Before I lived in Japan, I had always marveled at the endless amount of video games, anime merch, and other goods that just didn’t make it out of the country.
As a longtime gamer and anime fanatic, I couldn’t help but be jealous of all the cool stuff I wasn’t able to get in Canada. Now that I’ve been living in Japan for the past 6 years, I don’t have that problem, but if you’re reading this article it’s likely that you do.
To help you out, in this article I’ll be talking about what I think is the best and easiest way to buy items from Japan: ZenPlus.
ZenPlus Review Table of Contents:
- Buying items from Japan
- Proxy shippers
- What is ZenPlus?
- My Review of ZenPlus
- Design and UX
- Site navigation
- Shipping speed
- Shipping fees
- Final verdict
Buying Items from Japan
From Yahoo auctions to Rakuten and Mercari, there are tons of websites where you can find Japan-exclusive items. However, most of those websites or merchants don’t ship internationally.
Hop on to Amazon Japan and if your shipping address isn’t in Japan, good luck finding merchants that will ship to you.
So, if you’re living overseas and want to buy items that only ship within Japan, what can you do?
One genius business idea (that I wish I’d thought of) is proxy shipping. In a nutshell, a proxy shipper is a company in Japan that will act as your Japanese shipping address.
Regardless of the website you’re using, you can simply purchase an item and give the proxy shipping company’s address as the delivery address. The item gets sent to the proxy shipper and the proxy shipper sends the item to you, regardless of where you live in the world.
The cost to use a proxy shipper depends on the weight of your items and where you’re located. Obviously it’ll be more expensive for them to ship something to you in the United States, compared to someone living in Korea.
Essentially, you are paying the proxy shipping company for the service of using their address, as well as the work of processing and shipping your items to you.
Since Japan Bound is partnered with ZenMarket, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) proxy shipping companies in Japan, I know the space quite well.
When you’re buying multiple items from various stores, proxy shipping is a great and convenient option.
However, after being introduced to ZenPlus, I’ve discovered that the new ecommerce platform is an even easier way to buy from Japan.
What is ZenPlus?
ZenPlus is a part of the ZenMarket umbrella and functions as a standalone ecommerce website that houses thousands of Japan-exclusive products from various merchants.
If I were to describe it in one sentence, I’d say it is basically an Amazon Japan that can ship anywhere in the world. All of the items on the website, like these Demon Slayer merch items, are available for international shipping.
A website like this has been a long time coming and I’m super happy that we finally have one. For anime figure enthusiasts, retro gamers, and pokemon card collectors, the website is exactly the type of platform we’ve been looking for. As more and more merchants start selling through ZenPlus, I’m sure it’ll take off.
My Review of ZenPlus
I took the time to review the website from the perspective of someone living in Japan. Unfortunately for me, the website is meant for international customers, so they don’t ship within Japan.
However, that is by design and makes total sense. Why would you pay extra for shipping and fees to buy something that you can get in Japan by walking to a local department store or shopping center?
On the other hand, we ex-pats often want to buy Japanese gifts for our family and loved ones living elsewhere, so I tested ZenPlus for that exact use case.
The Design and UX
While behind the scenes the shipping process functions similarly to ZenMarket, from a user’s POV, this website is just as easy to use as any other ecommerce website. You simply:
- Add items to cart
- Input a delivery address and choose a delivery method
- Choose a payment method
- Check out
The system itself is smooth as butter and I can’t imagine it being any easier to buy Japanese goods.
The process is way simpler than I imagined, and I assume for the merchants selling on the platform it is simple too.
As someone who used to sell games on Amazon and Ebay, shipping internationally is such a pain. But through ZenPlus the merchants simply ship the items to ZenPlus’ Japanese warehouse and the company takes care of the international shipping to you.
Finding items is super easy as well. Since it’s optimised for non-Japanese speakers, you don’t have to worry about trying to type out item names in hiragana to appease the Japanese search engine (I’m looking at you Yahoo Auctions).
You can search items by brand, search games by platform, and you can even just type in your favourite anime title to see what exclusive merch items are available. Did you know that they made My Neighbour Totoro Zippo Lighters? Neither did I before trying out this ecommerce platform!
I’d wager that Japan is among the fastest in the world when it comes to shipping times, and ZenPlus is no exception.
I made a purchase on February 2nd, and the item was at the post office and out for shipping by February 4th. It left Japan on February 8th, and arrived at Los Angeles by February 11th.
Compare that now to Amazon UK…where I purchased an $80 USD video game for a friend (living in the UK). I ordered the game on January 28th, and over 2 weeks later it still hasn’t been delivered and the delivery company has no tracking number. LOL yes, Japan is just better.
The most important question: what is this gonna cost you? The answer is it depends, but it might be more than you’re used to when shopping on a place like Amazon.
Before saying “screw that” and clicking away from this article, it’s important to remember that a) international shipping is expensive and b) you’re also paying for a service. You must remember that the merchants who own those items are not shipping to you, ZenPlus is shipping to you.
Just like how the proxy shipper works, merchants send your items to ZenPlus and ZenPlus takes on the burden of processing and storing those items to be shipped. They then send the items to you. The only difference is you don’t have to deal with any of that hassle in between because ZenPlus does it for you.
Furthermore, they also offer multilingual support. This is a huge feature that makes buying from Japan way easier and can give you greater peace of mind. You are able to ask Japanese sellers, in English, questions about the items you want to buy.
With that said shipping fees can vary greatly.
And they can depend on things like:
- Size of the parcel
- Weight of the parcel
- COVID restrictions
Due to COVID or other regulations, some shipping services may not be available all the time and can cause a hike in prices. It’s also important to remember that the shipping is calculated not per item, but for the entire parcel.
Shipping and handling to the United States for this $170 Pokemon card, for example, was around $31.
Shipping for this $16 box of cookies, on the other hand, was around $29.
However, when I added an anime plushie, an anime soundtrack, and 3 chocolate bars to my cart, shipping, and handling for everything was $40.
I believe that while the fees may feel high to those who have never purchased from Japan before, they are very reasonable for the service being provided. You can also bundle items to make the overall costs worth it.
Of course, it makes no sense to buy 1 chocolate bar and pay $29 in shipping.
However, when your total parcel includes items worth $140, the $29 shipping fee is a lot more reasonable.
ZenPlus Review: Final Verdict
For Japanophiles, anime figurine lovers, retro game collectors, and more, ZenPlus is an absolute godsend. When you don’t have the luxury to go to Akihabara to find Japan-exclusive games, shopping on ZenPlus is your best option. The process is easy and the shipping fees are reasonable when you’re spending a decent amount.
Remember that the shipping fee is calculated based on the parcel itself. So, if you’re just buying 1 small, low-cost item, the shipping fee could be more expensive than the item itself and isn’t worth it.
If you’re buying over $300 worth of Japan-exclusive Pokemon cards, on the other hand, the shipping fee would be totally worth it.
So, the next time you’re looking to buy something from Japan, be sure to give ZenPlus a try!
Full Disclosure: As I said earlier in the article, Japan Bound is sponsored by ZenMarket and ZenPlus, so we have a vested interest in the website we’ve reviewed. However, this review does reflect my 100% true opinions of this company and what type of customers the ecommerce platform would benefit.