A Guide to Buying Japanese Books
If you live in the western world then you no doubt feel the pain of trying to find books in other languages, especially Japanese.
It also seems that no matter where you go, there’s always books in Chinese, but never in Japanese. Why?!
In fact, my local library has a massive Chinese section that takes up 2 whole book shelves and they have not 1 Japanese book.
The situation at my university library is just as dire with as few as 10 Japanese books (and I’ve taken them all out already hehe).
That’s right, 10. And there are actual Japanese classes that you can take at this university…
So as you can imagine I’ve had to turn to buying books in order to satisfy my lust for reading Japanese texts.
In this post then, I am going to introduce to you the main ways that I get hold of my Japanese books and run you through exactly how to do it yourself (with screen shots), so that you can grab yourself some awesome books that you wouldn’t normally have access to.
I will make sure that I include sites that deal with both electronic formats and physical formats as things start to get pretty expensive otherwise, despite the fact that I prefer physical books over electronic.
Physical books over digital books any-day. pic.twitter.com/dEuxOJxo6W
— Matt 真嵩 宝京杜 「BritVSJapan」 (@matchoo12345) August 8, 2018
Buying Physical Books
So of course we have Amazon at the top of the less mainly due to their great customer service, availability and vast selection of books.
To search for books on the Japanese version of Amazon head over to this link which takes you straight to the books category.
When it comes to Amazon, you actually have 2 different ways of buying Japanese books.
The first option, which I find is often the easiest and cheapest way, is to check first to see if the book you want is available in the country you live in.
Doing it this way means that you don’t have to make a separate Amazon.jp account (which you need a Japanese address for: I’ll show you how to get around this later) and you don’t have to pay tonnes for shipping either.
Now this does mean that you need to know what books you want first before buying, so this option is only helpful if you already know what you want.
I will quickly show you how to do this as it’s very simple.
Some products on amazon.jp are actually available on amazon.com, or other amazon sites, as well. To figure out if an item on amazon.jp is available in your country, follow these steps:
- Find your book by searching for it on Wikipedia to find the Japanese title.
- Then you will want to search for the book on amazon.jp
- Once you find the book you want in the search results, see if you can get it imported from Japan by changing the URL from “amazon.jp” to “amazon.com“.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Change the above from .jp to .com
Note that the above example is for a video game which I used in a similar post on importing video games, however, the process is exactly the same for any product on amazon.
If the page reloads to the US site’s version of the product page then it means that the product is available to purchase from the US and you can buy it as you would the same as a normal product on Amazon.
If the page doesn’t load and comes up with an “oops, this page can’t be found/doesn’t exist” message then unfortunately you will have to go straight to the source and import the book straight from Amazon.jp.
As I said before you can try this with any country, for example I live in the UK so I would use .co.uk, instead of .com, in order to test to see if the product is available on Amazon.co.uk.
You can do this for individual product pages as well as entire search results which is very useful.
Unfortunately as “books” itself is a category and thus won’t work, however, you can go on to Amazon.com’s “book” category here, and if you scroll far enough down you will see on the left hand side of the page a language section. This allows you to change the language that the books you are looking for are written in. Here’s the Japanese section here.
The only downside to this is that in order to find actual novels, manga and non-fiction stuff, you will have to first sift through the endless amount of Japanese textbooks and grammar guides. I know, it sucks.
If the page displays a “page does not exist” error then you can move on to the second method which involves making a new Amazon account for the Japanese version of the site.
You can also use a variety other sites to buy imported goods which you can find further down the page.
Making an Amazon.jp Account and Ordering Your Books
To create an Amazon.jp account you are first going to need a Japanese address, but don’t panic if you don’t live in Japan, there’s a super easy way of doing this without spending any money or breaking any laws.
Before you do get into this though, I would highly recommend using a different email address to sign up with as I’ve heard people say that it causes huge issues, so make sure you use a separate email.
I’d use a separate password as well just to be sure.
What we are going to do is make use of a nifty little website called tenso, which is simply a delivery forwarding service.
What tenso do is they give you a free Japanese address so that you can buy things in Japan, have them sent to tenso, and then tenso will forward them to you all around the world.
This is useful for books, and other products, that you really want but that won’t ship to your country of residence.
However, unless the books you are after are super rare and can’t be found easily on Amazon or other main stream sites, there’s a good chance that you will never actually need to use tenso’s services, so don’t panic if you are starting to think about how much it’s going to cost to ship stuff to you.
The main reason we are using tenso is because they give you a free Japanese address, and because for some odd known reason, Amazon.jp requires you to actually enter a Japanese address upon signing up.
Unfortunately your US or UK accounts can’t be automatically linked with a Japanese account which sucks.
To get a Japanese address for free, head over to tenso.com, which is available in both Japanese and English.
Following the instructions on tenso’s side and they will give you a free address to use.
They won’t charge you anything until something is delivered to your Japan address and they have to send it to you.
Once you’ve got your new Japanese address, head on over to Amazon.jp and sign up with this address.
Once your account is made, you can then add an extra address which can be outside of Japan.
Once you’ve done this you can buy your books like normal and then send them to your real address.
Amazon will then deliver your items to you just like normal.
This tends to work out quite cheap as well as they tend to take off any tax on the products (they often charge you for tax and then pay it back to later on).
If you are overwhelmed by the Japanese on Amazon.jp then don’t fear as you can change it to English.
