Do you import Japanese light novels? If yes, what service do you usually use to purchase them?



  • I wanted to ask because I want to start importing Japanese manga and light novels from Japan. The reason is, I'm learning Japanese.

    Also, I want them to be in print. I know shipping is going to be a pain, but it's worth it for me.


  • Translators

    Kinokuniya is your best option in the US. They have free shipping on orders over $50, and the membership program is a pretty good deal if you're expecting to buy enough. (10% discount plus a $10 gift card every $300 spent for a $25 annual fee, I think.)

    Shipping takes a couple of weeks and the estimated delivery date on the tracking is always wrong, but they package the books really well, so it takes some major post office abuse to damage them. I've only had two books get damaged, ever.

    Since Kinokuniya does a percentage mark up on the cover price, Amazon.jp is actually similar cost once you factor in shipping (and possibly cheaper on more expensive books, since the shipping is a flat rate per volume) but Amazon doesn't package books well, and they often arrive damaged. They just toss them loose in a box and they slide out of the slip covers, which get mangled. They do have good customer service and will replace them, but I'd rather just get them from a store that knows how to bubble wrap your books.


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    I've experimented with using amazon.jp, but some of what I wanted to buy was not available new anymore.

    I've primarily bought used (and some new) through eBay, and repeatedly from a vendor named bookstoron. I found out a couple of months ago that bookstoron will create custom auctions if you have certain series you want. Just send a message listing what you want, they'll send back an auction number.

    But that usually isn't the cheapest way to go on NEW books.


  • Translators

    @someoldguy Amazon.jp can be much cheaper for out of print/used titles but there's no indication which vendors ship overseas, so you just have to add shit to your cart and try and purchase it to generate an error. Or use a proxy shipping service.


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    http://www.kinokuniya.com/us/ they have retail store fronts as well- about a dozen

    I am spoiled rotten that a great Japanese marketplace (groceries, food court, crepes, books, festivals etc) is about a 30 minute drive from my house.



  • Thanks for the answers


  • Premium Member

    By the way, a few years ago I was talking with a woman that works for Viz Media at a convention, and mentioned that I wasn't otaku enough to get into cosplay. She said that, if I'm importing stuff directly from Japan already, cosplay isn't far behind.

    I've also found that completing collection of a long, difficult to find series in Japanese is a pretty good way to trigger it being released in English. The month I got the last book of To Love-ru Darkness from Japan, the English translation was announced.



  • The majority of the time I buy from amazon japan, and for what it's worth I've never had any of the problems with poorly packed or damaged books that doceirias has mentioned. It's true they don't use any kind of cushioning but every purchase I've made from them over the past few years has been shrink wrapped to a cardboard backing inside the package.

    I've also bought a couple of books from cdjapan; they don't have the big price markup that kinokuniya has, and their shipping options are more flexible than amazon, but they've got a much more limited selection than either, and the one time I have had a damaged book (torn obi) it was from them.


  • Premium Member

    When I import Japanese volumes, I'm usually collecting Limited Editions which means I use a proxy service. I usually use White Rabbit Express but have been curious about trying out other services too. What's nice about White Rabbit Express is that they're very good with their communication so you can always make sure to get what you want even if you can't read Japanese or even if a product doesn't have a product page yet.

    Sometimes I use Buyee as WRE doesn't have the ability to proxy Japanese auction sites.

    If I just want a bunch of regular ol volumes, I've used CD Japan in the past but I haven't really tried to experiment much with others as most of my "luxury" money goes towards the Arifureta imports every other month pretty much.



  • @chrollo May I ask you what level of Japanese reading skill you at currently at?
    If it already around upper intermediate then print is fine.

    But if you're just starting out then i'd strongly advise against print, and opt for digital instead (unless ofcouse, prints really motivate you so much that they outweigh] digital's benefit)

    It's because when you buy digital i.e from Amazon or Kobo , you can strip drm and then use Add-on like https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/yomichan/ogmnaimimemjmbakcfefmnahgdfhfami So the dictionary pops up when you mouse hover over the unknown words. Physical books however means you have to type the unknown words manually and that's really hard if kanji is included.

    Then again , If you're either 1.already really proficient in Japanese 2. Really Really likes Physical Collections that it'd motivate you despite the hardship in looking up words. That Physical is fine. or else digital is the way to go


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    Not much to add with regards to sources since I tend to have books sent via friends, god I wish Book Off would figure a way to list their used sets. However, I'll add something about the learning phase.

    Intermediate is always going to be a questionable term since learning the language is a progressive thing. There is no standard going to tell you that you are suddenly intermediate or advanced. You simply reach a level that you are able to understand more complex grammatical phrases, can parse words which you've never seen based upon recognizing that they are not part of the words around them, vocabulary, etc... Even the JLPT standards are kind of skewed in this regard because there is a massive amount of vocabulary which can be seen/heard which aren't included in courses/books focused upon attaining a specific level.

    My point is that even after attaining JLPT N1, you're going to have to look things up, albeit nowhere near as often as you do as a beginner provided that you are reading something you're at least partially familiar with in Japanese. Familiarity with subject content, and in some cases the grammar used in that type of content has to be developed over time. The only way to do that, and make your brain comprehend what is being read, is to practice the specific skill in the context of it's use. For example, reading light novels is substantially different than reading the instructions for how to install a new component into your computer.

    With regards to the issue of kanji which you don't know, I learned before a lot of the apps and programs for automatic translation were well publicized. AJATT, which a lot of people tend to praise for self-learning, didn't even exist when I started, and I actually learned about it from people I met working in Tokyo. There is likely a better way by now, but I can only say how I initially overcame the issue of recognizing kanji. It was tedious and painful to say the least. However, I think the time I spent looking things up was probably more important in regards to learning than the understanding of how to comprehend the sentence content.

