NOTE: Due to ever-evolving technology and services, pay attention to individual services' terms, fee schedules and guidelines as they may have changed since the writing of this article.
The advent of the internet and social media has continued to make the global market place flatter and more accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Gone are the days where you'd have to rely solely on JDM importers to import parts from Japan and pay a premium. While it may be cheaper and easier if you have a direct liaison in Japan that can help supply the parts for you (as I do), having an oversea acquaintance is by no means the only way to obtain JDM automotive parts directly from Japan. This is a personal guide on how to import JDM parts directly from Japan, base on my experience and review of each site and service.
Some of the more popular, safer and trusted sites to do business with that operates in Japan are:
- Yahoo! Auctions Japan
- Yahoo! Shopping Japan
- Amazon Japan
- Rakuten Global Market
- Rakuten Japan
I will go through each site in greater details, where the sellers generally ship to and forwarding services you can use. If you can purchase multiple parts at once, you may actually save money as a result. Ever notice how some Toyota or Honda dealers in the States sell genuine accessories for dirt cheap and sometime even with free shipping (i.e. eBay)? The exact same condition exists in Japanese online marketplace. The amount you save from a large multi-piece order generally more than make up the cost of shipping.
Japanese Web Sites for JDM Parts
Yahoo! Auctions Japan (Y!AJ) is probably the oldest and often the default online market place where JDM enthusiasts fall back on to purchase JDM parts from oversea. The problem with Y!AJ is that most of the sellers only ship to buyers within Japan. For folks that want to purchase items oversea, they will need to hire a 3rd party forwarding agent to act as the middleman. In the past, you'd need to rely on one or two person acting as the bidding agent and charging a tiered service premium of up to 10-20% of the closing bid. Depending on who you use, this can become costly.
You'll need to pay the cost of domestic shipping within Japan, a service fee (either a flat rate or a percentage of the closing bid), and an international shipment fee (usually EMS). And sometimes, an import duty tax. Nevertheless, Y!AJ allow buyers access to a wide spectrum of new and used JDM parts, including rare and discontinued parts of all makes and models.
Fortunately, there are several professional package forwarding service with dedicated warehouses that are constantly emerging, which you can use (more on this in Package Forwarding Services).
Similar to Y!AJ but minus the bidding. Most Yahoo Shops will require that you enter a Japanese based billing address with no option to select other countries. If you have a Japanese shipping address assigned to you by package forwarding service Tenso.com, you can use that instead (more on Tenso.com below).
If you've ordered from Amazon.com, then you are accustomed to the comfort and ease-of-use that comes with the Amazon online shopping experience. The same applies to Amazon Japan. Like Y!AJ, most seller on Amazon Japan only ship within Japan, so you'll most likely need to use a package forwarding service to shop on Amazon. Amazon Japan give buyers access to most genuine in-production JDM automotive parts and many JDM aftermarket parts.
The Rakuten Global Market is similar to eBay Stores (no bidding) or Amazon Storefronts; a global online marketplace made of individual sellers and stores. For users from North America, the site will redirect the viewer to a localized version. Many in-production genuine JDM auto parts can be found on the Rakuten Global Market. You can find them as easy as punching in the part number for the accessory you are looking for, the vehicle chassis code (i.e. ZVW30, DC5, EG6, etc.) for a broader spectrum of products or the JDM brand name you are looking for (i.e. Silk Blaze, Mugen, Spoon, TRD, etc).
Some sellers in the Rakuten Global Market will ship oversea, however, sellers of harder to find JDM auto parts still prefer to do business within Japan. Items that show up on the search results of the localized version of the Rakuten Global Market indicates the seller is willing to ship to the viewer's auto-determined country of origin. For parts or stores where the seller prefers to ship domestically, solution is using a package forwarding service in conjunction with Rakuten Japan.
Rakuten Japan is the Japanese exclusive version of the Rakuten Global Market, and therefore the entire site will be in Japanese only. As such, stores and items that show up in the search results can only be shipped to a Japanese address. The plus side is you have access to a wide breadth of genuine and aftermarket JDM auto parts. The down side is you need to use a package forwarding service. To access Rakuten Japan from the Rakuten Global Market, select "Japan" under the "ships to" field to filter out sellers and products that are exclusive to ship within Japan.
Reviews: Package Forwarding Services
There are a couple of online services that connects oversea customers to the Japanese domestic market, ranging from online market place, exclusive package forwarding service to all inclusive auction bidding and shipping services. There are three that I've personally used from the time I've owned my Acura RSX to my Prius (if I do not want to wait for my colleague to travel to Japan). I will briefly go over each site and the service they offer and how you too can take advantage of importing your own JDM parts.
