If you’re into old anime and Japanese nerd stuff, you may eventually want to pick up older, out-of-print Japanese-language books or merchandise. While your best option is to hop on a plane and sift through the dark recesses of Nakano Broadway, most will have to make do by purchasing online.
What follows is a rough guide to purchasing old books and magazines, based on my own experiences. As such, your mileage may vary. Most of this is generic enough that it can probably be applied to any sort of older, out-of-print item that isn’t particularly common.
Mandarake is my go-to site for old, out of print books, toys, models, whatever. Their stock is updated daily, they have a huge selection, and ordering is pretty straightforward (though it’s probably easier to use PayPal than a credit card).
The most important thing to know when browsing Mandarake’s website is that items are listed individually by storefront, so you won’t be able to combine shipping on items if they’re at different locations. Different shops also tend to be better at others when handling mail order, as well. The main Tokyo stores seem to have stock tied in directly with inventory, but other locations will sometimes take up to three days to check inventory and let you know shipping costs.
Bottom Line: With low prices and huge inventory, Mandarake is dangerous. Even if you’re not looking to purchase anything, it’s a fun site to browse and highly recommended.
While this may be the most obvious answer, it isn’t always the best. A lot of Japanese-based sellers have set up shop on eBay and offer buyers lots of great merchandise, often at inflated prices that are straight up stupid. $30 for an old copy of B-Club Magazine? No thanks.
Lots of sellers will let auctions sit as Buy It Now items with inflated costs hoping some sucker comes along, so initial searches can be deceiving as to what an item is actually worth–if it’s not actually selling at an inflated price, it’s not worth it. Log in to your eBay account and click the “completed auctions” button to see what items are actually selling for.
It’s also worth taking advantage of eBay’s Followed Searches feature, which will subscribe you to a feed of items matching your search criteria. This is great if you’re looking for something uncommon; rather than manually searching every week, eBay will send you an email when an item you’re looking for pops up. It’s how I managed to finally snag a cheap copy of The Notenki Memoirs after a year of looking.
Bottom Line: Still a solid place to look for old books, shop around and double check shipping prices before buying. Your best bet is to look out for sellers in your country who are clearing out old collections and aren’t putting stuff up for dumb prices.
Amazon’s third party selling service has attracted the attention of Japanese sellers, and with most charging shipping as cheap as $3.99, it can be a really attractive place to shop. Amazon.jp also offers easy ordering for overseas customer and English-language pages to make ordering items about as simple as possible. It’s a great option if you’re looking for newer books that are still in print.
Unfortunately, as has become the norm for Amazon, third-party sellers often list up out-of-print items for absurd prices. With that in mind, I like buying from Japanese sellers on Amazon because of the upfront costs and the hassle-free experience. Incredibly, I’ve been able to find some out of print books for sale on Amazon that I couldn’t even dig up on Yahoo Auctions.
The caveat here is that third-party Amazon listings don’t include images and titles can often be rendered haphazardly in English or mislabeled entirely. It pays to do your research and dig up the ISBN numbers for what you’re looking for and search for that.
Bottom Line: While the selection isn’t always the best, Amazon makes things about as easy as possible. I’ve found both base prices and shipping costs to be consistently cheaper than on eBay. Use Amazon.jp for new books.
Having used a couple different bidding services, I’d seriously recommend using Goody Japan. Friendly staff, good prices and commission charges in yen, not USD (better to take advantage of a good exchange rate!), are the reasons why they’re the best I’ve found. Their website isn’t as slick as other services, and they communicate via email instead of an automatically updated site with auction tracking, but the benefits of Goody Japan more than make up for it.
Bottom Line: Even with a favorable USD/JPY exchange rate, buying on Yahoo Auctions quickly turns more expensive than you might think. If you’re smart how you buy–namely in terms of final price, quantity and weight–it may not be catastrophically expensive, but be prepared to shell out more than you’d probably expect. There’s quite a few companies that offer buying services for Yahoo Auctions, so do your research and compare rates.
Those three are going to be your best bet for tracking down out-of-print books, but there’s other sites that are worth searching through.
Book-Off is mostly useful if you’re near one of their locations in the U.S. (Los Angeles, New York and Hawaii), but they’ve also got an Amazon shop for online sales. Just like Book-Off stores in Japan, shopping there can be really hit or miss since it’s all used stuff—sometimes you’ll find something awesome, sometimes it’s a bust.
CDJapan specializes in new items, but when old books go back into print they’re a decent option. They also now offer buying services for Japanese online retailers, though I have yet to try that out.
Page last updated Aug. 14, 2016.