautiful, handcrafted leather bags and accessories; a more chic kind of carry. Both long-lasting and designed with a meticulous attention to detail, HERZ’s timeless bags and accessories are a wonderful example of quality, Japanese leatherwork.

8. Postalco

How to buy: Through a proxy service.

From totes to backpacks and wallets to pouches, Tokyo-based brand Postalco brings its minimalist designs to life through traditional Japanese craft skills. Using unique materials such as textured leathers and Farmer’s Felt (a durable paper material), their bags and accessories may look simple, but they’re far from ordinary.

9. FREDRIK PACKERS

How to buy: On the global version of their website.

Specializing in everyday carry, FREDRIK PACKERS creates versatile gear designed to take you from business meetings to relaxing afternoons in the park. Their line of handcrafted, nylon messenger bags, backpacks, hip bags, and accessories have an urban aesthetic with a nod to retro outdoor gear. They also have a kids’ line, for little carriers.

10. and wander

How to buy: Directly through their website. They accept international payments via Square. They do not ship to Hong Kong.

and wander’s designs sit between EDC and outdoor-ready. With a wide range of clothes, shoes, and carry made to resist the outdoors, yet give its users a street-ready look, and wander’s product line is an excellent blend of modern, minimalist style and technical features.

11. Briefing

How to buy: They recommend using the proxy service Tenso, but you can use others as well.

Specializing in both carry and wear, Briefing creates classic styles with a modern twist. Although crafted with tough, durable, and lightweight “military-grade” quality in mind, they don’t necessarily retain a military aesthetic (though a number of bags come in camo). Instead, they make use of fabric and design technology developed by militaries to produce classic EDC, travel, and golf bags and clothing.

12. Rofmia

How to buy: Through a proxy service.

Rofmia, a small, lesser-known fashion brand is worth checking out for quality Japanese carry. In addition to their fine leather jackets and bags, they’ve also released the minimalist, understated Shift series of bags made from Dyneema Composite fabrics.

13. Beruf

How to buy: Use a proxy service to buy Beruf items via 1197store.

Tokyo-based bike carry brand Beruf makes sleek, urban-ready bags for any environment. From messenger bags you can toss over your shoulder on a bike ride, to backpacks ready to take you from commute to travel, Beruf’s slick selection of adaptable, weatherproof EDC stands out for both their simple look and functional design.


Japanify Your Carry

While buying Japan-exclusive goods takes a few more steps than your average online shopping experience, it’s not impossible. By using a proxy server, specific marketplaces, or even a person-to-person delivery app, you’ll be able to buy and ship any of the Japan-only carry you’ve been daydreaming of.



For this article, we purchased the following:

Porter Silent Waist Bag

Descente Waist Bag

Mystery Ranch Hip Monkey 2

And psst, we’ll be giving these away in the coming weeks. So keep an eye or subscribe to our newsletter to be notified.

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