Buying from Japan

Preface
This guide is written from the perspective of someone living in the United States. While the buying experience is generally the same regardless of where you live, there may be differences when it comes to shipping. More on this in the shipping section. Much of what I write here can be applied to buying from Japan in general, but music is the focus.

Disclaimer
I am mostly writing based on my personal experiences, with some thought to feedback I’ve seen from others. I am not affiliated in any way with any person or business that I mention and I have little if any reason to be biased towards or against any service. Just keep in mind that YMMV.

Please make sure you carefully read the terms of use/service for any site/service before you use it. I do not take responsibility for any incorrect or outdated information or any issues that may arise when using any of the services mentioned.

Last updated: November 29th, 2022. Minor updates. Changes to proxy services able to adjust customs values. Obviously, shipping is disrupted to Russia, Ukraine, and some other European countries. EMS also has delays in general, varying by destination. Japan Post price hikes effective June 1st (2022). https://www.post.japanpost.jp/notification/pressrelease/2022/00_honsha/0118_01_02.pdf.


Table of contents

  1. Buying physical goods
    1.1 Overview of the doujin scene and events
    1.2 Sites for new goods
    1.3 Sites for used goods
    1.4 Registration and alerts
  2. Buying digital goods
    2.1 Sites for digital goods
  3. Shipping
    3.1 Shipping services
  4. Forwarding and proxy/shopping services
    4.1 Forwarding services
    4.2 Proxy/shopping services
  5. Payment
  6. How I shop
  7. Things to keep in mind

Buying physical goods

Overview of the doujin music scene and events
First, let me give a brief explanation of doujin music and the scene. 同人 is doujin and 音楽 (ongaku) means music–you might want to remember these. Doujin means self-published. While similar in some ways, it is not the same concept as “indie” which you might be familiar with. Essentially, the definition of doujin creations has two parts. First, spirit. The artist(s) should consider the work as such. Second is methods of distribution. Doujin works must be primarily sold at doujin events or at specialized stores that handle doujin goods. Some of the key factors that differentiate doujin works from indie or commercial works are: the degree of self-expression or reflection of the creator’s “taste,” the importance of interaction between artists and listeners, and the “hobby” aspect.

For the most part, doujin works are created based on the ideas and preferences of a single person or small group of like-minded individuals. Following mainstream trends is unimportant. The goal is to express yourself and interact with people, whether to celebrate similar tastes or to explore different ones. Personally, this is the main factor that makes doujin music so great. Artists are free from any and all constraints. There’s no producer oversight and consequently no external influence towards formulaic or otherwise boring music. They don’t have to make radio-friendly, marketable music for the masses. They can just make what they want to make.

Doujin events facilitate the exchange of works, ideas, and communication, not just the buying and selling of goods. This is why physical media such as CDs or download cards remain the primary form of distribution in the digital age. CDs don’t just store music; they are also a means of forming interpersonal relationships.

In general, the environment is one in which profitability is not a consideration. The vast majority of circles lose money. Of course, sales are desirable to some extent. Artists want people to listen to their works and hope to recoup some of their costs. Any revenue or profit generally goes towards costs and maintaining or improving the quality of future works, though. Granted, certain circles push sales in other avenues such as merch or live tickets, or even act like commercial labels in the sense that they publish a large number of works. The key is that profit itself is generally not a motivation. Creating doujin works is largely a hobby; it is rarely a sustainable occupation on its own. Further reading (Japanese): https://musicologyosaka.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/the-role-of-cds-in-dojin-music-e28094-music-as-an-interpersonally-mediated-luxury-product.pdf

Given these facts, the vast majority of doujin music is released at events. Even digital sales usually coincide with events, whether regular or online-only events. Events are tax-free (regular sales tax in Japan is 10%) and circles often sell event-exclusive content. The majority of works are released at the largest few events which are usually held annually or bi-annually. An increasing number of works (though still far from all) are made available via mail order or consignment shops, either concurrently with events or after the fact. Since many releases are event-only, event prices are cheaper, and there may be venue or time-limited releases/bonuses/merch, you really want to keep up with events if you like any active circles. The best way to do this is to follow your favorite artists/circles on Twitter. They generally announce plans regarding participation in events and upcoming works in advance, although details are sometimes left to the last minute…
List of major events (You may want to create an account and change the time zone setting to JST or the dates will be off.)
How to buy? See Proxy/shopping services.

Web/”Air”/Online events
For the most part, these terms just mean mail order/consignment sales (and Twitter hashtags, promotional campaigns, etc.). Either concurrently or in place of in-person attendance. Information regarding specific shops is detailed below.

Now that it has been established with some regularity, the online side of M3 merits special attention as it is somewhat unique. Details are under the Melonbooks section below.


Sites for new goods

Domestic shipping is generally under 1,000 yen. It can be as low as 150 yen for a single CD sent as regular mail, but methods and prices vary. Sometimes free over a certain total. Unless otherwise stated, you should use the main/Japanese version of every site. Note: links may be NSFW/18+.
Note that pre-orders generally ship slightly early, so that they arrive by the release date. This is not guaranteed, though. Items can arrive late, retailers can be slow, and delivery companies can have delays.

BOOTH/BOOTH.pm
BOOTH doesn’t have the largest selection. What it does have, though, is individual storefronts managed by the circles themselves. This means that purchases often come with bonuses, such as signed cards. There is also a BOOST feature which allows you to give extra money to the circle when buying something. Sometimes there will be specific BOOST amounts and bonus items stated in the description. Generally, you can hope for some sort of bonus such as small merch items or a signature if your BOOST amount is at least 1-2 times the item price. Obviously, there are no guarantees and everything is up to the artist.
You will need a forwarder or proxy.

Note that items are often (but not always) shipped by the sellers themselves, rather than from a warehouse. The description of the shipping situation will say “Physical (direct)” if shipped from the seller’s home, or “Physical (via warehouse)” if handled by a BOOTH warehouse. The bit regarding “Ships by Anshin-BOOTH-Pack” just refers to the anonymous (anshin meaning safe) nature of the process. Personal information is not revealed to or from the buyer or seller.

Some items are pre-orders. Assume that this is the case if you see (pixivFACTORY), or even more obviously, a distant estimated shipping date in the item description.
Domestic shipping usually starts at 370 yen via Kuroneko Yamato/CAT POS (1-2 day delivery). Orders can be processed and shipped during weekends.

Accepts cards and PayPal. It has been known to struggle or fail to process cards recently. You can try again, remove and re-add your card, or just pay via PayPal. They bill you in yen, so it makes no difference in the end (if you read my notes on PayPal).

Melonbooks/メロンブックス
The largest doujin goods store (chain). Sometimes has exclusive works: namely, their compilation CDs, but also works from certain circles or particular works. Likely to have the largest selection of recent works, but also the most likely to be sold out of popular ones. You will need a forwarder or proxy.

Has fairly frequent sales and events. The sales feature significant price reductions, but apply to a limited number of items. Works released under Melonbooks Records are often included. The sales events aren’t focused on doujin music, especially new or upcoming releases. It may be worth waiting for sales and/or coupons if you plan to order a large number of older works.

There is a rewards points system. The rate varies–around 3% for CDs, which can add up if you order a lot. Obviously, you need to create an account and order directly to get points. Accepts foreign credit cards.
Processing time: 1-2 days, although there may be delays around major events.
Domestic shipping starts at 363/418 yen for mail service (limited availability) and 600/703 yen for courier (tax included). Both prices may vary slightly depending on mail service capacity or order total, respectively. Free shipping thresholds vary based on what type of items you order. After 10,000 yen for doujin CDs. [New policy as of 2022/04/01] 
Packing style is the same as Suruga-ya (described below): cardboard base and shrink-wrap, but with more standard box sizes.

Pre-order items ship separately from in-stock items, even if ordered at the same time. This should be reflected in the cart if applicable. Pre-order items in the same reservation group (予約グループ) ship together, even if ordered separately (if you opt to combine them). If you opt for ‘Bulk Shipping Reservation,’ a courier service must be used for shipping. Note that you cannot modify or cancel orders once they are confirmed. You can split or combine items of the same type (in-stock/pre-order) into or from different orders to a limited extent. Refer to their FAQ for more info.

M3オンライン (Online)
Melonbooks provides the purchasing system and logistics for the online side of this event. I recommend ordering directly to a forwarding service’s address due to the timing and short window to place orders. You can try, but a proxy service will probably not process orders in time. You should at least register and fill in your delivery information (forwarding address) prior to the event, to avoid any last-minute questions or issues.

Expect prices to be anywhere from the physical event price to the consignment price (50% higher). Most circles that attend the venue also “participate” in the web event, but not all. Some only apply for one or the other. Generally, only new or recent works are sold, but some circles may dig up old stock. Only a fraction of new releases will be available on the online event site. Most circles that are willing to do mail-order for the event will already have other, less temporary options or plans, so you can understand why many do not take the time to register, organize, and ship their works to be sold on this site.

Accepts credit cards only.
Shipping starts at 297 (tax included) for mail service. You can expect orders to be processed and shipped quickly, arriving at the forwarder as soon as the day after the event.

