Buying a Camera in Japan: 7 Useful Tips

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  • Japan is a stunningly beautiful country and the ideal location for photographers. From ancient temples and gorgeous artwork to paradise beaches and mysterious bamboo forests, there are so many chances to take wonderful pictures and hone one’s photography skills.

    Japan is also a well-known creator of many brilliant cameras and has many established manufacturers which were founded in the country. These include top companies such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Fujifilm.

    For a camera geek, Japan would appear to be a match made in heaven. However, buying a camera in Japan is not necessarily as simple as it first seems. Purchasing your ideal camera could take some careful looking around and comparing prices. You may, for example, be looking for cheaper versions of models you find in your home country.

    There is such a wide range of cameras on offer that it may be confusing to know the best prices or best shops to head to. To make this process easier for you, here are 7 useful tips when buying a camera in Japan, which could make your search a lot easier!

    1. Camera Stores are Everywhere

    For someone who wants to buy a camera, Japan is simply heaven! Many of the large electronics stores which can be found throughout the country have entire floors devoted to cameras. There is also a wide range of different varieties, brands, models, and prices.

    Some of the most well-known electronics stores are Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera. These stores can be found in all of the big cities, but also more remote and smaller cities! You could spend all day browsing these huge stores. Most of these stores will have a store guide in English where you can easily find the floor which displays cameras.

    Aside from the popular stores, there is also a wide range of boutique camera stores dotted around. This includes Leica, which has stores in Kyoto and Tokyo, and Map Camera in Shinjuku which sells second-hand cameras and lenses.

    The one thing many of these stores have in common is that they have an enormous array of cameras and accessories available. Conveniently they also display most of the cameras so they can be picked up and used by customers. This is great because it means you can really test out the camera before committing to buying it and can compare the quality, look, and feel of the camera without having to wait for a clerk to show you.

    Wherever you go in Japan, you won’t be far from a store which sells cameras, and most likely you’ll be able to try the cameras easily and take your time.

    Yodobashi Camera*Automatic translation

    Bic Camera

    Official Leica store locator

    Map Camera

    2. English Language Settings

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    One very important tip when buying a camera in Japan is to make sure the camera you want to buy has an English language setting. This is especially important with modern or high-quality cameras where the camera menu is often used and where understanding it is essential.

    Of course, it might be expected that all modern cameras would have an English language setting, as Japanese-made cameras in other countries always have this setting. However, many of the big manufacturers such as Sony and Panasonic, do not put an English language setting on cameras which are sold in Japan.

    The main reason for this restriction is that the manufacturers want to limit the unauthorized export of cameras from Japan to other countries. For this reason, some cameras are made with a Japanese-only setting which cannot be changed. So definitely be aware of this!

    If you are unsure whether a camera has an English-language setting, you can ask a store staff member or check the menus in store for each camera. You will find plenty that do have an English-language setting but do be sure to check.

    Further to this, buying a camera in Japan may mean that the instruction manual will be in Japanese (although some will have multiple languages). The easiest way around this is to go online and find the same model which is sold abroad, where you will be able to find the manual in different languages and download it.

    3. Test the Camera in Store

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    One great thing about buying a camera from Japan is that most stores will allow you to bring in your own memory card to the store, take some pictures with the cameras you are interested in, and then check the pictures out on your computer.

    Simply go to a store with a memory card, take some pictures, try out the different controls and functions, review your images, and then you can make an informed decision about which camera you want to purchase. This is such a great and convenient system and allows the customer to really be sure before they commit to a camera.

    4. You Could Claim Duty-Free

    duty-free-japan

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    Another great perk about buying a camera, or other electronics, in Japan, is that you can claim duty-free (no tax) on many goods if you are going to be in Japan for a short stay (less than six months).

    To make sure you can do this, you will need to bring your passport to the store and will be required to sign a ‘Proof of Purchase’ form. The minimum amount of money you need to spend for this duty-free perk is 5000 yen, and the maximum you can claim duty-free on is 500,000 yen. This is approximately between 45 and 450 U.S Dollars.

    This perk can save you quite a bit of money, as it means you will be refunded the consumption tax (VAT), which is currently set at 8% as of 2017 (this may be increased to 10% in the near future).

    In terms of which stores offer this duty-free service, the big stores like Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera do. Other smaller stores such as Map Camera may also offer this service, so feel free to ask. Just ensure you bring along your original passport, as passport photocopies won’t be accepted!

    5. Be Aware that Cameras in Japan Can be Expensive

    camera-store-1

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    One assumption that I made when coming to Japan and looking for a new camera was that I would be bound to find much cheaper cameras and could save money. I suppose this is because I concluded that because Japanese manufacturers wouldn’t need to pay export fees to ship products abroad, cameras here would be cheaper than the same ones would be abroad.

    Sadly, I was proved wrong. Quality Japanese electronics are just as expensive as they would be in other countries, particularly when you factor in exchange rates and credit card fees. If you plan to buy a camera in Japan, make sure you do compare the prices in your home country first.

    However, if you are specifically looking for some high-quality products and decent, reliable equipment, Japan is a great place to find great electronics. Also, if you are looking for bargains, try heading to Akihabara, a district in Tokyo with several second-hand electronics stores which sell cheaper used cameras and lenses.

    6. Is There a Worldwide Guarantee?

    This probably goes without saying, but be sure to check the guarantee which comes with your camera before committing to buying it. You will find that many of the larger stores like Bic Camera will usually have direct access to the manufacturer. This means their staff can easily contact them and find out about the guarantee, how long it is for and whether it is worldwide.

    However, generally speaking, the major manufacturers will always offer a worldwide warranty. Also note that this information should be stated inside the camera box, so you can always ask the staff to check this to make sure.

    7. Help for English Speakers in Japan

    In general, it can be fairly difficult to find an English (or any other language for that matter) speaking staff member at stores in Japan. Perhaps the best places to go would be the major electronics stores in Shinjuku and Shibuya in Tokyo, where stores serve many international customers and are very likely to have at least one English-speaking staff member.

    However, also be assured that Japanese customer service is well-known for being extremely helpful and polite. Staff will try their best to understand what you are looking for in their store, and will try their best to help you find your ideal camera. It may help to bring along an image of the model you’re looking for or the functions you want your camera to have.

    Conclusion

    So here are 7 useful tips you should keep in mind when buying a camera in Japan. You will find that the variety and range of cameras are massive, and one can easily spend a whole day just browsing and testing great cameras!

    From personal experience, I have purchased a number of cameras in Japan, and it has mainly been a very positive experience. I have gotten exactly what I paid for, and have not experienced any major issues. The tips I have mentioned reflect my own experiences and the small issues I have encountered while shopping in Japan.

    With these considerations in mind, you are sure to have a nice experience shopping for your ideal camera or piece of camera equipment. Enjoy your search!