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Tips on Buying a Camera in Japan

by James Chow,


What's Available

As one of the photography meccas of the world, you can buy just about anything made for a camera here. I've been here on four previous trips and am now working about an hour outside of Tokyo in Kamakura, so by no means do I know even a large percentage of the camera shops. Here's a general introduction to some shops in Tokyo and the type of equipment they offer. There are three approaches to take when searching for a camera. One, obviously, is to go to a camera shop. The second choice is to visit one of the large chain stores. The last is to go to Akihabara in Tokyo (or Nipponbashi if you're in Osaka).

Akihabara

Practically anything that runs on electricity is sold there. The majority of electronics produced here are not even exported. Unlike in most other shops in this country, bargaining is expected here. Most large stores in Akihabara cater to tourists, meaning there are duty-free floors and salesmen who speak foreign languages (I've even seen one saleman speak Hindi!). From my experience of half a dozen or so visits to Akihabara over the past 4 years, I've found that the price of Japanese-brand cameras are not as competitive as in the large Tokyo chain stores. On the other hand, if you're looking for a tv, vcr, etc, that works with PAL, SECAM, and NTSC or want a tv that allows you to watch a dozen channels simultaneously, this is the place!

Camera Chain Stores

Probably the most well-known electronics chain store in Japan is Yodobashi Camera, which sells everything from cameras to fuzzy-logic rice cookers. Unlike the Akihabara stores, appliances sold here are designed for the domestic market (110V, 50 or 60 Hz). Most of the photography equipment carried here is produced by the Japanese camera giants (Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Kyocera, Pentax). For these brands, the large chain stores probably offer the most competitive prices. I've found that the prices for Nikon and Canon are about the same as compared to New York City mailorder. For example, the new Nikkor 80-200/2.8 zoom costs about 115,000 yen (about $930 USD). The real surprise for me was that although Contax SLR bodies costs about the same as in NYC, the Zeiss lenses, at least the more expensive ones I was looking at like the 100/2.8 macro planar and the 25/2.8 distagon are considerably less. I recently purchased a Contax RX w/ 50/1.4 planar for about 150,000 yen, plus a 25/2.8 distagon for 59,000 yen [$750 in the US], and the 100mm/2.8 macro planar for 138,000 yen [about $1800 in NYC]).

The price of point and shoots seemed to have come down in the past year. Now, the Yashica T4 (called the Kyocera here) with 35mm Zeiss lens is around 19,800 yen. I did purchase a Sekonic 408 lightmeter at Yodobashi in december 1996 for about 35,000 yen, though.

If you are in the market for Mamiya medium format equipment, it is significantly less here than in the States. As of Spring 1998, the 43mm lens was about 185,000 yen, the 65mm was 92,000, and the 150mm was 102,000 yen. I'm told that the Bronicas are also significantly less expensive, too. Pentax medium format bodies seem to be comparably priced to those in America, though I admit I didn't pay much attention to the prices since I was only considering Contax, Hassy, and Rollei for my new system. By the way, the Fuji GA645i's are about 110-120,000 yen depending on which lens configuration you get, and the GA645zi zoom is around 156,000 yen.

Obviously, the prices I have quoted are approximate to give you the idea of the potential savings. For tourists, bring your passport and you don't have to pay the 5% consumption tax. For the locals, there's a Yodobashi "gold point card," which is an account with the store. When you make a purchase they credit 10% of the total, after-tax price to your account towards a future purchase (can be the same day, it just has to be another transaction) if you pay with cash in yen. Yodobashi does accept plastic, but you don't get the full 10% credited to your gold point card.