Akibaoo/あきばお~
Not to be confused with AKIBA-HOBBY, another store (or Akihabara/Akiba, a district in Tokyo). A sizable electronics/general store that carries a good amount of doujin goods. You will need a forwarder or proxy. Also see note on Rakuten.
Processing time: 2-5 days.
Domestic delivery fee: varies. 280 yen via Kuroneko Yamato/CAT POS, 540 via mail service. Free over 10,000 yen.

AKIBA-HOBBY
Another “hobby” and doujin goods store. They have an international site, but prices may be ~20% higher there, including shipping. This 20% figure is the difference in the displayed prices in USD. I don’t know if they still force you to convert currency, so let me know if you are able to complete checkout after changing to JPY (while staying on the ovs.akbh.jp site).
You will need a forwarder or proxy for the Japanese site. Accepts international cards and PayPal.
Processing time: 1-2 days.
Domestic shipping starts at 385 yen (tax included) for mail service.

BookMate
Smaller selection than other stores, but also less likely to be sold out. You will need a forwarder or proxy.

とらのあな/Comic Toranoana/TORANOANA/Tora
A large doujin goods store. Sometimes has exclusives (namely their compilation CDs). You will need a forwarder or proxy.

Grep
A small store, but it may have items that are out of stock elsewhere. You will need a forwarder or proxy.
Shipping starts at 385 yen and is free for orders over 10,000 yen.

AliceBooks
Another small shop. It carries a number of doujin goods, mostly from select circles.

COMIC ZIN
It exists. And it carries a number of doujin goods. But I haven’t used it (for CDs) and I doubt you will, either.

アニメイト/animate
The parent company of GAMERS. Their sites and operations are naturally quite similar, although they do carry some doujin CDs. See below.

ゲーマーズ/GAMERS
Doesn’t carry doujin music CDs, but doujin artists often appear on commercial works such as game soundtracks. Their FAQ states that foreign credit cards are not accepted, but they are. You will need a forwarder or proxy.
Processing time: 1 day and up.
Shipping starts at 633 yen for courier service, but is free after 5,500 yen (tax included).

Rakuten
I should make note of the “Amazon of Japan” not because you should buy doujin music directly on this site, but because many shops have Rakuten storefronts. Why does this matter? Some sites such as Akibaoo do not accept/allow foreign credit cards or only let you enter Japanese addresses, so you wouldn’t be able to pay by card anyway. Still using Akibaoo as an example, PayPal is not always accepted. So you can’t order from these sites without paying extra for a proxy to do it for you… or can you? This is where Rakuten storefronts come in. Rakuten accepts PayPal, so you can sign up, enter a forwarder‘s address, and check out with PayPal. Note that some shops may take extra time to process orders from their Rakuten storefronts, but the price is usually the same (Suruga-ya’s storefront here is marked up by 15%). Items listed here may be new or used.
Accepts credit cards and PayPal.
Has a rewards points system (1% back).

Amazon Japan
Everyone knows what Amazon is. What you might not know is that you should generally avoid it when looking for doujin music. The majority of listings are [often unauthorized] re-sellers. If you find yourself on Amazon, make sure the listing is not from a re-seller.

This might not be relevant for buying doujin CDs, but if you decide to ship directly overseas, Amazon JP ships exclusively via DHL (at a heavily discounted rate). You might benefit from knowing this if you’re looking to buy other types of items.

Previously, items sold directly by Amazon JP were tax-free for some countries, such as the USA. So the actual price was the list price minus the 10% Japanese tax. However, it has been updated to tax you based on your location. Price shown minus 10% JP tax plus your local tax.

Ot*kuRepublic et al.
These sites are effectively proxy services masquerading as storefronts. They simply take listings from other sites, apply comical markups, and advertise “free” shipping. They do not have inventory. There is really no reason to ever visit these sites. Items listed here may be new or used.


Sites for used goods

As doujin music is generally printed in limited or very limited quantities, releases will often be out of print. So, you’ll have to look for a used copy of most releases. You don’t need to worry about the condition of used items, though. One great aspect of Japanese culture is that people tend to take extremely good care of their belongings. Used copies are almost always in very good or pristine condition, from the disc to the booklet to the obi. Jewel cases are easily replaced–don’t be concerned with those. If there is any significant damage to the item, it will be mentioned in the listing. Examples of damage: scratched disc, missing obi (not always noted), missing booklet or insert or bonus material. There may be similar-looking listings for different versions/conditions of the same item, so make sure you know what you’re buying. You can ask a proxy for help if you fear you are too inept to look at pictures and read machine-translated Japanese. Don’t rely solely on pictures.

While some items might not have any listings anywhere at any given time, some might have multiple listings at once, or recent listings you can compare prices to. No reason to pay more than you need to, so look (elsewhere) before you buy. Sites like Mercari and Fril/Rakuma have a limited history and you can view Yahoo! Auctions history at the top right, 「search term」の 落札相場を調べる or via aucfan. For really rare/expensive items, you might want to check the Suruga-ya listing to gauge whether a price is reasonable or not, or even look for archived snapshots. See Suruga-ya section below for more details. Mandarake also displays prices for sold out items.

One other thing to mention is that sometimes listings will contain unopened/”new condition” items. There isn’t much of a point to paying more for collectible value/condition since you have to open it to listen to it, the average condition of used CDs is almost like-new, and you’re probably not looking to just hold something then re-sell it. Suruga-ya and Mandarake sometimes have unopened items and do not always mention this in their listings, particularly for cheaper items. If you’re willing to pay more for new items, then you might as well check the previous section and get new items that aren’t secondhand (where applicable), so some of the money can go to the artist(s). Just something to make note of–your reasons for buying may differ. (I do own some unopened/duplicate items.)

Believe it or not, some people attempt to sell fake copies of CDs. While not much of a concern in general, it is something to be aware of. Most second-hand doujin CDs transact for less than the original price, but some are known to go for 100,000 yen or more. If you’re dealing with an expensive CD, i.e. at least 50,000 yen, you may want to ask someone knowledgeable about the item/circle or search Twitter or the internet in general for mentions of the item + 偽物. Some examples:
reset – THE VERY BEST OF RESET
ZUN’s Music Collection 9.5, 虹色のセプテントリオン 

Suruga-ya/Surugaya/駿河屋
Suru is your first and best stop for used CDs (and other items). They have by far the largest selection and most listings; their database includes almost every release that anyone has ever heard of. Prices are generally good or fair, and stock updates frequently. Some things to note:

