Saturday, June 25, 2011

Buying rare H!P goods and merchandise - a guide to online shopping part two

Last time I talked about a bunch of different websites where you can buy CDs, DVDs, and things like that. Today I'll be explaining how you can beef up your collection with tour goods like towels and member T-shirts and also how you can get your hands on rare and out-of-print items that normally would be impossible for a foreign fan to buy.

Photo courtesy of HelloStoreUSA

Let's start things off with:

HelloStoreUSA is the only official online Hello! Project store that sells goods to us foreigners. I remember a few years ago when the store was first announced, I thought there was no way they'd have half of the stuff that they currently do. T-shirts, towels, photocards, DVD Magazines, member fans - all of those things were once darn near impossible for a foreign fan to get their hands on. Now, HSU's arrival has made things so much easier.

+ Ships to almost any country in the world
+ Has almost every tour item and member goods that the wota have access to
+ Flat rate shipping (no matter how many items you buy, shipping is the same price)
+ Occasionally has amazing sales
+ Occasionally has contests
+ Has official American releases of a couple of H!P CDs
+ Prices are only slightly higher than their original price in yen
+ Excellent customer service

- Flat rate shipping (Also a con because if you want to make small orders, shipping pretty much kills it. It's even worse if you don't live in the US)
- Prices (Even though they aren't too much higher than the original Japanese prices, it's still hard to justify paying $40 for a T-shirt, $44 for a towel, $33 for a non-Bluray DVD, etc)
- Shipping time (Most items will take weeks or even months to reach you)

As you can see, the pros far outweigh the cons for HSU. They have been an absolute savior to many foreign H!P fans around the world. Buying from them also shows UFA that there is a significant foreign fan population and can definitely encourage them to bring the girls abroad for more overseas concerts. HSU is awesome and you should definitely buy from them if you get the chance.

Moving on to another American based company,

I'm sure most of you already know that eBay exists, but what you might not know is that many good bargains can be found on eBay. Simply searching "morning musume" returns almost 1500 results! There are plenty of Japanese sellers that make their home on eBay, as well as some American sellers (and sellers from other countries too, of course), meaning you can buy authentic merchandise from Japanese sellers and buy goods from your fellow countrymen all on the same website.

+ Cheap price (You can easily buy some of the older CDs for less than $5)
+ Huge variety (eBay probably has the largest amount of H!P stuff of all of the websites I've talked about so far)
+ Occasional Sales (Yes, it's possible for the seller to offer a sale on their auctions)
+ Possible free shipping (Again, it's up to the seller)

- Must deal with auctions (Most of the time, someone else wants the exact same item as you, which can lead to a bidding war)
- Dealing with an independent seller (You're not buying from a company; you're buying from a person and it's posslbe that you can get ripped off. Those nowadays that is pretty rare)
- Used items (A lot of the time, the things you buy off of eBay are used and are in varying conditions, so just be wary)
- Overseas editions (Be careful of non-Japanese versions of singles and DVDs. If you see a concert DVD for like $10, then make sure you read the fine print - it's probably a Korean version or something and it's not the official Japanese version)

Overall, eBay is like a hidden gem. You can truly find some amazing deals there whether its from an American that's giving up their fandom and selling the farm, or from a Japanese seller than wants to export idol goods to the masses. People new to eBay should read up on how to use it properly and be careful of scams and the like, but thankfully those things are becoming rarer and rarer.

Now let's move onto some Japanese websites:

There are a couple of different official Japanese H!P online stores like e-LineUP! that sells some exclusive stuff you won't find elsewhere like special editions of those solo photobook DVDs and some indies singles. Then there's places like Mall City that sells T-shirts and photocards that are rarely found elsewhere.

+ You can get stuff not available elsewhere

- Must live in Japan to order (I'll explain how foreign fans can order in a minute)
- Most items have a limited buying period (After a certain amount of time, you can't buy the items anymore)
- Websites are completely in Japanese

Even though I only listed one, that pro is reason enough to want to buy from e-LineUP!, Mall City, and stores like them. You have to get past the language barrier, but it's not impossible. The major hurdle you will face is not being able to buy the items because you aren't in Japan and don't have a Japanese credit card. There are ways around this, which I will explain at the end of this post (see "middleman services").

Those two official H!P Japanese web-stores above are useful, but sometimes you want something that's old or no longer sold there. Sometimes you want to get your hands on an amazingly rare legendary item. For that, you need Yahoo Japan Auctions.

eBay doesn't exist in Japan (anymore), so Yahoo! Japan Auctions is king. If you know how eBay works, then you already know how YJA works. It's almost the exact the same thing, just in Japanese. eBay has tons of great deals and the occasional rare item, but it's no where near as amazing as YJA.

+ Countless rare items
+ There really isn't anything H!P related that you can't find at YJA (eventually)
+ Some cheap items (old singles for 1 yen)

- Website is completely in Japanese (you'll need to make use of copy and pasting your favorite member's kanji)
- Must live in Japan to use (Again I'll talk about how to get around that next)
- Horrible exchange rate can kill most deals

It may seem crazy, but being able to use Yahoo! Japan Auctions is one of the biggest things I look forward to being able to do when I get to Japan. There are so many amazing deals that really can only be taken advantage of if you are actually in Japan. But, if there is something that you really, really want, then you can buy it through other means. Continue reading to find out how.