Speaking of film, there's probably one of the largest selections of film available here in the huge refrigeration section in the basement. A box of Velvia 120 runs 415 yen, while Provia 120 (ISO 100) is 395 yen a box. They are also sold in bulk packs, although you really don't save anything until you buy the vacation-sized 20 box (of 120 film) pack. One note: 220 medium format film is not nearly as popular as 120 film; Yodobashi certainly carries it in their head store in Shinjuku, but it's difficult to find in other stores (the Yokohama Yodobashi store, which is quite large, has been out of Velvia 220 and Provia 220 for at least several weeks), while the smaller independent shops located near train stations are unlikely to carry 220. There is also a good selection of Kodak film, including the new 100S and 100SW films (at least in 120). Other brands are carried, such as Ilford, AFGA, Konica, etc., are also available, as are sheet film, darkroom and image storage supplies, refrigerator-like, de-humidifier units, and 3 (working) day developing.

Camera bags, at least US-made brands like Tamrac, are cheaper in NYC. I've found that developing color prints is more expensive here than in the States. So far, I have yet to find any mailorder laboratories. It costs almost the same per exposure to shoot and develop 6x4.5 color transparency film as it does to shoot 35mm color negative film when you factor in the prints, which are about the same size or smaller than the diminuative 3.5"x5" prints in America. For viewing your color transparencies, I've discovered that the brands of light tables are different than many of those in the US. There's Hama, Fuji Professional, Fuji, Cabin, and assorted others, though the prices of the Fuji Pro and Hama Pro models are in the 30,000 yen and up range (at least they run on 50 and 60 Hz!).

A few European labels are carried here (Leica, Hassy, Rollei), but I've found that independent shops generally have more competitive prices and a better selection of accessories. Yodobashi stores are located all over Tokyo and in other major Japanese cities, but the largest store is probably the Shinjuku store on the west side of Shinjuku station (about 5 min walking from the west exit). There's actually at least three stores clustered in the same area, one that sells cameras, one for video, etc. On weekend afternoons, it's almost as crowded in the narrow alleyways around the store as in the subway cars! To get to the Shinjuku store from the JR lines, follow the signs for the main west exit. You should see a rotary for cars. Veer towards the left and follow the major shopping corridor (used to be a cardboard shanty-town of homeless people until a fire struck last year; it's now boarded up) and head straight until you reach the entrance of the new Keio line. You can take exits 3 or 4 or any other one nearby. Yodobashi is located in the backstreets across from the Lumine store. If you're standing on the corner at the Lumine store, look for the corner with the large Konica sign on top. It's in the backstreets behind the sign. If you're in Yokohama, there are two stores near Yokohama station. Take the west exit from Yokohama station and exit the building until you reach the curb. Walk to the left down the sidewalk into the indoor shopping arcade (Takashimaya Dept. Store is on the right) and stay to the left when the hallway splits. You'll see the store (like 5 m in front of you) as soon as the passage terminates at the street. The second store (annex) is found if you continue to head straight from the station, past Takashimaya, and over the bridge lined bumper to bumper with cars (just follow the crowds), straight down the street on the right side near HMV records. Recently, as of late summer 1998, Yodobashi has begun a web page at http://www.yodobashi.co.jp. Although it's virtually all in Japanese, click over the first few frames until you see the main page with product icons (it may help to change the language encoding on your browser). Under the camera icon, most of their producsts will be listed according to category (the section with products with words "APS" and "35" are the bodies, including medium format), and lenses and film are under a different section. Not all products are listed, but prices are given. Japanese residents can order over the internet, but they still won't ship overseas.

Finally, there are other major chain stores like Yodobashi Camera, Bic Camera being one of them. Although bargaining does not occur at these stores, if you find a lower price at a competitor's store, the other store will presumably match that price. The salesmen in these chain stores tend to speak very little, if any, English since the vast majority of customers are locals. A couple of blocks from the head Yodobashi store in Shinjuku is Sakuraya camera, also another chain store.

Camera Shops

I've found that if you are in the market for a European label such as Leica, Linhof, Hassy, or Rollei, these are the places to go. They generally offer better prices and customer service than what the big chain stores offer. One surprise was with Rollei equipment, which, even after the price reductions in the US, is still less than that in NYC.