  • Do not use the international site. Stock and prices are outdated (listings from individual stores/’marketplace’ sellers are also excluded), sales/promotions do not apply, and the 10% VAT (value-added tax) still applies, unlike some other sites. You do get 500 yen off of shipping for every 10,000 yen you order, but there is also a flat 500 yen commission on the international site. Their fixed box sizes and packing style can make shipping cost uncomfortable depending on the situation. You are much better off using the main site in combination with a proxy or forwarding service.
  • Do not use the Rakuten storefront. Prices are higher and it is the lowest priority for processing orders, so it will take longer and what you want may be sold out via the main site before your order is processed.
  • You can search for out of stock items by selecting the option–or through Google–and add them to your back-order list to receive email notifications if they are restocked. If an item on your back-order list is restocked and subsequently sells out again, you will need to add it to your list again if you wish to be notified again.
  • There are two things you can look at to estimate what some out of stock items will be listed for in the future: the kaitori or purchase offer (if displayed), and the ‘predicted’ price (hidden). They generally offer 35-50% of what they would sell an item for, although the cheapest and most expensive items may fall outside of this range. For example, some CDs have a purchase offer of 50 yen and the lowest price CDs are sold for is 260 yen (by the main store, outside of sales).
    You can search for “offers” in the page source to see the predicted list price, although this is just an estimate and is subject to change, sometimes by a factor of 10.
    "offers": [{"@context":"http://schema.org","@type":"offer","price":"780"...
    For items with little trading history, this value tends to be the price last sold at, which is manually updated if restocked. For more commonly traded items, this value is generally automatically updated by the system.
    This is the value used when out of stock items are sorted by price in searches.
  • The information in listings is 99% accurate, at least relative to any printed information on the items, which isn’t necessarily error-free. Note that items are often entered into the database based on information from the internet. If there is no scanned picture of the product, it’s likely that the item has never been added to inventory, therefore the information in such listings is less reliable. The usually-included release dates and catalog numbers are often helpful in determining what the item in question is for obscure or limited edition stuff (or if you have no ability to grasp Japanese).
  • Item condition is generally very good, at least as far as media goes, although not always mint. For CDs not marked as B rank or without mention of damage in the product title, there shouldn’t be any significant issues. Note that obi or spine cards are not assessed as part of the item condition. Most people don’t throw them out, so they are usually–but not always–included. For limited/special edition items or accessories, the specifics are generally stated in the description. Items under 500 yen may be sold with damaged jewel cases. Damage may also occur during shipping.
  • There are frequent sales. Generally, a 12-hour sale every 4 days, followed by price drops when the sale ends. The sales run from 13:55 to 00:59 Tokyo time, often include thousands of doujin CD listings, and the discounts range from 5% to 30%. Price drops are usually on the order of 100 yen or 5%. There are also various “special” sales from time to time, including things such as bulk discounts. I’m not sure exactly how the sale/price drop items or amounts are determined. You can play the waiting game to potentially buy items a bit cheaper, but stock is often only 1 or 2 copies for older or rarer works, which may not be restocked for years. Also note that prices of items (and related items, such as from the same circle) tend to increase if they sell quickly after arriving.
  • Processing generally takes around 5 days but may take longer. Domestic shipping is free over 1,500 yen (for the main site, outside of promotions). There is a 240 yen fee for orders under 5,000 yen. Processing has been slow in recent months; don’t be surprised if it takes over a week to confirm and ship your order. They will send emails with updates and revised estimates if this is the case. You can expect an initial invoice followed by a confirmation email after that (they check the previous day’s orders at 8 AM each day). If processing takes more than a few days, they will send at least one apology email with an estimated timeframe. Next, a confirmation that there were no issues with the items and shipping date estimate. And finally, a shipping notice.
  • Some items are sold (and shipped) by individual stores, categorized as ‘makepure’ (マケプレ優先) or marketplace sellers. These items cannot be combined with items from the main website. You can check out at the same time, but all orders are billed, fulfilled, and shipped per store, per order number. They all have different pricing and shipping rates. Note that sales do not apply to items sold by marketplace sellers and shipping promotions are typically separate from the main site’s.
  • Regarding boxes, they tend towards the larger side. They offer only 2 sizes: 38.5x32x16cm and 58.5x36x23.5cm, weighing roughly 462g and 743g, respectively, including the cardboard base described below. Keep this in mind and elect to have your items repackaged if you want to use a service which charges by dimensional/volumetric weight, like FedEx or DHL. Not as much of a concern for EMS or small packet, which are based on weight (the size limit for EMS isn’t a concern unless you are ordering hundreds of CDs). The packing style is plastic wrap over a cardboard base which is then hot glued to the box. Expect some damaged jewel cases if you do not ask a forwarder or proxy to re-pack. Damage is not uncommon with all but the most immaculate packing, but my point here is that Suru’s packing is not great for international shipping.
  • Relevant payment methods: credit cards, PayPal, and Google Pay (haven’t tested from overseas). Note that PayPal can not be used for marketplace sellers or if any items in your order are marked as Adult. While their site states that ‘international cards are not accepted,’ they generally are. If your card is declined, try: checking that the transaction wasn’t declined by your bank, switching your first and last name in your profile, address, and/or credit card information, or a different card.
  • An item you order may go out of stock or otherwise not be found before your order is fulfilled. New policy as of May 3rd, 2022. They will just ship in-stock items and cancel out-of-stock ones. Naturally, they will re-invoice you after subtracting the cost of the canceled item(s). However, they will add the shipping and/or mail-order fee as applicable if your new total takes you below the thresholds where said fees would have been waived. I will leave the paragraph below until I confirm that this change applies to marketplace sellers as well.
  • You may receive an email detailing the status of the item(s) and asking if you wish to proceed with the order or cancel it. You can use the form linked in the email or send a message to the address provided. Fill out the form (include your name, email address, order number, and comment). You can write something like 「注文を進めてください。」 (“Please proceed with the order.”) if you wish to proceed with the order. The captcha is case-sensitive, no spaces. The form may not work on Chrome. Try using a different browser if that’s the case, i.e. Firefox. You will be directed to a confirmation page if the form is successfully submitted. After your response is seen, you will have to go to your purchase history and click a few times to confirm the change(s) in your order.
  • How can an item be out of stock after I ordered it? It was just restocked! Isn’t the main site mail-order only? Yes, it happens, and with increasing frequency in recent months and years. One possible reason is incorrect inventory data, which is one official reply people have received. The other is being unable to find the item(s) in the warehouse, whether it was unable to be found at all, due to some policy under which employees are told to mark items as out of stock and move on after X amount of time searching, or individual decisions. If this happens to you, it may be worth checking the inventory status of the product(s) in the following hours and days (don’t forget to add them to your back-order list again). Such items are often marked as in-stock again shortly afterwards, for whatever reason (such as a different employee finding the items), so keep that in mind. Note that the price is likely to increase as described in an above paragraph.
  • Marketplace sellers typically message you via the comment section on the order details page (on Suru’s site). Navigate to your purchase history and click the order number to view these messages.
  • Side note regarding the international site: I heard from a reputable source that he was able to ‘snipe’ an item by using the international site, after it went ‘out of stock’ on the JP site. One of three things could have happened. The first possibility is that his order was processed first for some reason. The second is that another copy was found or added to inventory and both orders were processed. The third is described three paragraphs above. Just something to consider for back-ordered items that you are desperate to get your hands on.

Mandarake/まんだらけ
A large used goods store. There are some new items on consignment including doujin CDs, but not many. Prices vary. Sometimes high, sometimes low. Items tend to be in very good condition (unless otherwise noted). Make sure to check for any notes under product status (商品状態). Items may be available at different stores for different prices (usually based on condition). Every physical store handles and ships its own orders, and they will not combine orders from different stores in any way. This means multiple jeopardy on domestic and international shipping, so pay attention to the store names. Try to order items from the same store(s) if you can. Items at a location other than Sahra (the warehouse) need to be checked for availability as they are on display in stores.

Note that prices shown do not include the 10% tax that applies to domestic orders. If the listed price is 600 yen, it’s actually 660. International orders are not taxed. Domestic shipping starts from 165 yen (including tax) via post or 660 via courier. Free shipping for orders over 11,000 yen including tax (with some limitations, but not a concern for small items).

Their international site is okay to use, but considering shipping, you may be better off using a proxy or forwarder. Note that popular forwarders such as BIG IN JAPAN and t*nso are banned and their addresses are not accepted.
Usually ships within 1-2 days.

Lashinbang/らしんばん
The largest second-hand goods store in Japan–for anime and game related goods. They don’t have many doujin CDs compared to the above two stores, but the prices can be very low and some items are in unopened condition (will be stated). Domestic shipping is a flat 605 yen or free over 5,000 yen. Proxy/shopping service required.

BOOKOFF
Worth a look for commercial works. Domestic shipping is free for orders over 1,500 yen, 368 yen otherwise.

NETOFF
Worth a look for commercial works. Domestic shipping is free for orders over 3,000 yen, 440 yen otherwise.

disk union
Worth a look for commercial works (may have some works from very popular circles like Foreground Eclipse or SOUND HOLIC). Domestic shipping is free over 5,000 yen, 297 yen otherwise.

K-BOOKS
Relevant items are listed via Suruga-ya marketplace (Ikebukuro and Akiba stores).

Yahoo! Japan Auctions/ヤフオク!
An auction site. Sellers may be individuals or stores and domestic shipping may or may not be included in the price. Prices range from good to questionable. Some listings will have a buy-it-now/’prompt decision’ price; others will have to go through the bidding process. You need a proxy/shopping service.

Note that eBay is no longer a thing in Japan–Yahoo! Auctions is it. There might be a handful of doujin CD listings from sellers in your country on eBay, but it’s probably not even worth a look. There is absolutely no buyer protection on Y!JA. If an item is never sent or is different than described, you are SOL. Although this is rare in general and almost unimaginable from reputable sellers, don’t forget to use common sense and judgement at all times. Some proxy services may offer their own buyer protection plans, so decide whether you want it or not on a case by case basis. Note that opting for these plans means that the proxy will ask the seller for registered/tracked shipping, which may increase the domestic shipping cost slightly. DEJAPAN opts for registered shipping for auctions over 1,000 yen.

The bidding system has two features that I should explain. Firstly, placing a maximum bid over the current price (plus the increment) will be managed automatically by the system. It will increase your bid if necessary, up until the maximum that you set (which is not shown to others). If yours is the only bid when an auction ends, then you will only be charged the starting price. In the event of multiple bids for the same price, whoever bid first wins. Secondly, you can place a “snipe” bid on a proxy’s site (or manually place a normal bid) in an attempt to keep the price low, but keep in mind that many listings have an automatic time extension when bids are placed. The best way to win auctions is to simply place a high maximum bid.

Be sure to read the description of any listing you’re interested in. There may be important details regarding the condition of the item(s) or additional pictures. If you see any number of people ‘watching’ an auction (under the star icon), you can assume that there will be some level of interest and willingness to bid.
Auctions won on the same day (JST) from the same seller should be automatically combined for domestic shipping, but it’s up to the seller.
What about new arrival alerts? See Registration and alerts.

MBOK/モバオク
Another auction site. Pretty slim pickings for doujin music, though. MBOK does have buyer protection if you use their Mobapei Payment System. They don’t give money to sellers until items are confirmed by buyers. Remember that if you opt for buyer protection, domestic shipping has to be registered/tracked, which is more expensive. Shipping is usually not included in prices here.


The four apps/sites below offer limited buyer protection. You/your proxy must request a registered/tracked (domestic) shipping method to be covered. Some proxies may require this due to their own buyer protection/insurance plans. DEJAPAN requires registered shipping for listings over 3,000 yen on flea market sites.

Mercari/メルカリ (Japan)
A “flea market” app/site. Expect to see cheap prices, bulk listings, and domestic shipping included in the price. Some buyers/listings may be open to haggling, or splitting/combining listings (if same seller). There is no bidding system. If someone wants a listing, it can be bought at any time–and things can be sold within minutes. Not all listings can be bought right away, though. Some require you to comment and wait for the seller to approve you(r rating). It’s not always first come, first serve, either; better buyer/seller ratings are given priority. すぐに購入可 means ‘available for immediate purchase’ and not subject to approval. Worth a look for rare releases or if trying to buy a circle’s discography.
There is a hashtag system that some sellers make use of. These hashtags are part of the description of listings, but not considered as text when searching for keywords. To demonstrate, searching for 同人CD and #同人CD are entirely different searches. (In practice, you may want to put a space in 同人 CD for maximum coverage when searching for keywords.) You will get similar results, of course, depending on the listings. The issue is that listings are not uniformly formatted or descriptive. People may or may not include useful words in the title or description (for keyword search) or hashtags. So, default to keyword searches and consider additional searches using hashtags.
You need a proxy/shopping service to buy from Mercari.
What about new arrival alerts? See Registration and alerts.

