So..you are going to Japan?
Firstly, well done, and I have you have a fantastic time!
But....I get it.
You are travelling to Japan for the first time
You love model kits.
Japan makes model kits.
You have seen the Japanese price of kits on sites like HLJ and Hobby Search.
You can buy cheap model kits in Japan!
The first time I travelled to Japan, I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. I could go nuts, save money, and stick it to the man!
I remember walking into a store in Kyoto (it was the Kyoto Yodabashi store. If you have the chance to go there, please do as it will blow your mind!), looking around at the shelves, and picking my jaw up off the ground.
Being a bit of an organisational freak, I started to make a list of things I wanted to get in my head.
Then it struck me....
1) How the hell am I going to carry all this?
2) How much would this cost me in Australian dollars? (yes, I am an Aussie btw!)
Point 1 was an exciting task in logistics that lasted all of 60 seconds, as point 2 slapped me around the head several times.
See, I was travelling on a conversion rate of approx. 70 yen to the Australian dollar, which suddenly put some of the model kits I was looking at in roughly the same price range as back home.
Plus, I was stupidly looking at spending about a 1/5 of my travelling money in one hit, but I was only travelling with one large suitcase...on the Japanese train system.... and doing a bit of walking with my bag between venues....
This got me thinking.
Is it really worth buying a crap tonne of "basic" or generic kits that I can get at home? The very simple answer is no, not really. Let me explain my thinking below.
NB: Please don't think I am saying don't buy stuff.
You need to buy stuff!
Maybe, just not all the stuff!
Take it that I am saying be smart with your purchases.
That 1000yen kit compared to a $15-$20 kit at home may not be that big of a saving when tax and the conversion rate is factored in.
There are a few things you may need to consider as a first time purchaser in Japan
It breaks down into three 'areas of consideration' that need some thinking before you go absolutely bonkers buying kits.
a) The conversion rate you are working under (which includes taxes)
b) How do you transport your purchases while you are there? and/or
b) How do you get everything home?
This is probably the thing that, in my experience, people really forget to take into account. I have been lucky to travel at nearly a 1:1 rate only once (it was about 93 yen to AU$1), so I figured I had the cash to go nuts.
And go nuts, I did!
(see postage column though...$300 postage cost later)
Let's be honest, the conversion rate probably won't ever be in your favour, and you are probably looking at around 60-70% value to your native currency (I think the US$ may be the only exception but this isnt always the case.
One other thing to keep in mind is taxes.
Japan has a 10% sales tax that usually doesnt get mentioned on the ticket price so you need to factor this in when paying (though you can also get things tax free at some shops in Japan! Make sure you have your passport with you).
This in turn, with the exchange rate may actually mean your savings are not as much as you think
I feel these couple of points are something that you need to take into account, even if it's from a practical POV.
Consider saving your money for those kits that you know you can't get at home.
Consider how you are moving around Japan and where you are staying.
I am guessing that you are travelling with at least one large suitcase (around the 75 cm mark which means it holds 15-20 kgs or 75-90 litres). You may be lucky with your airline allowing you to have two bags.
NB: I know it sounds dumb but avoid soft bags (unless you trust the airline people to be gentle with your kits) or bags without wheels as I am guessing you will be doing a lot of walking!
Most model kits, whilst light, can be quite bulky, with their box dimensions often being surprising.
Assuming you are like me and into the mecha-based properties (Gundam, Maschinen Krieger etc), on average, HG Gunpla boxes are about 30 cm wide x 18 cm high x 6-8 cm deep, with MG boxes being around twice the size and PGs being even bigger again.
This means you can only fit so many boxes into your bags - between 6-8 HG's with all your clothing(?) and up to 20 HG sized kits in an empty case.
(photo found online).
Depending on when you travel, your clothing and travel agenda become a serious consideration (travelling in the winter will see you with thicker/heavier clothing, multi-cities, see next point).
There are tricks you can use, like scrapping the boxes and keeping the runners, but remember you have to carry them for what...2-4 weeks?
BTW, if you bulk buy (ie go nuts) all in one hit/over a couple of days, early in your trip if you visit, for eg, Akihabara, this then assumes you won't find other stuff you like/want later on during your trip.
NB: this is based on most trips starting in Tokyo, then moving out to other cities
ie dont plan your model buying shop early on!