There are a large number of advertisements in Japanese photography magazines such as Asahi Camera, but you'll have to be able to read katakana to identify your favorite brand and to read the directions on how to get to the store. All the used equipment, as well as European equipment is advertised in these magazines (the best is Asahi Camera for advertisements). This is where significant savings for Rollei, Leica, and Hasselblad compared to what the chain stores charge can be realized. This is when the hotel staff may be of assistance. I bought a Fuji G617 used in mint. condition (fewer than 50 exposures taken) with case, center filter, and cable for 240,000 yen from Sanwa Shokai, a camera shop in Osaka, via mail. However, buying used via mail is very tricky (for one, you have to be fluent in Japanese); you're best off having someone fluent in Japanese call the shop for you to confirm that the goods are available at the advertised price and then visiting the shop yourself.

Two stores with which I have experience:

  • Fujikoshi camera (in the "New Biru" building just west of Shimbashi station on the 2nd floor in the shopping mall, there's also a store in Nihonbashi). The salesman tells me their prices are normally 20% off on lenses/accessories with cash, 15% w/ a credit card. They belong to the distributor network in Tokyo (PROSYS: contact Allan Morrison for information on other dealers, etc. at morrison@gol.com), so if they don't have it in stock, they can probably get it provided it's a weekday. For example, the 90mm Schnedier APO symmar lists for about 495,000 yen, which is 396,000 yen or $3000, compared to $3500 in NYC. Since you're probably a tourist, you might not have to pay the 5% consumption tax. I recently bought a 6008 integral kit with zeiss 80/2.8 PQ planar for 398,000 yen during a special sale. At this time (July 1998), then yen was 146/dollar, so it was about $2700 USD! The 6008i with zeiss 80/2.8 PQS can easily be purchased for around 478,000 yen.
  • Lemon Camera in Ginza is a gray market importer of that sells Hasselblad, Leica, Rollei, Linhof, Schneider LF lenses, and misc. imported bags/tripods, etc. The prices on Leica and Hassy seem to be about 10% less than the prices in NYC when you factor in the strong dollar (A Hassy 203 FE w/ 80mm/2.8 and E-12 magazine runs about 695,000 yen for a set, and the basic 503 cw w/ 80mm/2.8 and A-12 magazine can be purchased for about 358,000 yen. These were the prices I found in the summer '98.). Here, you don't have to pay sales tax if you're a tourist, but they lack follow-up service (if you're a tourist, it probably won't matter). Their Rollei prices are the same as what you pay for at the non-gray dealers in town, but their Linhof cameras/accessories cost less. I bought a Linhof profil 2 ballhead for 26,000 yen and a profil 3 ballhead for 41,000 yen, signficantly less than the NYC mailorder prices. Lemon is in Ginza near the JR Yurakucho station. Take the east exit and follow the major road at the south end of the station eastward into Ginza. Cross the major intersection (the Nikon store [sells only used Nikon stuff] is on one corner, the Sony building on the opposite side. Continue straight and make a left on the first sidestreet. It's on the right-hand side on the first, fifth, and eighth floors in adjacent buildings.

Readers' Comments


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Rick Diaz , April 01, 1997; 09:49 A.M.

There are three good used camera shops in the Ginza area. There is a shop that just sells used Nikon gear across from the Sony building. Across the street from the Nikon store is Sukiya Camera which has an assortment of used Leicas, Canon, and Nikon equipment. The prices were 30% less for used gear than NYC and they had a greater selection. If you buy Canon equipment you can walk two blocks south to the Canon Salon (Canon Store) and they will check out any equipment for you. Although all used gear in Ginza district stores is in working condition. It would just give you a piece of mind before returning to the U.S.

Jim Chow , November 05, 1997; 01:32 A.M.

