An unfortunate thing about visual kei is that unless you live in Japan or you are a fan of very specific bands, it is near impossible to purchase anything visual kei related in a brick and mortar store. This means that fans are forced to fall back onto online shopping in order to support the bands they love. Now despite the widespread popularity of internet shopping, there are still many people who are wary of purchasing items online due to fears regarding credit card security, legitimacy of goods, reliability of the seller or maybe they are new to the entire process. As an Australian fan, I can assure you that hell would freeze over before anything visual kei related were to be sold ANYWHERE in my entire state, and hence I have become quite savvy purchasing visual kei merchandise online (if I may say so myself). In addition, I don’t consider myself to be particularly rich and have tried out a fair few number of stores trying to find the best value option, which often changes depending on the type of goods I wish to purchase. I hope that outlining my experiences with the following stores will help advise other visual kei fans and maybe dispel any apprehension towards purchasing visual kei related goods through the world wide web.
As I outlined in my profile, I am a total CDJapan junkie and definitely not without good reason! First off, their point system. CDJapan has a deal where if you spend 5000 yen or more in products they will give you 500 points (where 1 point equals 1 yen) once your order ships. In addition to this, every item you order will give you “frequent shopper points”. I’ve found that the two combined is usually enough to cover my shipping (by SAL) fees. But that’s not all! CDJapan has a frequent shopper rewards scheme (outlined here) that could earn you even more points at the end of each season. Also, every now and then CDJapan will offer 1000 points in place of the usual 500 points for every order of 5000 yen (not including shipping fees) or more. But that’s not the end of the all the point giveaways, when you first register an account with CDJapan, it will be credited with 300 points straight off, and if you register your birthdate you will receive 300 points at the beginning of your birth month!
But enough about points. Another great thing about CDJapan is their customer service. They are always very prompt in response to queries (next day reply unless it’s the weekend from my experience) and will go out of their way to look up items they do not have on their stock list. CDJapan has an extensive range, but if for some reason they do not stock a particular item they will actually TELL you the reason, and often will direct you to a place where you can obtain it. This communication is also made very easy as their English is very good. CDJapan is also open to suggestions for improvement for their website and/or services. Just a little while ago they updated the format of their customer account and as evidenced on their twitter, have been implementing a number of suggestions. In fact, I myself made three suggestions via email, two of which they have agreed to implement. From a customer’s point of view, their incorporation of customer feedback really makes it feel like they value their customers. Another good thing about CDJapan is their notifications scheme. CDJapan will not only notify you when your order ships, but also whenever it is delayed as well as giving an estimated timeframe until it ships.
Some other reasons for shopping at CDJapan are the inclusion of first press bonuses, the affiliation with Oricon (meaning your purchases count towards a bands placing on the charts), provision of a shopping service for items they do not/cannot stock and their wide range of punk and Lolita apparel which may be of interest to some visual kei fans. In addition, you get to choose your shipping method and can choose to gift wrap purchases. They also offer magazine subscriptions.
Overall, CDJapan is my preferred choice, although I realise it is really more for those who purchase a lot and often, as they are the kinds of people who will benefit the most from the points scheme. For occasional buyers, it may be an idea to look around before deciding on where to place their order.
YesAsia is usually my second store of choice, and where I usually go to compare prices with CDJapan. CDJapan is very popular so if anything of interest is “sold out” on their site, YesAsia will often still carry stock. The main draw of YesAsia is their free shipping offer, which is valid for any purchase over 39 US dollars. However keep in mind that free means they most likely choose the cheapest shipping means possible and it will probably take a while to arrive. A quick search of their site leads to the statement “YesAsia.com offers different shipping options to our customers” however the list of options is obviously something limited to “the chosen ones”, and cannot be seen with this peasant’s eyes (read: I had absolutely no luck finding further information). Some words of caution regarding YesAsia:
- From a friend’s experience, it seems they do not offer external bonuses.
- In addition to the Japanese release, they also stock Taiwanese versions, ie bootlegs. They may be cheaper but they aren’t authentic (don’t know anything about the Korean versions).
- Customer service is quite lacking, taking a long time to respond to emails.
- If ordering something fairly old be sure to keep on their case, I had an order sit for more than a month while I waited for stock (the status said waiting for delivery from supplier). When I finally contacted them it turns out it was sold out, but they obviously didn’t feel the need to inform me.
- Items may be hard to find depending on the romanisation of titles. For example, Golden Bomber is mainly listed as “Golden Bommbaa” and the magazine Rock & Read is listed as both “Rock & Read” and “rokku ando riido”.
