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The Pain of the Importer

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera

#40 - The Pain of the Importer

If you order something from Amiami, the biggest online dealer of Japanese toys, from outside of Japan, they'll be glad to send it over. They'll also send you a very polite little note thanking you for your order and reminding you that if anything at all goes wrong with this product, all the service is done in Japan by the Japanese company... so you're on your own.

But the lack of a warranty doesn't stop us. There is only so much the small US market can possibly provide the American otaku, and everybody knows that there's always so much more in Japan. It's just a matter of time until the American otaku's quest for more stuff leads to some fine item that can only be imported from the source. And we're people who are fascinated by the exotic, so of course we have to have it.

Buying stuff from Japan sort of feels like sneaking around. The videogames all say FOR JAPAN ONLY on them in big letters on the back, and you had to do a lot of work to get some of them to play! Back in the tape trading days, people would go to a lot of trouble and pay huge money to play videogames based on big series like Ranma and Dragon Ball that were nearly always absolutely terrible.

For American anime fans, imported stuff has a special feeling. It's from the source, it's expensive, it's hard to get in most of the country, and as such it's special in a way that domestic anime product is not. For many fans, that they can't read the words on the box of an anime figure is kind of a plus!

Right now, on account of the economy and the exchange rate, it's actually the worst time to import stuff from Japan, hence the title. It truly hurts. When I order the toys I buy for my review column, I feel thankful it's my employers' money and not my own. The retail price of an average Figma, the most popular otaku anime toy line, is 2400 yen, but to get one over here usually brings it to $50. Would you pay 5000y for a new Figma, hmm? Every time I open up my wallet for something at Kinokuniya, like a 2000 yen book that costs $60 to buy in New York, I wince a little bit.

When these figures get US distribution, the price is usually just set close to what you would have paid importing it from Japan, so there's no avoiding that painful markup.

For extreme cases, like a heavy 3500y mahjong set that would have cost me over $100 after shipping, I've had friends vacationing in Japan pick the item up for me and get it to me when they return. They're good friends.

It's tough out there for the American importer otaku these days.. but do you want that Akiman artbook or not, geek? Do you want that statue of Saber or not? The whole otaku business, all over the world, hinges on this question... because the answer is usually “yes” and the prices are set accordingly. Here in America, if it's important enough, we too take a deep breath and we reach into our wallets. It hurts, but like the Akibarangers say... pain is power.