CONTRIBUTED BY ERIN SCHALK
As holiday season approaches, time, patience, and energy are all beginning to run short, while social commitments and gift lists increase with each passing day. For those of you who have already completed your holiday purchases, congratulations! Obviously you are very good at planning ahead, or you secretly harbor some sort of shopping addiction (I promise not to blow the whistle on you and confiscate your credit card)!
However, if you are a procrastinator like me, there is still much work to be done. In the States, we lived far from family, so I depended on online shopping for most holiday and birthday purchases, selecting the gift recipient’s address during checkout so the present would arrive on his or her doorstep. While this option is still available to us living in Okinawa and can minimize the time and stress caused by running from store to store, given our location, there are now significant drawbacks to online shopping from American retailers:
1) Orders shipped from the United States to your APO box or that of a friend may not arrive or be processed in time due to the holiday rush.
2) If you have friends who are native to the island, shipping directly to their local address from the U.S. may not be a possibility.
3) Many family and friends now expect hope for gifts unique to Japan and Okinawa from you. After all, they can order that new video game from Amazon on their own.
A solution to these potential problems is to shop online through a Japanese retailer that ships domestically and internationally to the address of your choice. Rakuten Global Market is touted as “Japan’s No. 1 Shopping” site and does ship worldwide. Rakuten’s website is available for browsing in multiple languages, including English.
Rakuten is set up as a giant marketplace, home to countless retailers, all with their own unique shops and merchandise. Items for sale on Rakuten are as varied as their sellers, and as with other major online shopping networks, shoppers can browse through numerous categories of items. For example, when shopping for my mother, I selected the Kitchen section. From there, Rakuten allowed me to further narrow my search: Lunch Bento, Japanese Tableware, Professional Utensils, and so forth.
If you are concerned about the currently unfavorable dollar to yen rate, Rakuten offers some perks to offset the difference. In the spirit of the holiday season, there has been an upsurge of merchants offering discounts and sales, and some items are eligible for free shipping and gift-wrapping. In addition, Rakuten has a point club system. Rakuten purchases earn point rewards translated into Yen, Yen that can be applied to purchases, thereby minimizing your total costs. Plus, major American credit cards are accepted payment methods.
If you purchase from Rakuten, you will receive e-mail confirmations from your merchant(s). These e-mails will be in Japanese. Some merchants advertise that information is available in English, however, Rakuten is a Japanese company so English is not the standard. Every time I receive a confirmation e-mail, I copy the text into Google translate. Online machine translators are by no means infallible, but they can give you a general idea of the e-mail’s message, such as when the item shipped and if the item is backordered or out of stock.
One of the biggest advantages of purchasing online from a Japanese retailer, especially for friends and family here on Okinawa, is the delivery speed. Since Japan is a relatively small country, your merchant’s base of operation and your home are not too distant in terms of kilometers. In my experience, items shipped from Rakuten using standard shipping took an average of 2-3 days to arrive at my front door, even arriving on a weekend day in some cases.
Creating an account on Rakuten is easy to do and very similar to what you may be used to if you frequently shop online. As with most major American retailers, signing up for an account is free and you only pay for what you purchase. Details on how to register and get started can be found here.
Shopping online from Rakuten is truly a situation where everyone wins. You have the ability to finish your gift list quickly and easily, you are supporting local merchants, and you are providing family and friends with beautiful, unique Japanese gifts that they cannot find in shops at home. So, how many mouse clicks does it take to purchase that hand-thrown ceramic sake set? Oh…about 5. Best of luck completing your holiday shopping!