So you want to buy merch from Japan. But alas, you soon find that many shops don’t ship outside Japan. This is where forwarding services come in handy.
What’s a Forwarding Service?
A forwarding service is one that, well, forwards your packages to you. Simply put, it’s a service that gives you an address in Japan to send packages to. When packages arrive there, the service will notify you and from there, you can pay a small fee plus shipping and send the package to your home.
For most anime fans, there are already plenty of options that don’t necessitate a forwarding address. J-List, Tokyo Otaku Mode, and CDJapan are just a few shops that are more than willing to ship Japan’s goods to your home. But for the hardcore fan looking to get some merch not available through these outlets, there’s forwarding services. While there are several such services, Tenso is the most popular, and the one I’ll be discussing here.
What Will I Need Tenso For Exactly?
Personally, I use Tenso to buy products from an array of shops. Most notable is the Love Live! Official Goods Store, which is where I buy concert merch, such as pen lights, ticket holders, pins, hats, posters, and much more. Now to be fair, Tokyo Otaku Mode does sometimes offer this merch as well, but this isn’t always the case. Nonetheless, I still prefer to order straight from the source, since it may turn out cheaper that way and I can consolidate my order with packages from other stores.
Amazon.co.jp is English-friendly and will ship most products to America no problem… well, except for Avex products. For some reason, Avex, among some other distributors, don’t want their products shipped outside Japan. Tenso is the loophole here. Simply send the product to your Tenso address and ship it home from there.
A few other shops I use Tenso for: Melonbooks (NSFW warning!), a great source for doujins and fan covers of anime music; A!SMART, a great store for idol/anisong and other J-pop merchandise, and home of the Aqours CLUB OFFICIAL SHOP; Bushiroad EC SHOP, a spot for BanG Dream! merch plus a lot more; and PremiumStore.jp, another Love Live! merch shop.
Ok Great! How Do I Set One Up?
It’s easy! Just go to Tenso.com and create an account. You’ll be given a Japanese address. But don’t go shopping just yet! You first need to verify your identity. This is usually as simple as snapping a photo of your ID and uploading it, and Tenso will give you easy instructions on what you need to do. More info about this is available in their FAQ.
One other thing to keep in mind – your first shipment must go to your home. After that, feel free to send packages to your friend’s homes or elsewhere.
What Happens When My Package Arrives At Tenso?
Once your package arrives at the Tenso warehouse, you’ll get an email to alert you. From that point you can choose to ship it to your home, or, if you’re waiting for more packages, you can wait up to 30 days for them to arrive and then consolidate them into one package. After 30 days, you will no longer be able to consolidate, so be careful not to wait too long! If you wait more than 60 days, your package will be handled “in accordance with the Terms of Service” and I’d rather not find out the hard way what that entails.
Shipping from Tenso to your home will not be cheap, by the way. The fastest shipping option is usually about ¥3500 (about $35) including Tenso’s fee, and this total will vary depending on the package/items and other factors. There are cheaper options available, but avoid SAL unless you really need to save money, because that can take over a month. Consolidating packages also results in a fee, usually ¥800 (about $8), which may seem like a lot, but it’s still cheaper than shipping multiple packages separately.
Getting Around the Language Barrier
If you don’t know Japanese, shopping on Japanese websites can be daunting. Many sites do not offer an English option, and many that do, simply do an automated machine translation. A machine translation is better than nothing, but can still be misleading.
If you don’t want to put in the full effort to learn Japanese, you should at least consider learning katakana. Katakana is a set of easy-to-read characters that, most of the time, are used for English words. For example, many Japanese sites have a link called マイページ, which is pronounced as “my pay-gee”, or in plain English, “My Page,” which is where you’ll manage your profile, see past orders, etc. Another example is ログアウト (pronounced “rog out,” and means “Log Out”). Knowing katakana will not only help you with Japanese websites, but also Japanese games! And if you ever visit Japan, you’ll be able to read lots of signs! Knowing katakana won’t help you with everything Japanese – far from it – but at least you won’t be completely lost.
Even if you know katakana, you’ll still need help from other tools. Google Translate is your best friend in this case. Be sure to grab this Google Chrome plugin, which will let you simply highlight some Japanese text and click a button to translate it without needing to leave the page.
The one thing of utmost importance is to make sure you enter your Tenso address correctly. If you don’t, who knows where your package may end up? Fortunately, Tenso has a very handy guide on how to enter your address. Even with this, it helps to have the Google Translate plugin so you can easily read any error messages that may come up.
When all else fails, see if your fandom has a subreddit and/or Discord server. Chances are there will be people there who are willing to help you out.
Can’t Someone Do All This For Me?
Yes! There are middleman services that you can go to, tell them what you want, and they will place the order for you from the official shop and take care of the forwarding automatically! DeJapan is one such site that does this. They even support Japanese auction sites! The only downside to this method is, you’re limited to which stores you can order from. But if they have what you want, go for it!