A note on film: There is a poor selection of professional negative films, especially in 120 (or larger) formats. Recently, I sought to purchase a lower-contrast ISO 400 color negative film for portraits (in 120 format). All there is in Fuji is Reala, Super G+ 100/400 (also 800 for 135), and NS, NL, and NC (all 160; NS for short exposure, NL for long, and NC for commercial). That's it. In Kodak, the only ISO 400 color neg film in 120 are gold (I believe) and Vericolor pro, which I ended up purchasing. There is a portrait film by Kodak called "Miyabi," but is only available in ISO 100 in 120 format (100/400 for 135).

On the other hand, there is a very comprehensive selection of reversal films. For 4x5, there's quickchange, which is a cartridge of 8 sheets of film whereby one reloads a new sheet by pulling a slide and pushing it in. I hear this is not available in the US.

After speaking to the company photographer, I learned the reason for the lack of pro-grade neg. films. Except for those who use P&S's, (serious) photographers here prefer reversal films. No kidding! During a recent trip to Yodobashi, I noticed the shelf of 120 velvia nearly stripped clean (there are usually a few dozen 10-packs; afterall, this is autumn). Having prints made from negatives is quite expensive here. Films like Fuji NPS/NPH are very difficult to find. I certainly couldn't find any at Yodobashi camera's Yokohama store. Fine grain films like ektar 25 are available, but not very popular, from what I'm told, since those who want higher resolution usually shoot 4x5. All the Fuji/Kodak reversal films are available in all formats (hey, even velvia and astia in 120 format are available at my grocery/dept. store), as are the consumer-grade color negative films. B&W films are also readily available (Neopan, TMAX, etc.).

I'm also told that Japanese consumers do not like the look of Kodak film (subtle color?). I guess this is why there's velvia, and why just about every shot in the monthly photo glossy magazines are shot on velvia.

Ky Tran , January 07, 1998; 02:17 P.M.

The guide is very helpful for people looking for camera equipments like bodies or lenses. However, it would be more interesting if there are additional topics such as lighting equipments.

Bart Aldrich , March 25, 1998; 10:36 A.M.

Japanese shopping Sample: Just picked up the Fuji GA645i in Tokyo department store for 121,00 yen, which is about $950 as close as we can nail the exchange rate as of 3/10/98.. That includes all taxes. However, we did not carry our passports, which would have allowed us another 5% off.

M. M. , April 09, 1998; 10:10 P.M.

Recently, I have a chance to visit Tokyo for a day. By follwing the excellent information provided by James (http://photo.net/photo/japan-buying.html) and Frank (http://speedcore.com/usr/fs/camera/jshop.html) I bought the these Canon EF lenses and accessories at Sakura in Shijiku: 300f4IS, 28-135IS, 1.4X, and 500D. The total price I paid was 238,000 yen. The exchange rate was about 134 yen to one US dollar that day. I also paid about $100 duty at the US Customs. So the whole package cost me about $1900, which is more than $500 less than the typical mailorder price in the US. The price difference almost covers a roundtrip ticket from US to Tokyo.

BTW, for those of you who only stay in Tokyo for a short time on a connection flight, the distance between the airport (Narita) to Shijiku is about 90km, it takes about 90min each way on an express train (Narita Express), the camera stores locate less than 5 minute walking distance from the train station, and the roundtrip train tacket costs about $50. Be sure to bring your passport so that you don't have to pay tax in Japan.

P.S. if you are also interested in small electronics such as CD player, there are much more and better selections in Japan than in US.

Have fun shopping!

Don Choi , May 16, 1998; 07:48 A.M.

If you are in Osaka rather than in Tokyo, there is a store called OS Camera (there are three branches) which sells mainly European and medium/ large format equipment. As of spring 1998, their prices were good, and some bargaining is permissible. I bought a Wista 45VX for 155,000 yen (less than $1200 at $1=130 yen), which is close to 40% off the B&H price.@Other Japanese large format bodies, such as the Toyo 45A and 45AII, were also close to 1/3 cheaper than in the U.S. Large format lenses, both Nikon and Schneider, were also significantly cheaper. At the main store, there was at least one salesman who was fluent in English.