Tenso is essentially a package forwarding service that connects oversea customers with the Japanese domestic market. When you sign up for a Tenso account, the service will assign you a specific Tenso warehouse shipping address. This is the address you will use to designate as your "ship-to" address on Japanese shopping sites. Whatever is delivered to your Tenso.com-assigned address will be held until you instruct Tenso.com to ship. Once Tenso receives your package(s) from the seller, an email will be dispatched to you and you can log on to your account to consolidate and pay for international shipment.
The only drawback with using Tenso is that they've recently mandated the requirement to submit a scan or digital photo of a government assigned photo identification that clearly shows you address of residence, such as a driver's licence or a state issued ID card, before you can start using their service. Your first shipment must ship to the address shown on your photo ID card, no exception. This is required to prove your identity and to mitigate fraudulent transactions. Subsequent shipments can be shipped to a different address. To some, submitting a photo ID to an overseas online service may not sit very well in their stomach, something to consider when signing up.
However, if you open up a Tenso.com account, you can pretty much shop at any Japanese web sites, including Rakuten Japan, Yahoo! Shopping Japan and Amazon Japan.
Buyee, in association with Tenso.com, is a full service auction bidding, warehousing and shipping agency that allows you to bid on items listed in Y!AJ. It is probably the best in its class. Back in the days, if you want to bid on Y!AJ, you would need to rely on expensive liaison service to manually bid on your behalf. One of such service was Celga, Inc. that began their business in the early 2000's and specialized in the anime niche market. Buyee takes away the guess work from Celga's derelict model and automate everything. You simply sign up for a Buyee account and copy and paste the Y!AJ item URL to the Buyee's auction URL entry. Buyee will machine translate the auction page pulled from Y!AJ and allow you to place a bid in Japanese Yen (JPY). Once a bid is placed, it will be recorded in your Buyee's account to which you can return to monitor. If you are the winner of the auction, you will be sent an email notification. The great thing about Buyee is you can use Paypal as a form of payment.
Once the auction item arrives at the Buyee warehouse, another email will be dispatched to you. From here, you can log onto your Buyee account and add additional shipping options before paying to have Buyee ship your product to you. The entire transaction, from bidding activity to package receiving and shipping with tracking number is recorded in your Buyee account. Fees are broken down so you know exactly what and who you are paying.
Generally, there are four fees you pay to use Buyee's service:
- Auction item price
- Buyee service fee, 10% of winning bid
- Transaction fee, 200¥
- Domestic Japanese shipping fee, if applicable (seller to Buyee warehousing shipping cost)
- International shipping fee (EMS cost, from Buyee to you)
Using Buyee service is more involved and a bit costlier, but allows you to utilize an all-inclusive service backed by a knowledgeable support team and access to Y!AJ's listings of rare auction JDM items.
How to Use Buyee to Buy JDM Parts From Y!AJ
A Comprehensive Guide to Buying JDM Goods From Yahoo! Auctions Japan
If you know the part number of the JDM part you are looking for, search for it in Yahoo! Auctions Japan. It's generally better to punch in the part number since it is a universal reference. If you want to search for a specific brand, such as Mugen, TRD or Charge Speed, then you'll need to type in the Japanese name of the brand (mainly in Katakana), or part description in order to pull up a search. Take for example, I want to buy a genuine Toyota Plasma Cluster with LED but didn't add it to my list of parts to get for my colleague who recently left for Japan. I search for the part on Yahoo! Auctions Japan using the part number referenced in Prius (ZVW30) Original Toyota Accessories Part Numbers, part #: 08971-75021-B0 . Type the part number into the search field and search.
Buyee Fees Breakdown
When you win auctions using Buyee, you'll pay Buyee two fees in addition to the cost of the final bid and domestic Japanese shipping fees (sometime free, depends on seller).
Payment fee is 200¥ or approximately US$2.00
This fee is what Buyee charges for using their service. If the final bid is less than 5000¥, then a minimum fee of 500¥ (approximately US$5.00) will be assessed. If the final bid price is over 5000¥, then the fee will be 10% of the final bid price.
Shipping Fee (Inter-domestic Japanese shipping)
This varies by the seller, but throughout the course of the years that I have been using Tenso and Buyee, the average is usually 700¥ to 1500¥ for items as large as a set of headlights.