Rakuma/ラクマ/ Fril
Rakuten’s flea market site. The name is technically Rakuma now, but the URL is still fril(.jp). Basically the same deal as Mercari. Fewer listings for CDs, but worth a look. Used to only deal with women’s clothing and such, but has since branched out. (Proxy/shopping service required.)

OTAMART
Another flea market site, also similar to Mercari. You can only view a seller’s rating by clicking to see their profile. This is exceptionally stupid site design. (Proxy/shopping service required.)
NOTICE: The service shut down on August 26th, 2021.
https://api.otamart.com/notifications/317603675

PayPay flea market (Yahoo! Auctions competitor to Mercari)
Not to be confused with PayPal. Same deal as Mercari and Fril, but expect even fewer CD listings. What is there is likely on regular Y!A as well. (Proxy/shopping service required.)

CDJapan (Neowing)
While you might be familiar with this service for other Japanese media, don’t look for doujin music on it. Do not use their proxy service. There are much better services.

Discogs marketplace
You might know what Discogs is if you’re familiar with buying other kinds of music, but I don’t recommend looking for doujin music here. Typically very few listings that are not comically marked up. Many doujin CD listings are from resellers or people who falsely advertise stock and condition and just buy items–for a fraction of their asking price–from Suruga-ya or other shops to fill orders as they come in. Do not buy from such resellers, e.g. K*PIKU-COM and ong*ku_express.
Might be worthwhile for listings from sellers in your country, if you can find any. Items here can be used or new (as in unopened).

Xianyu/闲鱼 (Chinese, app only)
The largest secondhand marketplace app in China. Part of Taobao (owned by Alibaba). I’ve noticed a decent amount of Touhou-related items in particular, but all sorts of items can be found, both domestic in origin and imported. Note that there are a number of Chinese doujin events and releases limited to the country. It may be possible to order directly, but I recommend using a proxy/’shopping agent’ such as Superbuy or 42agent to avoid any potential issues, especially if you don’t know Chinese. You can register and browse the app from overseas, but there are a lot of tips, tricks, and caveats you should know before attempting to buy anything directly. For example, not every “listing” is even for sale. ‘展示’ or ‘展示交流’ means exhibition only. ‘收,’ ‘受,’ and ‘求购’ mean the user is looking to buy the item(s). Here is one tip: just tap on every listing. There are often more pictures/items than you might expect from the preview. You should also check for ‘已出’ or ‘无’ (sold) tags on the pictures in listings with multiple items. Domestic shipping may or may not be included, although this should be fairly cheap for CDs. The blue ‘包邮’ tag means free shipping.

The search sucks, but here are some terms you may want to try:
东方Project CD (Touhou Project CD)
东方同人 CD (Touhou doujin CD)
同人 CD (doujin CD; same as Japanese)
同人音乐 CD (doujin music CD)
Detailed guide and glossary of terms: https://myfigurecollection.net/blog/50320

I suppose the ‘Touhou buy/sell‘ community on Tieba is worth a mention. Most people just make listings on Xianyu, but some also post in this Tieba community or put out feelers first. Can be useful for making ‘want to buy’ posts for items exclusive to or originating from China. I’m not going to explain how to register and post on Tieba for various reasons, such as the process likely varying from country to country. I may answer specific questions if you have any, but Google is your friend, otherwise.

Basic guide to ordering through a proxy/agent: https://www.reddit.com/r/Superbuy/comments/n91jyp/how_to_use_xianyuidlefish_as_a_foreigner_tips_for/
Quick guide and notes for Superbuy:
After registering and browsing the app, you can get a listing’s link as described in the post above. You can simply paste the link into the search bar on the home page and the rest should be self-explanatory.
They use a deposit system. Unfortunately, you will likely be subject to a terrible forced currency exchange rate and handling fee. Over 10%, depending on the amount you deposit. For example, at the time of writing, 500 RMB should be around 78.06 USD. It would cost $86.73 to deposit 500 RMB via PayPal. The site shows the numbers during the “top up” process, so there is transparency, at least. The low service fees balance the payment fees somewhat. The fee for special/third-party orders is 20 RMB or just over 3 USD per order, and 0 for sites like Taobao.

They offer quite a few shipping methods, although availability and pricing are changing somewhat frequently due to COVID. I’m not familiar with all of them, but there are familiar names such as China Post and UPS, etc. Rest assured that there will be a viable option. Note that they over-estimate the shipping cost then refund the difference.

The only data point I have is shipping a single CD via “Tax-Free Sensitive Air Cargo in EU&US.” This is airmail which is handed off to DHL (eCommerce, not Express) which hands off to your local postal service for final delivery. The cost for 1 CD, with bubble wrap and inside a cardboard box, was 110 RMB or roughly 2,000 yen. Delivery took a bit under 3 weeks, although this can vary. It sat for around 10 days waiting for a flight and was delivered in about a week after that.

Bunjang/번개장터 and Joonggonara/중고나라
The only two Korean sites that have a significant number of listings for doujin CDs, at least as far as I could find. Both are secondhand, flea market type sites. Proxy required. There are plenty of reputable services, but KoreaBuyandShip is one example.
KoreaBuyandShip’s site says $9 minimum service fee, but they may give some level of discount on your first order. Accepts PayPal and Wise transfers. Various shipping options with prices listed. The shipping cost for 1 CD via DHL (“Expedited Shipping” option) was $37.99 or roughly 4,300 yen.


Registration and alerts

Where stated above, “proxy/shopping service required” does not necessarily mean it’s impossible to order directly from those sites as a foreigner. It means it’s not straightforward or worth the hassle, i.e. I don’t recommend even trying to. The main obstacle is obtaining an SMS-capable “real” (non-050) phone number which is required to register on many sites (used for identity verification). It’s not impossible to obtain such a number while outside of Japan, but it’s not especially easy or cheap.

As pertains to buying items from Japan, the main reason you would want a Japanese phone number is to register for certain sites to set up alerts. Namely, Yahoo! Auctions and mercari. You can use B*yee’s system to do this, although it’s not real-time–it only sends one email per site per day… Which is not very useful.

What can you do, then? Three things to keep in mind here. One, getting alerts while you’re asleep isn’t very useful. Two, Suruga-ya is likely going to be your main source for used doujin CDs and you can easily set up real-time alerts for it. Mandarake is probably the second source and you can sign up for alerts there as well. Three, most auctions don’t have a “prompt decision” price, so you have plenty of time to bid. Manually checking when you’re awake and able to place orders more or less covers the rest of your bases. Depending on your time zone and sleep schedule, there might not be much overlap in waking hours between you and Japanese sellers. Assuming “normal” hours if you live in North or South America, you’re mostly sleeping during their day and awake during dead hours. So, checking when you wake up is about as good as you can do, with or without alerts. You can also check during lunch and before you sleep if you’re particularly desperate to find certain items, but the majority of listings are posted between noon and midnight JST.

Of course, you can write your own code for real-time alerts, but there are some factors to consider first. I’m referring to Yahoo! Auctions and Mercari in particular here as they are the two main sites you would want alerts for. Firstly, there are official APIs, but you need to register (with a Japanese phone number) and apply for API keys… Back to square zero. Secondly, while you could just scrape the sites, this is obviously not encouraged and you may be blacklisted. Keep the rate of requests at a reasonable level or risk incurring even stricter efforts against [unauthorized] bots. Lastly, read the preceding paragraph again. Sounds good in theory, but not much benefit in practice (depending on your time zone or sleep schedule).

For the reasons above, I will not make my repository public or answer any related questions.


Buying digital goods

Sites for digital goods

BOOTH
BOOTH also does digital sales, and it is the main place to go for digital doujin music. Circles manage their own “shops” here. Digital sales of Touhou-related works will no longer be restricted starting August 13th, 2021. See info about TDMD below.

Note that artwork besides the cover is usually not included. It’s a good platform in the sense that it only takes a 5.6% cut and allows artists to upload lossless audio. However, you can’t tell whether the source files are lossless or not until after purchasing. There is no limit to the total file size for a listing, but there is a 1 GB limit for individual files. Be wary of archives as an artist might decide to use a lossy format to stay under 1 GB instead of uploading the files separately.

Accepts cards and PayPal. Registration may be easier using a Pixiv account rather than directly through BOOTH.

Melonbooks | formerly Melonbooks DL/Melonbooks.com (the digital sales side of Melonbooks.co.jp)
As of October 31st, 2021, the digital-only site merged with the main site (.co.jp) and the .com site closed.
https://www.melonbooks.co.jp/special/b/0/service/20211031_melonbooksdl_end_navi/
Works sold on Melonbooks can be in MP3 or lossless. The format isn’t always listed, but you can generally tell from the file size of the archive. Obviously, it depends on the track length, but songs in MP3 320K are usually around 10MB per song while WAV is closer to 30MB. If you find a release that you want to buy but it’s not available in a lossless format, you can try contacting the artist. They may be willing to provide lossless files with proof of purchase. Sometimes releases are unintentionally limited to MP3 due to a mistake from either party.
Accepts foreign credit cards.