Here’s how to translate the site to English if you need to:
Yesasia is one of the oldest sites around that sells and ships goods from asia globally across the world.
I’ve used them in the past to purchase manga and the service was perfect.
They have fast delivery in comparison to other sites and a wide range of products from not only Japan but China and Korea as well.
When it comes to the Japanese written material they offer, they have 3 huge categories, Japanese Magazines, Books in Japanese and Japanese Comics.
They not only have a very large range of reading material but they also sell anime, films and music too so they are definitely worth taking a look at if you are also looking to get some listening material as well. You can find all these categories on the left hand side of their home page here: Yesasia.
I’ve talked about play-asia before in my other post about importing Japanese video games and I think they are one of the better sites for getting Japanese books, games and generally any other content from a wide variety of countries in Asia.
CDJapan has been around for years and it’s definitely one of the go to online stores for getting books. I’ve used them once before when buying the entire Death Note series and along with a few other manga and found that they had a pretty decent service. The only issue I had was that the shipping costs ended up being just as much as the books I was buying and it also took longer than expected for the parcel to arrive.
However, those are both issues that you may find with any of these sites due to the fact that you are buying goods from halfway across the planet. If you live geographically closer to Japan you may find shipping costs and arrival time to be a lot less.
One thing that I think CDJapan has over the other sites in this list (besides Amazon) is that they don’t just sell books, so if you where interested in picking up a video game from their games section, or even your favorite anime on DVD from their anime section, then you can easily add that stuff to your order you won’t have to worry about going to another site to pick up that stuff.
They also do music, movies and TV, Japanese craft, apparel and even stationery!
I highly recommend checking them out if you are looking to get other goods from Japan as well.
Honto.jp is a site I’ve heard mentioned a few times on the internet but I’ve never used it personally myself. Nether-the-less I thought I would include it here to make you aware of its existence. From what I’ve seen from other people discussing the site, they do ship globally but the site itself is in Japanese and there’s no option to change to English so you might struggle signing up if you can’t read much Japanese yet.
Honto also sells eBooks as well so if you are looking to save some money on shipping then they may be the way to go.
Buying Digital Books
Again, you can always check Amazon.com for books that are written in Japanese using the same technique as before, however you may just want to go straight to the source.
If you want to check Amazon.com first though then this link to the Best Selling Japanese eBooks is probably a good place to start.
As I talked about earlier when I discussed ordering physical books from Amazon.jp, to get Kindle books from the Japanese Amazon store you are going to need to create a new Japanese account (if you’ve done this already then you don’t need to make an extra one).
As I mentioned earlier, make sure you sign up with a separate email address from the one that you use for your other amazon accounts else you may have issues signing in (you may also want to consider a different password too) and make sure you get a free Japanese address from tenso.com.
Once you’ve successfully created a Japanese Amazon account you can simply browse the kindle store and start downloading books.
Now you don’t actually need a kindle to view any of these books, you just need the kindle app on your phone (Android download here, and iOS download here) and need it signed into your Japanese account, but if you are looking for a smoother reading experience then grabbing a kindle might be worth the money.
I would also recommend taking a look at kindle unlimited, which you can trial for free, which will give you “all you can read” access to a huge amount of titles.
Remember that you can change the language settings to English on Amazon if you ever get stuck trying to find where to go to cancel your subscription.
BookLive is my personal favourite source for Japanese eBooks as its simple to use, has lots of great deals including daily coupons and sales, has over 10,000+ free books available for instant download and has its own reader apps which sync across devices giving you a super smooth reading experience.
The only issue with BookLive is that they don’t have an English language setting so if you don’t already understand Japanese then it might be a pain for you to get on there and sign up.
If that’s you though, don’t worry as I’ve got you sorted!
I made a blog post yesterday about BookLive in order to try to make its existence known to the community as I honestly think it’s one of the best sites you can get JP Books from.
In this post I gave a fully fledged guide, with screenshots, showing you exactly how to sign up and buy books using the site.
I’ve also included some links in there to some specific pages on BookLive such as their daily coupon page, the page that has all their free books in one place and also their super cheap sale page as well, so if you’re interested in using BookLive then check out the following blog post: Where to Buy Japanese eBooks + Thousands of Free eBooks.
And no I am not affiliated with them in any way, I just love their service so much that I think anyone who’s learning Japanese should be using it.
Buying From Sites That Don’t Ship To Your Country
I’ve already mentioned tenso.com’s forwarding service earlier in this post in order to get a free Japanese address, but as the service is an actual forwarding service you can make use of them (or a similar service) in order to buy books from other Japanese book stores that don’t ship to your country.
All you would have to do is put in your tenso address upon checkout, send the goods to tenso and then pay tenso to send them to you. I’ve never done it myself so I can’t tell you what it’s like or how expensive it would be but it’s always an option that’s available if you ever need to use it.
That’s it for this post guys, I hope you found it useful and let me know in the comments what books you’ve ordered! If you aren’t sure about what books to get then you can always check out my Japanese book review posts where I briefly introduce some of the books that I’ve read that I’ve really enjoyed.
Thanks for reading!
マットBy Matthew Hawkins 2018/09/10 Massive thanks to Diederik, Eric and everyone else supporting me on Patreon. You guys are awesome! 🙂 Follow me on Twitter Support me on Patreon to get early access to posts and exclusive content
Undergraduate Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.