Buyee Usage Guide
BTW, I highly recommend using Google's Chrome browser and enabling automatic Japanese text translation. It will make your browsing seamless and elevate your JDM shopping experience.
Once you've found your part, copy the URL to the auction item page from Yahoo! Auctions Japan and then paste the URL into the URL bar on the Buyee dashboard. The Yahoo! Auctions Japan should now be loaded into the Buyee interface where you can place bids. Bids are entered in Japanese Yen currency. If you need help with currency conversion, I use XE.com.
Placing a bid will prompt a window that allows you to enter your maximum bid and select your registered method of payment which Buyee will automatically use to pay the seller if you win the bid:
Once you've place a bid, you will be brought to a confirmation page. This page will show you a break down of the purchase costs you are expected to pay (in Japanese yen), if you were to win the auction at your bid. The cost breakdown does not include the costs of shipping:
The bid is not placed until you click on "Place Bid" one last time.
The successful bid will appear in your auction watch page on Buyee with the amount of your bid and time remaining. If you win the bid, you will receive an email notification. If you lose the bid, no further action is required.
Here's another example of how to use the check-out process at Buyee. I had to use another auction as an example because I didn't log the remaining step of the previous auction.
In this auction, I won a front lower lip accessory for the Prius from a Buy-it-Now type auction off Yahoo! Auctions Japan and paid for the goods. I wait for Buyee to receive the package from the seller (this usually takes 3-5 business days). Once Buyee receives the package, I will receive an email notification from Buyee indicating so.
After receiving the email notification, I log into my Buyee account and check for package status and sure enough, the package arrived with a short shipping price detail:
When "Fee Breakdown" is clicked, all associated fees, such as domestic shipping, will be broken down and displayed in yen currency.
When "Shipping Information" is clicked, the default shipping address is shown. This page also allow you to make any last minute changes to your shipping address:
Package consolidation means just that; if you've won multiple bids, you can group your items together and have it shipped as a single package. Depending on the size of the individual items, this can save you additional cost in international shipping. You are still responsible for the inter-domestic Japanese shipment, however. The consolidation fee per consolidated package at the time of this writing is 1,000¥, which translates to about US$10.00. You can consolidate multiple packages into separate consolidated packages (you'd do this mostly for organization purpose). When consolidating your packages, you have the option to add protective packaging, which is especially recommended for fragile products. The cost for protective packaging is 500¥ at the time of this writing, approximately US$5.00 at the going exchange rate.
To begin the package consolidation packaging process, select the items you'd like to consolidate by checking off the check boxes on the upper-left hand corner of each item detail box you'd wish to consolidate.
Once you're done, click on the "Add Package Consolidation" button. You will be sent to a package consolidation confirmation page. When you have reviewed your new consolidated package, click "Apply for Package Consolidation of the following items." Remember, you cannot revoke the service once you've applied for it.
Here's your last chance to add protective packaging service. I recommend it if you are shipping fragile items.
When application consolidation service is completed, your new package will show up in the Package link of your My Page details. It will show the status of the consolidation progress. Package consolidation is a manual service, once you've requested consolidation service, it cannot be revoked. It usually takes 24 hour for a Buyee personnel to consolidate your items. Once the consolidation is completed, Buyee will send you and email informing you of the completion where you can proceed to pay for international shipping.
Here's an example where I've won 3 products. To ship them individually via EMS would've cost me US$15.00 per package (not including domestic Japanese shipping costs) or US$45.00 total. Having it consolidated costs me US$46.00; $36.00 base EMS international fee plus $10.00 consolidation fee. If I consolidated 4+ items, I would've saved big on shipping fees. For three items, I pretty much broke even but having all three items arrive at the same time in one package and the peace of mind is worth the $10.00 consolidation fee alone, in my opinion.
The total to ship this consolidated package of three items amount to 7,365¥ or approximately US$76.00, which includes all fee and associated Japanese domestic shipping costs. While this may seem expensive at a glance, it is still far cost efficient than purchasing these three items on eBay and paying between a ridiculous [usually]non-combinable $32-$65 shipping cost for each item (when it really costs $15 to ship each item via EMS [about $12 per US lb]).
If you play your bids right, strategically and win only auctions that include free domestic Japanese shipping and in conjunction with favorable currency exchange rates, you'll save big on consolidated shipments.
Shipping Your Package(s)
Once I am ready to pay for my goods and have it shipped to me from Japan via EMS, I simply click on the orange "Check Out" button. Here is your last chance to review your order, payment cost and also ship-to address. Once you check out, your method of payment will be charged and you will not be able to contest or change the order.