Bandcamp
Bandcamp is a fairly good service. It supports lossless formats, per track and album purchases, as well as a pay-what-you-want option. It’s just not all that popular in Japan. Bandcamp takes a 15% cut.

iTunes, Google Play Music (RIP), Apple Music, YouTube Music
These services aren’t very popular in the doujin scene, either. They don’t even support lossless audio (sales), so I wouldn’t recommend them anyway. Additionally, artists only get 50% of sales (on iTunes and GPM before it was shut down; the others don’t offer direct sales), so you can imagine why not many choose to go through the effort of submitting their works to these platforms. For Touhou-related works, see information about TDMD below.

Keep in mind that the artists get a fraction of a cent per play, so using these services really doesn’t do much to support artists. Buy works directly if you want to support artists.

DLSite
Only has ~3,800 doujin music works in total and prices may be higher than elsewhere. Generally not recommended, but it’s possible that some albums are only available in digital formats here. Format varies, but is shown before buying. Accepts foreign credit cards.

mora, OTOTOY, and RecoChoku (レコチョク)
These services are geared toward mainstream, commercial music. However, you can find a slowly increasing amount of doujin music (recent releases in particular). Quality varies, although you can reasonably expect most, if not all items to be in AAC/MP3 320 or lossless formats.

You may need to use a VPN to visit or purchase content, and foreign credit cards may not be accepted.
I was able to purchase from OTOTOY via PayPal and RecoChoku via credit card (VPN required for both).
PayPal, Amazon Pay, or Rakuten Pay may be options if your credit cards are not accepted directly.
Not going to get into specifics here. Using these sites should be straightforward enough, but I’m sure you can find more information elsewhere if needed (and the many other similar services).

Er*ce.com, flac123.com, etc.
It should be obvious, but these are not legitimate sites. Some sites may actually provide some files after paying, but the point is they aren’t official, i.e. artists get nothing if you buy from these sites. They use publicly shared rips (pirated content) and often falsely advertise the quality of the files.

TDMD – Touhou Doujin Music Distribution (東方同人音楽流通)

In one line, TDMD is the official distributor for all works featuring Touhou arrangements for iTunes and all streaming services. More information below.

Update July 8th, 2021:
Effective August 13th, 2021, restrictions on BOOTH.pm will be lifted. Circles will be able to sell digital works on their own pages. TDMD will simply collect a 11.4% royalty for ZUN in the background, as they always should have done.
https://booth.pm/announcements/529
TDMD still handles distribution to iTunes and streaming services. Generally, it takes them 8-12 weeks to add new releases. Some of the bigger circles see their works added more quickly; the rest are added in batches following the aforementioned delay.

Available streaming services:

  • Apple Music
  • YouTube Music (relevant works only available with Premium)
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music Unlimited
  • LINE MUSIC
  • AWA
  • KKBOX
  • Deezer
  • QQ音乐
  • 酷狗音乐
  • 酷我音乐
  • 网易云音乐

Download sales are only available through iTunes.

While over 20,000 available songs sounds like a lot, it’s still quite a limited selection, especially with regard to circles. Obviously, only active circles are included, so you won’t find Foreground Eclipse or Shinigiwa Satellite, for example*. There are over 100,000 known Touhou arrangement songs, so it’s far from a one-stop shop. Also, there are issues with tagging and discrepancies between different platforms and regions, all stemming from mistakes from TDMD management. You can find most or all of the included works here: https://mayoiga-shironeko.hatenablog.com/entry/2020/12/29/041838 (the blog of シロ (Shiro), the owner of Touhou Arrangement Chronicle and other useful sites).
*There are no region locks. If you see ‘grayed out’ tracks on Spotify, that means those tracks have been removed for reasons such as being fraudulent uploads or stolen songs. Spotify leaves the information there, but the songs cannot be played. For example, Foreground Eclipse has never submitted their works to streaming services, likely never will, and would go through the proper channels i.e. TDMD if they were to do so. According to Merami, the only member who is still active (under a related name), there are no plans to do so.

I cannot believe this has to be said, but please do not submit or upload content you do not have the rights to or permission to distribute. This applies in general, but especially on commercial platforms such as Spotify where such an act involves not just the illegal nature of ignoring copyright, but also fraud and impersonation by creating fake artist profiles. All you are doing is causing trouble for the artists if they have to spend the time and potentially money to DMCA unauthorized uploads. It should go without saying that artists do not wish for people to upload their works without permission. Intent does not matter. ‘For promotional purposes’ or ‘not for profit’ or any other feckless excuses do not matter. Respecting the artists’ wishes is the only thing that matters.

Those who understand the least ask for the most. If you talk to artists, have unshared releases, have files that were received directly from artists or are otherwise unobtainable, then you understand and don’t share things carelessly.

I should hope that anyone with enough brain cells to rub together to be reading this does not do such things, but it had to be said. Please feel free to copy and paste the above paragraphs to or direct to this page those whom you feel may not be incorrigible degenerates.

The paragraphs below will be left as-is for those seeking explanations (and to name and shame TDMD).

As of August 1st, 2019, Touhou-related music can no longer be freely distributed in digital formats on certain platforms. These platforms are BOOTH.pm, iTunes, YouTube Music, and Spotify (Bandcamp isn’t big in Japan). Why? Thanks to TDMD, a group owned by ‘Bandai Co., Ltd.’ (not the Bandai Namco that publishes games) that stepped in as a middleman to collect royalties and act as an official distributor. Apparently, it’s run by an associate of Team Shanghai Alice/ZUN (the creator of Touhou and rights owner).

Note that these restrictions do not apply during events. Also, DL cards are considered to be physical sales.
Originally, circles just submitted their works directly to BOOTH, which only takes a 5.6% cut on digital sales. Now, all Touhou secondary works must go through TDMD, which tacks on another 11.4%, bringing the total that circles make down to 83%. You might not think this is such a big deal, but most artists are not happy with the situation. Many simply decided to stop doing digital sales. ZUN collecting royalties is one thing; some middleman taking an additional cut is another matter. On top of this, TDMD adds an additional markup to everything (usually 20%, but a larger flat rate for cheaper releases e.g. 300 yen becomes 450 and 450 becomes 600).

There are other issues, too. Only certain circles are even able to submit their works to TDMD to be put online for sale. Anyone not grandfathered in needs a referral to get in, and the process is slow (apparently, registration was effectively closed for the entire 2 year period). Also, there have been complaints that it can take an absurdly long time for TDMD to process and put releases up for sale, on top of mistakes on their end. This whole mess with TDMD is another reason I advocate and personally prefer buying physical media.

Don’t just take my word for it. You can read the notices here (BOOTH) and here (their site).


Contacting the artist

If you’ve exhausted all other options or the only listing for an out-of-print CD is ridiculously overpriced, then there is one last avenue to try: contacting the artist directly. Sometimes artists have leftover stock and may be willing to bring items to a future event for you. Some might even be willing to send you the files for free if there aren’t any physical copies available.

Shipping directly or to a forwarding address is also an option, but payment can be an issue. PayPal is the easiest method. Not everyone uses it, though. If you send money via PayPal, make sure to choose ‘Pay for Goods and Services.’ The fee for international payments is 4.4% + 49 yen. There is also a 250 yen withdrawal fee on the seller’s side (in Japan; free in some countries). You should mention the fees and offer to cover them. Direct bank transfers are another option. However, international bank transfers require personal information from both parties. The seller may not be comfortable with this.

If there are issues with the above methods, you can try to arrange a purchase through a third party, i.e. a flea market app like Mercari or Rakuma/Fril. Keep in mind that this introduces the possibility of someone sniping the listing.

Side note: if you do decide to contact an artist via Twitter or email or whatnot, please just use English or your native language, or also include a translation if you aren’t proficient in Japanese. English proficiency is not uncommon in Japan, and the artist can use a translation tool if necessary. Sending only machine-translated Japanese is not a great idea as it could easily be incomprehensible or even offensive.


Shipping

This should go without saying, but make sure you check your name and address very carefully, every time you order something. Sending a package to the wrong address is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, and probably means you’re SOL. Also, forwarding services may refuse to handle packages with different/fake names, so make sure it matches the information you have with the forwarder. If using PayPal, policy states that businesses must ship to the delivery address given at the time of payment, so double check before you click. (Generally does not apply to businesses that have your address on file via a registered account on their site.) This mostly applies to the international side. For domestic shipping, companies will ship to the chosen address on their site/on your account.

I’m not going to go over every single detail as there are many methods and much has been written about them elsewhere. These are my preferred methods and some extra info on them. Keep in mind that I am writing about buying CDs, so any recommendations I make assume the same.

Other assumptions:

  • You are shipping to a residential address. Check the terms of service if you are shipping to a different type of address, like APO, as not every method allows such addresses.
  • You live in the United States. If you live elsewhere, you may or will be subject to customs/VAT/GST/import duties. See Things to keep in mind.

