Actually going to Japan (yeah right) or having someone in Japan send CDs back to you is a really good way. Watch out that if you have them mailed you should have them sent by some trackable method of delivery (EMS Mail for instance). My theory is if it is being tracked then it is less likely to be "lost".
Express Mail Service isn't bad
If you have something valuable and need it fast EMS mail service isn't unaffordably high priced. Much less than FedEx. For some reason it costs more to send something express mail to Japan from the U.S. than it costs from Japan to the U.S.. It seems to me that it's about $20 to Japan and only $13 or so to the U.S. for one CD. Obviously that's a lot for one CD, but it's not so much more total with a bunch of CDs.
Hey x3 Music Champ! Japanese CDs cost a lot
Just a reminder (if you don't know), Japanese CDs cost US$25 to $30 in Japan. By the time the importer gets it to you it may be $40 easily. Every couple years the currecy gets better by as much as 20% or worse by maybe more than 10%. Good times were 2002 and 1998. Sadly I was broke ;-(
Why so expensive in Japan?
Reason 1: the yen rose substantially against other currencies some years back. It went down in value substantially (25%) late summer '98 for a month or 2 went back to its old level and then down again in early 2002. Interestingly, in Japan, all CDs still cost the same as LPs used to back in the 80s (in yen not your currency), something that has not happened in the USA where CDs remain about 200% of LP prices (taking into account inflation is tough). I just bring this up because where else in the world did legitimate CDs wind up being the same price a record album was. After the initial more expensive price on CDs in the mid 80s by the late 1980s a CD had the same price as a record album had.
Reason 2 The music companies claim they need the high and for the most part fixed prices to maintain the wide selection of new releases and develop domestic artists. On the up side, many older CDs are now budget priced or mid-line priced (around $12 to $18).
For what it's worth Japanese CD prices are fixed to whatever it says on the CD. You won't find one shop with lower prices. Everyone kind of charges the same price. So some shops have some kind of cards you get stamped. Sometimes there might be a free gift, but sometimes the labels do that also. Sometimes shops convert new CDs into "used" ones and then sell them very slightly cheaper. This would be right away when a CD just came out. Eventually real used ones get sold but if you aren't in Japan it's rare to find those used CDs.
Where does nick get his CDs?
Well aside from the occasional import find in NYC retail CD shops I usually just patiently wait until I'm visiting Japan and then buy an obscene number of CDs. Sometimes I'll coax a friend to buy something and ship them to me. Even better is when I work on somethingand get a comp (hint hint)
Well Mr. fancypants what if you can't go to Japan?
these places are good:
Mr. Ohkura will give you personal service. He will ship currently available
albums by mail. You can write him in english with catalog numbers or names if
you don't see it on his site. If it's a regularly available CD he can get it
for you. Very many of my net friends, some of whom are serious collectors have
been very happy with having Comfort ship them the albums they've ordered. His site isn't terribly up to date these days.
the big online places:
cdjapan.co.jp - I'd say is the best all around order-online place these days.
pros: they take foreign credit cards and their pages are completely in english (though they have less info on them). Now that amazon.co.jp seems to have implemented more expensive shipping services they have much lower shipping rates (EMS is reasonable and completely safe)
cons: I can't find a lot of CDs I'm looking for there and last time I tried ordering (a couple years ago) several listed for sale items turned out to be unavailable when my order was filled . They sometimes don't list the tracks on the CDs.
amazon.co.jp is good.
Don't use amazon.com or your local amazon for Japanese CDs (Use your local Amazon for your own country's domestic releases of Japanese CDs), those places are very very marked up in price though recently prices are getting more fair - also do compare delivery times (some amazon.com stuff is "special order" = a long wait, you could order if from Japan and it will be faster and cheaper )
as to amazon.co.jp -
pros: they have an english language order and account openning page though the site is mostly in Japanese. The list more CDs than their competitors, pertty much everything in print and in some rare cases you can buy used CDs.
cons: the item listings are in japanese but you can try the below urls for translations (but switch them off when you order to avoid errors)
http://babelfish.altavista.com/ or http://www.excite.co.jp/world/url/ (push the radio button to the right of the one thats lit)
further hints: you can paste in catalog numbers and if your computer is set up for Japanese characters you can find people's names in Japanese on other websites in Japanese and cut and paste them into amazon. They used to fast reasonably priced EMS shipping but last time I checked they went to SAL(much slower than EMS and seemingly almost the same price) or DHL (fast but quite expensive)
pros: all in english
cons: very expensive shipping via FedEx
pros: a few exclusive CDs, like amazon.co.jp the open an account page is mostly in English.
cons: CD listings all in Japanese, quite expensive shipping via UPS, and what looks like a handling 800 yen fee (some of the other places have fees, but they are lower)
Japanese bookstores around the world that stock CDs can special order them. This can be good if you want just one CD and aren't in a rush. They may have a listing of catalog #s or not be helpful at all. You may want to supply the current catalog number. I am told it's real tough to just order a CD just by name and artist. I used to order quite a few things from the no longer in business Asahiya bookstore in NYC. I have learned 3 times that no matter how or where you order some kind of numerical mistake can mean you don't get your CD. The databases of numbers occasionally do have typos beyond your control.
www.othermusic.com , is a NYC shop that used to stock a few labels and bands but it's hit or miss. They have some vinyl too. What makes them on some rare occasions really great is now and a again they strike deals with small labels to get special lower pricing. So one might luck out and get a CD for less than it costs in Japan but their interest in Japanese music seemsto be on the wane. And they have a few marked up high import CDs too.
www.gemm.com has listings by individual albums of dealers
offering those albums, what makes them unique is to the best of my knowlege
they seem to be the only place with a lot of web listed hard to find CDs. (not
usually Jaapnese used CDs, but its a great place for 80s vinyl) Some albums
I suspect get listed that a given dealer can order but don't actually have.
The trouble there is if their databases aren't current, they will be listing
stuff thats not currently orderable. Prices can be silly high too.It might mean
it's rare. Or it might just be a silly price.
I have another comment about online places. Many of them list label catalogs of what they think are available and then put in a wholesale order for whatever you order from them when you order it, thats not necessarily a bad plan from their business point of view. A major problem from your standpoint is with the recession in Japan a whole lot of CDs have gone out of print which previously were available consistantly. So a sort of annoying situation is some percent of what these online companies list they just won't be able to get anymore unless they already have them sitting in their own warehouse, something that seems rare. But the album in question may still be on some store shelves in retail shops. I did get into a situation several times where I was ordering stuff not in stock. I'd be waiting a long time and the place would eventually tell me they couldn't get it because it was out of print (which was true). Thats why I stopped ordering that way. But its obvious that a place with a stock on shelves may very well have this recently out of print material still quite available until someone buys it (or they send it back unsold). On the upside, take a look at Amazon.co.jp or some place that prints a ship time. If thet say 24 hours, even "1-2" days or similar it's pretty likely they actually have it and aren't just ordering it and taking their chances it will show up. If it says "2 to 3 Weeks" or something then it means they just found the listing in a catalog somewhere and it's a "special order" which is no proof it's actually available. It might, but if it's a release that other places don't seem to have, odds are you'll just wind up waiting a while and winding up with a refund.
Some artists have their own online CD shop. If I know about it I'll mention it on the artist's page on my site.
Sonore is French label and online import CD shop specializing in Japanese avant pop (but not all that much I get into here)
reopen nick's site