The final thing that I will talk about in this post is the use of middleman services. Some people call them proxy services; some call it a 3rd party. No matter what you call them, they are one of the most useful services a foreign fan has at their disposal. Just as there are many different ways to refer to them as, there are a countless number of middleman services that you can use to get what you really want. I will talk about some of my favorites - Celga, Noppin, Rinkya, CDJapan, and White Rabbit Press.

Before I start with the pros and cons, let me explain how middleman services like Celga works.

Websites like e-LineUP! and Yahoo! Japan Auctions only accept orders from people in Japan. Normally this would mean people like you and me are out of luck, but that is where middleman services comes in. For a fee, websites like Celga (they have offices in Japan) will buy the item for you and after you pay them, they will ship the item to your address anywhere in the world.

I won't do separate pros and cons for each middleman service because there are more or less the same. They all are legitimate companies so it all depends on whether you want to use professional Japanese companies like White Rabbit Press or CDJapan or companies that specialize in middleman services like Celga, Noppin (my two personal favorites), or Rinkya. They all charge different prices, so which website you use really depends on what you're buying.

+ Can get you that really rare item that is impossible to get otherwise
+ Sites like Noppin and Rinkya translate Yahoo Japan Auctions (though it's not much better than Google translate)

- Expensive, expensive, expensive (On top of the item's price, you must pay for shipping twice, a bank wire fee, and any extra fees the middleman service wants to charge. See the conclusion for more info about this)
- Can take a while to arrive at your house since it must be shipped twice

Middleman services truly are saviors to people who don't live in Japan. Any reputable one can get you anything from any Japanese online store (most of them allow you to buy things from more sites than just YJA). However, you will be paying for their service significantly. A couple of years ago when the dollar wasn't doing so poorly versus the yen, it wasn't too bad, but now it's brutal. All of the middleman services charge a bunch of fees in order to make a profit, which means you'll often be paying twice the original item price when it's all said and done.

A typical fee chart for a middleman service goes like this:

Base item price: 5000 yen (this is an example of the price of whatever rare item you're buying)
Shipping to Japan: 500 yen (this is the price of shipping from the YJA seller's house to the middleman service's warehouse in Japan)
Bank wire fee: 200 yen (if buying from YJA, this is a fee that buyers must pay)
Shipping to your house: 1500 yen (this is the shipping charge to send your package from the middleman service's warehouse in Japan to your house)
Middleman service commission: 2000 yen (this is the fee that middleman services charges for you using their service; it's how they make their money. it various a lot depending on which middleman you use and what you are buying)
9200 yen total

As you can see in the example above, that 5000 yen item's price nearly doubled once you pay for all of the fees. This is why I only do this for extremely special occasions (Captain's solo DVD) or extremely rare items (Aichan's Yume Kara Samete CD).

And there you have it. Two giant-walls-of-text posts describing what I've learned over the years trying to support my favorite idols using a ton of different websites and stores. I hope you guys found these posts useful!


  1. I love HelloStoreUSA but know one thing: be prepared to wait. In some cases orders take 6-8 weeks (not including delays) to ship. I ordered some stuff in the first week of June and they have yet to ship. I also got an e-mail yesterday that said my Maji Desu Ka Ska shirt was delayed until August.

    This is mostly for just-released items or special orders though and they always clearly note on the site if this is the case. Buy any other kind of stuff they have in stock and shipping times are just fine.

    But yes HSU is a godsend for overseas fans. :D

  2. ^ I completely forgot about that. You're right. I think they have to mail order the items from UFA just like Japanese FC members, so it always takes a while to arrive.

  3. Oi, so all in all, it's really hard to get the merchandise, huh?

    I'll stick with Hello!Store USA if I need that stuff, the rest isn't worth the risk.

  4. shopping mall japan is a good middleman service as well.

    @lacieleia: There's not really a risk if you buy from reputable sellers, no more than HSU

  5. I think that CDJapan help you to buy an item in Yahoo! auction I saw that in their website...

  6. The con was awesome. They actually had a vendor that sold J-music and goods. They had Berryz's 7th album for $18, which is about the same if you bought it from online and it had a shipping cost. There was a bunch of Hangry & Angry stuff. Plushies, t-shirts, posters, bags, a bunch! They also had this poster [ ] (a time when all the girls were at their most beautiful) signed by all the girls. Sadly there wasn't a price tag on it and I didn't have the money to haggle for it. I should have went today for the last-minute sales, I might have gotten it for a steal. A lot of vendors would rather sell something dirt cheap then to trudge it back out of state. Oh well, I'm in way too much pain from all the walking I did yesterday to worry about the woulda-coulda-shouldas.

    So yeah, conventions are another great way to buy music and goods without worrying about the shipping cost. Also, visit the vendor 10 minutes or so before the end of the convention, they might have the prices already lowered, and feel free to haggle a bit, you might be able to get that $18 CD for $7.