Regarding weight, you can approximate normal, 1-disc CDs to weigh around 100 grams including packaging (assuming 5+ CDs). So, a package with 12 CDs should weigh around 1.2 kg.

NOTICE:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shipping routes have been disrupted across the globe. The main issue is the severe reduction in commercial flights onto which cargo is loaded. Domestic shipping is mostly fine, but don’t be surprised by minor delays. Relevant to this guide in particular, Japan Post (JP) suspended all forms of airmail to many countries, including the United States. As of June 2021, EMS is available again to the US (still no airmail). There may be delays, but it seems to be more or less normal for my area. The only other [Japan Post] option to the US is surface mail, which takes 2-3 months. Service has resumed to varying degrees for many other countries. SAL remains suspended for all countries, probably for many months to come. Do not expect the shipping situation to return to normalcy any time soon.
You can read Japan Post’s notices here for information on other countries.

Private couriers such as FedEx, DHL, and UPS should be operating roughly normally to and in most countries, but double check before ordering. Note that DHL is likely cheaper than EMS in many situations, e.g. if your package consists of CDs only.
DHL status | FedEx status | Japan Post status table | Japan Post status updates | UPS status

Shipping services

Public services will be handled by Japan Post initially, then your local post office. These services include EMS, airmail, SAL, and surface mail.

Private services are handled by couriers like FedEx, DHL, and UPS. They are the fastest (for priority/express options) since they have their own logistics networks.

Japan Post:
Price hikes effective June 1st https://www.post.japanpost.jp/notification/pressrelease/2022/00_honsha/0118_01_02.pdf

EMS – express airmail, 3-4 days. Starts at 3,150 yen to countries outside of Asia, increasing based on weight (there is a maximum size). Automatically insured up to 20,000 yen, extra fee for higher values. Processing is generally under 24 hours. It is a public service so the last leg is serviced by the destination country’s national postal service. This comes with two advantages. One, it’s consistent [insert USPS motto here]. Two, Saturday delivery in the US. Supposed to be delivered by 3:00 pm (may vary depending on where you live). The downsides are having to wait for space on (under) commercial (passenger) flights, and longer processing/delivery times during peak periods (holidays).

(Registered) Airmail Small packet/international ePacket – special type of airmail, limited to 2 kg weight and 30,000 yen value. Insurance limit is 6,000 yen. Most estimates say 1-2 weeks; I say around 9 days. This is the best mix of value and speed. Registered means tracked and insured. I do not recommend shipping anything of considerable value via an unregistered/uninsured method. In this case, registered airmail is only 410 yen more than unregistered and is higher priority/faster. It might not necessarily make a difference in delivery time, but it can. Note that this advice mainly applies to those living in the US since we are basically never subject to customs fees. See this section if you live elsewhere.

(Registered) SAL Small packet – Surface Air Lifted, aka economy airmail. Limited to 2 kg and 6,000 yen insurance. Estimate is 2-6 weeks. Personally, I never opt for SAL. It’s slower, not worlds apart from airmail small packet in price, and more likely to see damage to your items during transit. Do you really want something if you’re okay with possibly waiting over a month for it to arrive, just to save a few dollars?

Private couriers:

DHL – likely through their Express Worldwide service, which takes 2-4 days. There is a cheaper, slower option called eCommerce, but I haven’t seen it used by any Japanese forwarding or proxy services. At the very least, not by the ones that I recommend. Often misses the delivery estimate (by one day in either direction). Rates are based on volumetric weight, so be careful if you have a light but large package. Seems to be the best option for especially dense, heavy packages. Currently the best option overall, at least to the USA and specifically for CDs.

FedEx – two options, although most services only offer the former: International Priority (1-3 days, generally next day) or International Economy (4-5 days). Rates are based on volumetric weight, so be careful if you have a large but light package. Quick processing. If you want something as soon as possible, International Priority is your best bet. It’s faster than and can be cheaper than EMS. Note that delivery days are business days. Saturday delivery is an additional charge (like $15) and not usually opted into by proxies, although you could request it. Express does not deliver on Sundays. IP is supposed to be time-definite. Don’t set up camp at your door first thing in the morning, though. Couriers are playing fast and loose with their estimates/commitments and blaming COVID.

UPS – likely through their Worldwide Saver service, which takes 2-3 days.

DHL and UPS are similar to FedEx in terms of operations.

Kuroneko Yamato Transport – well known in Japan, but not so much overseas. Partnered with UPS for delivery in the States. Pricing is comparable to EMS and private couriers. They have flat rates based on size, which is good if you are ordering heavy items such as doujinshi. Delivery takes 2-6 days.

Table of shipping rates
Estimate calculator

Recent data points:

Example(s) of weight and cost for FedEx (size doesn’t really matter for smaller packages):

5,760 yen | 2.47 kg | DEJAPAN | 15 CDs, 1 doujinshi, 1 t-shirt, 2 towels (February, 2021)

Example(s) of weight and cost for DHL (past 8 months):

3,000 yen | 0.6 kg, 42 cm dim. (16x14x12 cm) | DEJAPAN | 7 CDs
3,600 yen | 0.5 kg, 60 cm dim. (27x20x13 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 2 CDs, acrylic stand and keychain
3,600 yen | 0.7 kg, 60 cm dim. (27x20x13 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 4 CDs
3,600 yen | 0.8 kg, 60 cm dim. (27x20x13 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 8 CDs
3,600 yen | 1.1 kg, 59 cm dim. (30x22x7 cm) | DEJAPAN | 1 CD, B5 doujinshi (230P)
3,700 yen | 1.4 kg, 70 cm dim. (32x24x14 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 7 CDs, 2 doujinshi
3,800 yen | 1.2 kg, 70 cm dim. (32x24x14 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 12 CDs
4,000 yen | 1.5 kg, 68 cm dim. (33x26x9 cm) | DEJAPAN | 5 CDs, 3 thin magazines, t-shirt
6,100 yen | 1.4 kg, 80 cm dim. (38x28x14 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 3 CDs, B5 doujinshi (74P), 4-disc box
6,500 yen | 3.2 kg, 93 cm dim. (41x32x20 cm) | BIG IN JAPAN | 18 CDs, 3 magazines, various merch
6,600 yen | 1.0 kg, 61 cm dim. (26x19x16 cm) | DEJAPAN | 11 CDs

Example(s) of weight and cost for UPS:

7,300 yen | 5.0kg, ~95 cm dimensions | DEJAPAN | 24 CDs (30 discs), 6 games/DVDs, 5 doujinshi (April, 2021). Price for FedEx would have been 14,100 yen.

No examples for EMS as pricing is based solely on weight, which is easy enough to estimate with the information and examples above.


Forwarding and proxy/shopping services

Many sites are not targeted at foreign buyers, straight up do not welcome them, or are otherwise difficult or impossible to buy from with some combination of foreign address and payment. You will likely need some help to get certain things from certain places. This is where forwarding and/or proxy services come in, and there are a lot of them. I’m only going to go over the ones that I have personally used recently. While there are many other legitimate or reputable services, I recommend the ones described below over any others, due to cost or quality of service. You may have to look into other options depending on your location, shipping methods, and/or services desired (such as undervaluing–see below).

A forwarding service simply receives packages for you, then slaps on a label for international shipping to your address. They also offer repackaging services. How it works:

  1. You enter their Japanese shipping address when buying something.
  2. They receive your package(s).
  3. They ask how you want things shipped (and packed, if applicable).
  4. They invoice you for fees and shipping.
  5. You pay and they send.

A proxy/shopping service buys things in your stead, then sends them to you. They also offer repackaging/consolidation services. How it works:

  1. You ask them to buy some item(s).
  2. You send a deposit to cover the purchase(s) (or pay directly).
  3. They buy and receive the item(s).
  4. They ask how you want things shipped (and packed, if applicable).
  5. They invoice you for fees and shipping.
  6. You pay and they send.

Forwarding services

BIG IN JAPAN
Offers a flat rate of 500 yen to forward a package and 1,500 if you need to repackage multiple parcels into one package. It must be said that communication is not their strong point. Their messages are very basic and they don’t bother to reply to your messages if it’s not strictly necessary. The usual “communication” consists of “X parcels ok,” “your order is awaiting PayPal payment,” and “your order has shipped.” If you send a message along the lines of ‘Oops, I meant to choose the repackaging option’ or ‘Sorry, there’s actually 1 more package and please use X shipping method instead,’ they will take it into account. They just don’t reply to let you know that they’ve seen/acknowledged your comment unless strictly necessary, such as if you ask to change the delivery address. They are fast and I’ve never had an issue with them, so whatever. They do not look at the shipping address associated with your PayPal payment. Make sure your address on their site is correct when you open a ticket, or write a comment to request an address change.

suru address
This is what the address should look like (on Suruga-ya). Other sites may have a hyphen in the zip code or fewer lines, but this example should be enough to figure out any different formats. Enter your name normally, optionally reversing first and last. Use Google Translate for your kana name if required.

Maybe consider looking for a different forwarder if you tend to ask a lot of questions or need help. Read their instructions and terms of service before using. Make sure you provide general descriptions (sender name and contents) of the parcels you are expecting before they reach the warehouse. They will store up to 10 packages for up to one month, per ticket (with a small amount of flexibility).

Offers Japan Post shipping methods and DHL. Will undervalue. Note that they are often loose with their customs declarations. For example, just putting “CDs” without an exact count or itemized list of values. Not a concern for those in the US, but be sure to specify if you have other needs.
Uses PayPal (you pay the fees) and bills in yen.