    In order to do it this way requires you to have an IME on your computer. If not familiar it will take a bit of trial and error to get used to because typing in Japanese isn't as simple as typing in English. If the text has furigana, this really simplifies the issue. If no furigana is available, you have to look up the kanji using a stroke count dictionary. There are several online, but my go-to was http://www.japaneseverbconjugator.com/KanjiByStrokes.asp because it also provides context for any hiragana conjugations which may follow the kanji if you click through the details and conjugate buttons. Only kanji which are stand-alone in words will have these conjugations. For example, if I'm looking at 下さい, 下 is a simple three stroke kanji. By itself it would be read shita, and means below/under. Although the reading is included in that list, it's incomplete in the context and したさい will not give you any usable results. Therefore, copying the kanji from the stroke order dictionary, and pasting alongside the proper hiragana, followed by 英語で (meaning "in English" and written in romaji as eigo de) will tell you that the word is kudasai and means please. I specifically chose this word because it's one that most people know and has multiple ways to read the kanji and confuse if not followed all the way through the steps of searching it. In essence this is how Japanese would look up the word while recognizing the kanji in context and needing an English word. Since the kanji is the unknown, it has to be used in context of the Japanese word in order for a beginner to get the proper reading.

    In the case of longer words, you have to copy/paste each kanji as you look them up by stroke order into another tab or window and use the same 英語で in order to get the reading/definition. As an example, 自動販売機 is only one word and with a bit of leeway in the reading you can figure out what it is based solely on the kanji once you have a feel for what each of them actually mean. You can't learn the actual reading of the word just by knowing what it is though, let alone how the pronunciation changes based upon using multiple kanji. Again, chose a noun because it won't work in the given dictionary and would have to be looked up, and potentially parsed into multiple words if you're not familiar with the specific word. In this case, it's じどうはんばいき and means vending machine.

    With regards to parsing, I'm referring to multiple words using kanji which don't need particles or conjugation in order to be used together. However, this is pretty common. 高速 and 道路 meaning high speed and road separately, will be written as 高速道路 and mean highway. While you can look it up as a phrase and get the meaning/definition, each of these are actually separate words which should be understood. Likewise, if you look it up using search engine as a single word in reverse, beginning with the kanji and working to English, you end up with "royal road" which is not going to be anywhere near understood by an English speaker as a "highway". FYI, this word was specifically chosen because Google HATES it.

    In the end, practice makes perfect, and familiarity breeds content. It's only by doing this that you can really become competent in any context. Once you develop a bit of vocabulary, and get used to using it/seeing it/writing it, it gets much easier. I'm not going into phrases in this post because I've already spent a lot of time with this much. However, you should also expect to have to look up a few things which will not make sense if you were to see them as sentences because they have a specific context. そのまま as a phrase, and 何をしたんだ as a question, immediately come to mind which have their own inherent meanings and won't be understood using English till you become familiar with the language.

    Knowing that, by all means use print books. If you can keep yourself motivated during the process, it can actually be pretty fun. As for me, I became a fan of kanji humor along the way, and am pretty good at written puns even by Japanese standards. Play with it, don't take a few mistakes as earth-shattering (because you will make them), and realize that any time spent reading, regardless of how interested you are in the subject material, is still practice no matter how long you've been doing it.


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    @chrollo I don't want to hijack your thread, but can also make another cheap suggestion for study material. You'll want to understand basic grammar before trying, but was (and on occasion still is) one of my favorite things to do. It also isn't as daunting as trying to sit down with a 200-300 page book where the shear amount of material can easily become jumbled by the time you get from one page to the next, let alone from one day to the next. Even I struggle to read a 300 page book in a single day, and consider myself to be rather fluent.

    I'm rather fond of J-pop, so this was natural for me. When I first began really TRYING to read I started looking up the Japanese song lyrics. A song is only a couple minutes long, and less than that when you think about it since most will have 2-3 choruses. Most songs, especially if they're popular or from recent anime, will have them posted somewhere. Just type in the title and artist followed by 歌詞. In romaji, this word is kashi, and literally means song lyrics.

    A word of warning though. DO NOT attempt translating from sound. If you like the song, great. Go ahead and listen to it. However, because lyrics have to fit to the music tempo to some degree, breaks in the vocals can be a bit misleading till you know the words being said. A sudden change in tempo can easily make three words sound like one, or one word sound like three. This is why I recommend using written reference and looking it up in small sections.

    After you know the words, and likely understand the grammar (grammar is often different for music as well because it tends to be a series of clauses/phrases rather than a contiguous story) you'll find that you can likely understand what is actually being said. It does take a bit longer before you understand it fluently, but if it's a song you like you're going to have a lot of chances for your brain to adapt to any concepts it has.



  • I appreciate it, @pleco_breeder, this is great stuff!


  • Translators

    @pleco_breeder said in Do you import Japanese light novels? If yes, what service do you usually use to purchase them?:

    Even I struggle to read a 300 page book in a single day, and consider myself to be rather fluent.

    Man, is that the standard for fluency? I didn't realize I wasn't remotely fluent even in English!

    because lyrics have to fit to the music tempo to some degree, breaks in the vocals can be a bit misleading till you know the words being said.

    This is a good point. I'll add, and this is similar to what pleco says in that final paragraph, that if you're trying to understand a song and something in it doesn't make sense, take a step back and a deep breath. Songs in Japanese are like songs in most languages – they frequently take poetic license. So sometimes the lyrics don't make sense because your skills aren't good enough to figure them out yet, but sometimes it's just because… well, sometimes songs don't make a lot of sense. Start from an assumption of good faith (or good meaning), but don't let yourself get stymied by a small piece of a large text.