You may also strike the issue of how much you are allowed to take back with you as this does vary from airline to airline
Carry-on can be tricky and some airlines are really strict with the 'only one carry-on' rule which could be only the size of a backpack
NB: A PG box may be too big to take on as carry-on luggage, and you may be forced to leave it at the gate, depending on the airline!
Saw this happen on one of my return flights, and the guy was told at the gate as it wouldn't fit in the overhead. He then had to go back to the booking desk and put it through as extra baggage which cost him a bit....and they only could tape it up for him as he didnt have any packaging (he was so cheesed off!)
Also, you should consider where you are staying.
If you are travelling solo, are you staying in hostel-style accommodation?
In a capsule hotel?
If so, you won't have much security or even storage space at these venues during the day.
Plus, how the heck are you physically moving around the country?
I'm assuming it's by train if you are city hopping, so this may mean the Bullet Train or Shinkansen.
Space is at a premium on the Bullet Train.
You used to be able to leave your bag at the end of the carriage (behind the end seats), but this has now disappeared as an option in recent years.
Now, the primary storage option is in the overhead racks.
From the JRPass website
You may bring up to two pieces of baggage on board free of charge. For each bag the total of the length, width and height must not exceed 250 centimetres, the length must not exceed two meters and the weight must be no more than 30 kilograms.
This is something to consider in your travels, as the recent changes have increased the size (??) limits but reduced the physical space as on the train the racks are not that wide and don't work out as one 'space' per seat as tourists place all their gear in the racks
I hear you saying, "I will just post it home" and my reply would be "Fair Call" as this is a really good option.
Please note that, that most Japanese postage is based on size and not weight (though that is a factor), so your postage costs (including the box!) may actually put the cost of the kits you have bought into the same price range as what they would cost you back home, if not more!
If you do post home, consider the following:
How do you ship it?
Japan offers several means of transport with EMS (fast) and SAL (slow) being the two most common options.
EMS: Pre-COVID saw EMS turnaround times being less than a week, but you would pay for it (usually, the cost of EMS is roughly the same as the value of what you are posting home as a vague rule of thumb.
Pros: Speed, trackable, insurance (sometimes)
Cons: the cost-to-value ratio. It can double (or more) the price of what you have spent in total
SAL: SAL is literally the slow boat from Asia.
Travel times seem to vary from 4 weeks to 6 months.
Pros: the cheaper option
Cons: no tracking, no insurance, can take months
NB: Sometimes, it is strangely cheaper /not much more expensive to send things by EMS rather than SAL. This seems to occur at a certain size, but I wouldn't rely on this happening constantly!
How to post something home from Japan
This really depends on where you are as to how easy this may be.
Not all Post Offices have English speaking staff (the chances are really, really low....), but you can work things out by saying, 'EMS postage to....' or 'SAL postage to...'
Smaller town PO's seem to freak out when a Westerner comes to post something (this was my experience at a smaller PO in Kyoto, but the main PO near Kyoto station is amazing!).
Pro tip: You have to fill in really detailed paperwork to attach to your postage so know the total costs of what's going in the box, how to describe it ('Toys' should suffice though you can also write 'model kits'). Don't send things like solvents, glues and batteries as you have to declare this on the form as well.
When sending things to Australia, I had to fill in two pieces of paperwork that was stuck to the box so I dont know if this appplies to other countries.
Also, make sure you grab both the SAL and EMS paperwork at the same time as they can't give you a postage quote without the paperwork filled in so it makes life easier for all if you have both filled in ready so you can make a decision as to which route you will send things home
- ask me how I know that trick about the paperwork...took me an extra 30 minutes as I had to line up again to get the EMS paperwork filled in etc as the Kyoto PO worker told me EMS would be cheaper than SAL which was what I was lining up for!
Pro tip: Don't go to a major PO with an armload of plastic kits when they are really busy.... ). And you can buy boxes at the PO which makes life a bit easier
Consider things before going stupid.
Please don't think I'm saying don't buy kits. Its one of the best parts of going over there as a builder.
Buy the special event kits (e.g. Gundam Front branded gear)
Buy the kits that you know you can't get at home.
Use your phone to price compare with your LHS
Be aware of buying the really big boxed kits for obvious reasons.
Buy hobby equipment like tools and accessories, as I can guarantee that this is where you will make real savings compared to home
Take the opportunity to look at properties that you may not have considered.
Try another brand or maker outside of the what you normally buy.
Try another line of kits outside of what you normally would consider.
But most importantly, enjoy the hobby and being in Japan as it's freaking amazing you lucky bastard!