BIG IN JAPAN only updates tickets with the total number of parcels received. If you need to look into a specific package’s delivery status for some reason, know that the two domestic shipping companies you are likely to see, Japan Post (日本郵便) and Yamato Transport (ヤマト運輸) use the same format for tracking numbers. If the courier is not specified in the email with the tracking number, these are the two sites to check. Tracking pages linked above.


Proxy/shopping services

Website/small business services:

DEJAPAN
Currently my preferred proxy service.
Fast and good, with possibly native English speakers handling customer support.
There are no base fees for their buying service. The only fees they charge are 100 yen per item/listing to repackage items and fees for certain services.* Regarding the repacking fee, it is charged once per listing. For example, 10 different CDs from Suruga-ya would incur the fee for each one, but 10 CDs in a single Yahoo! Auctions listing would incur the fee once. How can they charge so little? Are you sure it’s legit?
They have a system for Yahoo! Auctions, can buy from most sites via request, and can buy from Mercari (for an extra 500 yen fee per listing). My last several requests were completed in around 4 hours on average when placed during their business hours (Monday-Friday, 09:00-18:00 JST), and I’ve had orders processed within the hour (and within a few minutes, even). The ordering team operates 7 days a week, including holidays. Note that I am not guaranteeing any turnaround time and we have no way of knowing how busy they are at any given moment. Online orders in general are at an all-time high, so try to be reasonable with your expectations.
*Fees listed here. Insurance (for damage during shipping) and consolidation are included in the 100 yen per listing fee. Note that they require registered/tracked domestic shipping for auctions over 1,000 yen and flea market listings over 3,000 yen.

The system is pretty self-explanatory. Just keep in mind that items from different sellers should be ordered in separate requests. For example, different BOOTH shops, Mandarake stores, or Surugaya stores.

They will store items for free for up to 45 days, charging 100 yen per day after that.
Offers Japan Post methods, FedEx, and DHL (as “Other”). Previously, Other meant UPS, but now seems to be DHL (at least for customers in the USA). Packing style: bubble wrap and paper filling. The extra packaging option is not necessary for most items such as CDs; their normal packing is good. Will not undervalue.
Accepts cards and PayPal (they cover the fees) and bills in yen.

It should be mentioned that they can also ship to a domestic address. This comes at an additional fee of 10% of the total item cost, though (plus the usual costs where applicable and domestic shipping for the final package). Note that they do not ship to known forwarding services due to issues with fraudulent purchases. In any case, be sure to add the domestic address and select it when ordering items, as the delivery country cannot be changed later. When entering the address, don’t worry about the format. The form is set up for international addresses–just get the information in there. As per DEJAPAN’s customer service, the warehouse team will figure it out.

Side notes: Try using Firefox if you get an error message on Chrome or similar. If you get redirected to /logout.asp and end up at the login screen, clear your cookies and try again. If you think there may be some issue with an order (such as it taking unusually long), you should take the initiative to ask them to look into it.

FROM JAPAN
Update: As of September 1st 2020, all ITEMS now incur a 300 yen base fee.
They changed their “buyer protection plan” system yet again (read: increased prices again). It’s not a big deal if you are only ordering one or two things, but given that I don’t think the service is any better than DEJAPAN despite being much more expensive, I am no longer recommending FROM JAPAN.
One of the most popular services. They’ve undergone some changes over the years, but the service is still reputable. Does not buy from Mercari.

They have a member rank system in which you can unlock up to 10% discounted shipping based on your total spending over a year. It’s not likely to be relevant if you’re just buying CDs, though, even if you spend in the thousands like I do. Boxes with CDs don’t cost that much to ship. I mention this because it could be useful if you order other types of items, but I don’t recommend just blindly using a single service for everything, especially since FJ isn’t able to buy from Mercari and the 300 yen per item fee means that it won’t likely be the best option for forwarding a moderate number of items. I usually have more than one order open at any given time, with different services.

Offers Japan Post shipping methods, FedEx (at a ~15% discounted rate), and DHL. They actually try to pack things as tightly as possible (unless you ask for extra-safe packing), which is good for keeping shipping cost down but bad if you want extra space in the box to absorb impacts. Their packing method (for CDs) is much like Suru’s: everything shrink-wrapped to a piece of cardboard. This is actually quite a good way to pack CDs, provided there is enough space left in the box to avoid being pressed from the top or bottom (and impacts). Will declare as gift (except for small packet) but will not undervalue.
Accepts cards and PayPal, bills in USD at a decent rate.
Their fees are as follows:

  • 300 yen base fee.
  • The fee is per ITEM now.
  • No consolidation/repackaging fee.
  • An additional 200 yen per listing bank fee for Yahoo! Auctions.

One-person operations:

Event proxies (attending events in-person):

You can contact me at the email address near the bottom of the page for event proxies.
I will likely be able to refer you to a proxy for major events such as Comiket, Reitaisai, and M3 in Tokyo. Less likely, larger Touhou events in Osaka (Kouroumu) or Kyoto. If you are willing to pay for travel and other expenses, some proxies may consider requests for events that aren’t nearby or that they were otherwise not planning to attend. You may want to consider searching for specific interest groups or reaching out to random people on Twitter as well. I will only recommend established proxies that have successfully fulfilled multiple requests before, but sending money to people you don’t know is always done at your own risk. I am not associated with any person or service on this page beyond having used said services myself.

For other events or anything not related to doujin music, you can try your luck with Japan Proxy Service.


Tenshi Shop
Like Nate, Tenshi has been in the game since 2009 and has a stellar reputation. While she is not known for buying from events, she can buy from most shops/apps. She can communicate with Japanese sellers for you (useful for auctions/shopping apps), such as asking questions or haggling, seller permitting.
The basic fees are:

  • The greater of 500 yen or 5% of total value for online orders.
  • The greater of 500 yen or 5% of total value per auction/app listing.
  • $5 per $500 for auction/app listings.

The PayPal fee and exchange rate (set by her bank–I get better rates) are unfortunate, but easily made up for by the quality of service. If you value good communication and a personal touch, Tenshi is your best bet.

Offers Japan Post shipping methods. Now offering Yamato Transport shipping as well, which has similar pricing to EMS or FedEx in most cases and takes 6-10 days. Will not undervalue.
Accepts PayPal.


Why I don’t recommend the most popular services

B*yee charges more than DEJAPAN does, but doesn’t provide a better service. Why pay more for nothing? Also, they make up their own exchange rates (read: rips you off here, significantly). And they have a weight-based “handling fee” which is really not a big deal, but it’s a bit of a tell that they care more about nickel-and-diming you than providing a good service. The same applies to their forwarding side, t*nso.

Z*nMarket has a strange deposit system (read: not favorable to customers). And slower than average turnaround time on requests. And days or weeks-long warehouse delays. And they charge more than DEJAPAN does. Why pay more for worse service?

General issues and horror stories: losing items, mixing up items from different customers, “re-packing” cardboard boxes within cardboard boxes, blatantly over-sizing boxes and adding excessive amounts of packing material to pad their bottom line, in two ways. The first way that they benefit from intentionally causing customers to be charged more for shipping is that high volume businesses get discounted rates from logistics companies. So, they charge customers the full rate (or close to it), and pocket the difference. The second is the tax kickback that all such companies receive from the government, for facilitating international sales.

I’m not suggesting that the services I recommend are perfect, but I am certain that they have better advantages, fewer disadvantages, and much lower proportions of complaints compared to the more popular services.

About “official” partners

This means nothing. Certain proxy services pay to be advertised on certain sites. That’s all there is to it. Their orders still have to be placed normally and go through the same systems as everyone else. They are not given priority or any other special privileges.
A prominent example of this is B*yee. They are advertised as the official partner on Mercari, but this comes with more disadvantages than benefits compared to other services.
Disadvantages:

  • Items can only be purchased through B*yee’s site, which has a delay from hours to days for items to be added.
  • Not all items end up being available for purchase through B*yee, even ones that should be.
  • Their API is imperfect, namely when it comes to searching for items.
  • All of their accounts are named along the lines of “b*yee1234.” Some sellers refuse to deal with proxy services, so this can be an issue. (Other services, such as DEJAPAN, do not openly reveal that they are proxy services.)

Neutral/same as other services:

  • Their purchasing agents still have to manually order items.
  • Their purchasing agents are not available 24/7.
  • Items are immediately marked as ‘SOLD’ to other B*yee users. To other B*yee users only. This could be considered as an advantage in one way, but taking into account the delay for items to even be available for requests to purchase and that the main competition for newly listed items is Japanese people with their own accounts, this is ultimately not a net benefit.
  • No, their browser plugin is no different regarding the above points. Rather, it’s not available for Mercari in the first place.

If you are reading this, then I hope that you will take stock in the thoroughly tried, tested, and researched information in this guide, or do your own research and gather your own first-hand experiences. Please don’t just believe the first bit of hearsay you see on the internet that often strays dramatically between iterations as it gets passed along the grapevine, that is often questionable and with no substantiating evidence to begin with. Most people only ever try one service and champion said service due to logical fallacies or other deficiencies, have little to no understanding of other services or various other details covered in this guide, and, frankly, are unreliable in general.