After checking out, you will receive an email confirmation from Buyee confirming payment and the auction you've just paid for will be moved to the "Paid" tab under your Package Information page.
As soon as Buyee ships your item, you will receive a final email with the EMS tracking number.
When you receive this email, it usually takes 3-5 days to receive your JDM goods (depending on where you reside). Now all you need to do is wait! Alternatively, you can punch in your EMS tracking number at USPS.com for local tracking information.
From start to finish, i.e. from winning the bid and paying for everything to shipment consolidation, it took an average of about 1 and a half week to receive goods from Yahoo! Auctions Japan. Just as you would when buying or bidding on eBay, look at the Yahoo! Auctions Japan's sellers' feedback-to-transaction ratio before placing a bid. If you have any questions, you can contact Buyee and they will ask the seller on behalf of you.
Cost Savings Analysis
If you are buying multiple pieces, you would save considerably if you import directly rather than buying from a JDM importer/specialist or eBay. Take for example, a set of new JDM 2010+ 3rd gen Prius side door visors generally sell for $185-$240 from JDM parts importer or eBay. Buying it directly from Japan through Rakuten costs roughly $105.00 (today's exchange rate). Shipping from seller to Tenso.com's forwarding warehouse within Japan is $15 and Tenso.com's package forwarding + service fee totals to $30. The grand total is $150, still saving you between $30-$90. If you happen to find a store that offers free shipping after you've spend a certain amount, I'd say take advantage of that and consolidate all your JDM parts to save on domestic Japanese delivery fees. Occasionally, Tenso.com runs a free or discounted export campaigns, subsidizing up to 4,000¥ worth of shipping costs, allowing you to enjoy even further savings.
Using the example above, how much was I able to save? Albeit the part I ordered is an aftermarket JDM part and not genuine Toyota, it is made with decent quality to install on the car seamlessly. As a matter of fact, when I asked my buddy to pick up a list of JDM parts for me back in July, I asked him to pick up the complete set of JDM Toyota Prius Elegant Style chrome garnishes (front bumper grill garnish, front bumper lip garnish and rear hatch garnish). When I discovered the availability of cheaper alternative aftermarket JDM replicas while browsing Yahoo! Auctions Japan right before our July 4th road trip, I decided to go the route of replicas and good condition used parts instead and subsequently saved over $245. I mean in all fairness, paying Toyota price for stick-on chrome garnishes is a bit overkill, especially knowing that they will be chipped from road debris and rocks from long weekend drives! I've just recently had time to purchase the JDM Toyota Elegant-style chrome garnishes through Yahoo! Auctions Japan, using the front bumper lower lip chrome garnish as an example to extend and illustrate this article.
The total cost, including shipping and all associated Buyee fees was only $72.00 USD. Here's a cost analysis of buying an authentic version of the same Toyota part from various avenues, including eBay:
Above is an eBay listing (click to enlarge) for seemingly the same identical product. Cost is $265.00 USD plus $65.00 shipping from Japan.
Total Cost: $330.00
How much I saved: ($258.00)
The same product sold by Nigel JDM Parts, a popular JDM parts supplier amongst JDM enthusiasts in the States, charges $339.00 and $5.60 (if you want to go the economic USPS route).
Total Cost: $344.60
How much I saved: ($272.60)
Even if you prefer an authentic JDM chrome front bumper garnish by Toyota, you can buy it through Rakuten and you will still be saving over $100.00 over the eBay or Nigel JDM Parts route:
Here is a Rakuten listing for the same product for $181.13 USD. The total shipping plus handling fee amounts to $30.00.
Total Cost: $211.13
Savings from eBay: ($118.87)
Savings from Nigel JDM Parts: ($133.47)
Savings if buying a replica garnish from Yahoo! Auctions Japan: ($139.13)
If you do not want to go through the hassle of bidding for Prius parts at Y!AJ, I highly recommend buying directly from Chuwa Parts (be sure to change the "Ship-to" filter from United States to Japan) on Rakuten and have Tenso.com handle the shipment consolidation.
Keep in mind that the aforementioned buying guides are NOT restricted to just car parts alone. Buy your favorite electronics, books, anime models/kits, Japanese snack foods, apparels, stationary, etc. as long as they are not prohibited to export.
Finally, if you've found the tips in this guide useful, share it along with fellow JDM enthusiasts 🙂