I would only recommend YesAsia for newer releases and those who can wait patiently for their order. While their customer service can be frustrating, I have no qualms with anything else and would consider them trustworthy. YesAsia is also an Oricon partner.
For those indie CD releases not listed by CDJapan I like to turn to Brand-X. The main barrier to purchasing from Brand-X would be the language barrier: their website does not have an English feature and the staff are not fluent in English. Brand-X has two order options for overseas customers. Shattered Tranquillity have written up a very informative tutorial on how to order using the store’s cart (http://shattered-tranquility.net/index.php/12/01/buying-from-brand-x/), but it is much simpler to use the second method: directly emailing them (http://www.brand-x.jp/page/44). This is the method I’ve always used and I’ve had no problems. Staff are able to answer shipping related questions, however I’ve never tried enquiring about anything else. When it comes to shipping methods at Brand-X you get no choice-it is always Express. This is bad in that shipping can be as much as the price of the product, but is good because you receive it in ~4days, not enough time to stress about it getting lost. While the main drawback to Brand-X is the total cost, fans are sometimes compensated by the occasional inclusion of Brand-X exclusive extras. This usually takes the form of CD comments, photos and flyers. Brand-X also has a frequent shopper system where you get a stamp for every purchase you make with them, for which they send you a card with the relevant number of stamps you’ve acquired with each order. I believe its 10 stamps and you get a discount of some sort, but I’m not 100% sure on that.
My go-to site for releases listed by most sites as “out of stock” is Amazon.jp. Amazon has similar cons to Brand-X in regards to lack of shipping options and shipping costs. One thing Amazon has that Brand-X doesn’t is the option to change some text on the site to English. This makes placing orders a lot easier. I’ve never felt the need to contact Amazon about anything so cannot attest to their level of customer service or fluency in English, however this also means that in all my purchases I have never had any reason for complaint. All my past purchases have been from Amazon themselves and not individual sellers – I’d imagine trying to purchase from an individual who doesn’t speak the same language as you would be a bit of a nightmare and isn’t something I’m game enough to try myself. Amazon.jp is definitely efficient and reliable but are really my last resort considering the exorbitant shipping fees (I always make it a point to not convert the yen to dollars, so I don’t get hit by the guilt in spending so much like a sledgehammer to the stomach).
COOL JAPAN STORE
A store that sells CDs but I usually use for merchandise is Cool Japan Store, the store side of news site Music Japan Plus. Music Japan Plus are joint owners of the Global PSC Fanclub so here’s a site where you can get LEGIT PSC goods. But they don’t limit themselves to PSC, Cool Japan Store stocks concert merchandise for a range of bands and I seriously believe they have some sort of secret love for Golden Bomber… Cool Japan Store offers you a choice of shipping methods which is a plus. Customer service is decent. Annoyingly, they don’t update you when they know there is going to be a delay with your order, only relinquishing the information when you contact them yourself. Their range of goods and ability to choose shipping options is what keeps me coming back.
Japan-Discoveries is a site that does sells CDs yet, I have never bought a CD from them. In fact, I have only made one purchase with them, for a signature model bass. I was apprehensive about buying an instrument online but the guys at Japan-Discoveries are very reassuring, helpful and professional. Japan-Discoveries are special because they stock and sell signature (and non-signature) guitars and basses. They also sell a wide range of band scores and official merchandise (with their range of bands being quite different to that of Cool Japan Stores) as well as the usual CDs and DVDs. From memory shipping isn’t that cheap, but you’ll be able to make a purchase completely worry free, if anything DOES go wrong (unlikely methinks) these guys will do everything to make things right. Hands down best customer service I’ve come across EVER. Can I recommend this site anymore? The only downside is not being as economical as CDJapan in the long run.
The last site I’ve purchased visual kei goods from is JPTOU (Japanese Products to You), a site which seems to specialise in magazines/books and picks. As CDJapan (and many other sites) calculate shipping costs by weight, it may be worthwhile checking out this site for heavier print items. Their customer service is quite good, although not as prompt as CDJapan and Japan-Discoveries. Good for anyone wanting to buy bandscores or perhaps a stack of magazines, they seem to carry a lot of back issues.
Lastly, there is HMV, a store which I actually have never used, but have heard good things about. They seem to have their own rewards system and some people seem to prefer them to CDJapan so check them out if you are looking out for better options.
I hope this post was useful to anyone thinking of buying visual kei related goods. Let’s all aim to support the artists responsible for the music we love!