Aside

This shouldn’t have to be said, but please don’t place an order if you cannot comfortably afford it and a small amount of additional costs or fees that you may not have been aware of or foreseen. For example, if a few hundred yen in unanticipated fees or a change in available shipping methods would make you want to cancel an order, don’t make the order in the first place. Financial responsibility aside, Japanese stores are quick to ban customers and even blanket ban addresses at the first hint of trouble. Don’t be a nuisance to others.


Proxies that allow undervaluing

BIG IN JAPAN
Japan Shopping Service (marks as gift by default)
Sendico (will not declare as gift)
White Rabbit Express (will not declare as gift. Rebranding to Japan Rabbit announced, which does not offer this option. No End of Service announcement for WRE yet.)
J-Subculture (limited to 70% unless you wire funds–why?)

Forwarders that allow undervaluing

BIG IN JAPAN (will declare as gift on request)
Blackship (will declare as gift on request)


A note on response times
Don’t forget that these services are based in Japan, likely in a very different time zone than yours. Tokyo is GMT+9, which is 13 or 14 hours ahead of New York/GMT-5/GMT-4 during DST (Japan does not observe DST). Please don’t send a message at night their time and later think ‘hmm, it took them a while to reply to a simple message.’


Payment

PayPal
You may find it useful to have a PayPal account if you want to buy stuff from Japan. Go ahead and use a credit card directly if it’s an option, but you may find yourself using PayPal, depending on your situation. Some services only take payment via PayPal, and sometimes that will be the only way to buy from a site. You’ll want to link a debit or credit card. Make sure you enter your shipping address on your profile. If you have more than one address on your profile, double check each time you purchase something. Most sites (e.g. BIG IN JAPAN) will use the shipping address on file/provided at time of purchase. Others, such as one-person proxies, may get this information from PayPal.

Every transaction on PayPal carries a fee. This fee will be either 3.7% + 49 yen (for certain companies registered as charitable organizations, like BIG IN JAPAN) or 4.5% + 49 yen. You don’t eat this fee when ordering from a site like Akibaoo (they do), but you might when dealing with a small business (some forwarding or proxy services). Note that you may still be subject to a foreign transaction fee (usually 3%), depending on your bank. Capital One does not have foreign transaction fees on any of their cards (that are issued in the US).

PayPal’s currency conversion rate is absolutely terrible, as they tack on a 4% fee to the exchange rate that they pay. To avoid giving PayPal an extra 4% commission any time you pay in a different currency, go to this page https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_profile-merchant-pull-funding.
Or navigate as follows (only works for certain countries):

  1. Account Settings from the drop-down menu.
  2. Website payments.
  3. My automatic payments (click Update). This takes you to Recurring payments.
  4. My preapproved payments.
  5. Set available funding sources.
  6. Change the conversion options for any cards you have to use the local currency and therefore your credit card company’s exchange rate. It will be much closer to the actual exchange rate. Don’t forget to save changes when done.

Alternatively, you may be able to set your conversion option when selecting a payment method. Note: cards issued by Discover can only be billed in your local currency on PayPal. Discover sucks.

Exchange rates
Always choose to pay in yen when possible (‘convert with card issuer’) to avoid bad exchange rates, currency conversion fees, and foreign transaction fees. If a service bills you in yen, it’s worth using a card that gives you a good exchange rate (and no fees).
Exchange rate: If currency conversion is determined by the card issuer, that means Visa or Mastercard, etc. There should not be a significant difference between these two, at least for USD to JPY as of August 2022. You can check their rates here, for other currencies or for peace of mind at a later date: VisaMastercard
Foreign transaction fee: Determined by your bank, e.g. Chase. Capital One does not have foreign transaction fees on any of their cards (that are issued in the US). Other banks vary depending on the credit card, e.g. Chase Freedom Unlimited (has FTX) or Sapphire line (no FTX), not issuer.

If you are billed in USD or your local currency, it doesn’t matter since the exchange rate and fee(s) aren’t from your side.


How I shop

I’ve mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: make sure to use the Japanese version of any site unless you have a compelling reason not to. Even honorable Japanese businesses are perfectly happy to swindle stupid foreigners via “international” storefronts. That aside, they often have badly or machine-translated English which doesn’t really help. It’s far better to leave things in Japanese, learn to recognize (or just copy/Ctrl+F/paste) artist or circle names, and use your browser to translate any text you’re unsure about*.
The only real reason to use the international version of a site is if it lets you dodge VAT, like Mandarake’s site does (but still only if ordering from one store as every order ships separately). While this might seem like a no-brainer, you should still consider whether you want to combine items from other shops via a forwarder or proxy; it’s only guaranteed to be worth it for very expensive or large/heavy items that you want shipped separately.
*If Google Translate gives you a questionable translation, try DeepL.

New and recent releases that might still be in print:

  1. Events via an in-person proxy if there are venue-limited exclusives. Thankfully, it’s becoming more common for exclusives to also be available on BOOTH, or at least after the event if there is remaining stock.
  2. BOOTH if there are exclusives, usually to be forwarded by BIG IN JAPAN. While you could use a proxy for BOOTH (for more shipping options, for example), I prefer to use my own account so I can BOOST, message the sellers directly, and reply to their messages.
  3. Melonbooks or other stores if sold out.
    You should follow your favorite artists and circles on Twitter to keep up with new releases. To only see direct tweets from accounts you follow, use the following in the search bar:
    filter:follows -filter:retweets -filter:replies

Used:

  1. Suruga-ya, followed by Mandarake. For the latter, you might want to filter by doujin music for some search terms (同人 > 男性同人 > 同人音楽).
  2. Yahoo! Auctions, proxy required.
  3. Mercari/Fril/PayPay, proxy required. Select 本・音楽・ゲーム and CD to filter for CDs on Mercari. エンタメ/ホビー and CD for Fril.

It may be in your interest to look for bulk listings on auction/app sites. Obviously, searching by circle name is the first thing you should do, but not every listing includes this info. Search terms you may want to try:

  • 同人CD (with and without space)
  • 同人音楽 (doujin music)
  • 東方CD (with and without space)
  • 東方アレンジ (Touhou arrange)

Things to keep in mind

Customs – if you do not live in the USA, you may be subject to paying import taxes/fees before you can get your stuff. This is a) annoying, b) increases delivery time, and c) changes somewhat frequently. Varies based on package value, country, and shipping method.

The following two paragraphs are specific to the United States only. You can find information pertaining to other countries elsewhere.
The de minimis value threshold for imports to the United States is $800, meaning that any goods valued at $800 or less enter duty-free. This value refers to the declared value of the item(s) as well as the cost of shipping. Note that this amount is for one person in one day; splitting a shipment into multiple packages does not allow you to get around this. CDs should be duty-free in any case, and customs often lets packages valued between $800-$2,000 go if they are not obviously for commercial purposes, etc. No promises, though.

Optical media such as CDs (heading 8523) has a 0% rate of duty, current as of Revision 5 (June 3rd, 2022) of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. This applies to items originating from any country except for China, Cuba, and North Korea, which have higher rates: 25%, 80%, and 80%, respectively. If you have other types of items that have non-zero rates, you may still be assessed duties based on the declared values of those items. Printed matter such as doujinshi should also be duty-free, but other common types of items such as acrylic pieces or t-shirts are not. Again, this only matters if your shipment is valued over $800. If your shipment is valued over $800, you may see a notice that you may be subject to customs duties or taxes. This is just an automatic message based on the declared value; you will only be assessed duties/taxes if applicable, and will be asked for payment if that is the case.

While some services may allow you to declare packages as gifts or undervalue them, there are two things to keep in mind here. Firstly, it’s not strictly legal. While customs offices have much better things to do than to chase a few dollars that should have been paid on falsely declared packages, remember that I am not offering legal advice and you should look for specific information as it pertains to your situation. Secondly, any insurance on a package is limited to the declared value of the package. This is a good place to start reading about country-specific shipping/customs information.

If you do have to pay customs:

  • Generally, you should be asked for payment before you receive your package. You can choose to pay so your package is released, or not to pay and have it returned to sender.
  • You may receive your package and then a bill from customs after the fact (or from the delivery company that dealt with customs on your behalf). You should definitely pay if this is the case. Private couriers such as FedEx may pay duties to speed up delivery, then pass the bill plus a convenience fee to you. It’s possible to self-declare a package to avoid this fee (not the actual tax owed), but it’s unlikely to be worth the time and effort.

Cost – buying things from Japan is often not cheap after you factor in international shipping. It’s really not cheap if you have other possible fees, like proxy or forwarder fees, currency conversion fees, foreign transaction fees, and domestic shipping. Keep in mind that you will end up paying significantly more than just the price of the items. The amount you pay can vary dramatically, but you can hopefully save some money if you read this guide and put some thought into planning your purchases. As a very general rule of thumb, be prepared to spend an additional 30-50% of the total value of your items in fees/shipping if using a proxy service. Obviously, you’ll face a lower percentage if you order from fewer shops or order higher value items.


Further reading


Questions? Have something useful to contribute? Disagree with something I said? Feel free to comment here or message me at merami.fan@gmail.com.
If you found this guide useful, you can thank me by subscribing to Merami’s youtube channels:

Main: Cosmopolitan (こすもぽりたん)
Meramipop (めらみぽっぷ)
unico
and her FANBOX.

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