It might also be noted that there are many small used camera stores in both Tokyo and Osaka, and although I'm not sure that prices on all items are cheaper than in the U.S., they are at least competitive. Many of the items are in outstanding condition (at least externally) and the variety is quite good (much better than anywhere in the Bay Area in California, for instance).

Mike -- , June 05, 1998; 01:12 A.M.

Just to add my data for your perusal and for posterity... I recently decided I wanted to get back into photography and, after much reading of photo.net and visiting/calling the local (Tokyo) camera stores, just bought a set of Canon Equipment consisting of an EOS-5, 28-70 2.8L, 75-300 4-5.6 IS & 380EX Flash just last night at Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

As already mentioned, the big camera stores offer a point-discount system where you get 5 to 12% of your purchase back in the form of points that can be used like cash. Right now they all have increased their point discounts to 10-12% for a "limited time." Below is a table showing my findings:

 item             U.S. (B&H)*      Fujiya   
Yodobashi    Sakuraya   Bic Camera
 ---------------- ----------- ----------- 
-----------  -----------  -----------
 Eos-5                  83400       51800       
57900            0        57900
 28-70 2.8L            151510      125000      
128500            0       128500
 75-300 4-5.6 IS        69500       59800       
62500            0        62600
 380 EX Flash           22935       18900       
19500            0        19500
 Total                      0           0           
0       275000            0
                  sum         sum         sum          
sum          sum
                  =========== =========== 
===========  ===========  ===========
                       327345      255500      
268400       275000       268500
                                          
-10%(241560) -10%(247500) -12%(236280)
 
* Assuming grey market & Y139 per dollar

As you can see, and as Frank Sheeran also discovered, Fujiya has the best marked prices. However, with the point discounts taken into consideration all the other big houses were cheaper overall. I stuck with Yodabashi in the end because they were comparable, friendly and had everything in stock. For those of you just passing through, obviously "points" are not very useful but you can get them and use them immediately which is what I did. I ended up paying Y260,000 for the above package because I paid for the body & lenses, then bought the flash & some filters via points. Though, I asked, they were unwilling to bargain in price despite the fact that Bic was offering a slightly better deal in terms of points.

The exchange rate makes no difference to me since I'm living here and getting paid in yen but at Y140 per dollar I saved over $500. Bottom line is that anybody getting set to plunk down > $2500 in camera equipment could probably spend the money here and, essentially, get a free trip to Japan.

Mike

Ky Tran , June 15, 1998; 11:07 A.M.

I recently decided to add medium format to my 35mm system. Price check on Mamya bodies, lenses, and accessories between B&H and Map camera (has a webpage in Japanese)revealed that you might save 1/2 of the B&H prices for every Mamya thing. I have the calculation in Excel format, anyone interested can e-mail me, and I will attach the file for you to check.

Lup Ng , November 29, 1998; 05:45 A.M.

I recently bought a Canon EOS-5 for 55005 yen before the 10% point-card discount. The exchange rate was at an "unfavorable" 118yen = US$1. Still, that's US$466, and I can apply 5500yen (10% of 55005) to my next purchase (which was a lens.) The store I went to was Sakuraya at Ikebukuro station (east exit) which was small enough that the sales person had time and patience to entertain me.

In short, here are my tips to buying cameras in japan: (a) bring passport so you don't have to pay 5% tax; (b) bargain... a little (c) understand how point-card works -- credit of 10% of current purchase towards next purchase (d) using japanese has no advantage in bargaining... (e) shop around -- the first few stores I went to refused to reduce the listed price of 57900.

Oh, also, if you are just stopping-over and by yourself, the cheapest way to get from Narita airport to Tokyo area is by the Kei-Sei line. The limited express (not the skyliner) takes 76min to get to Ueno station. Cost: 1000yen. (JR Narita line is more expensive.) From Ueno, you can connect to most places via subway/JR line for 150-190 yen. There's also a youth hostel at Iidabashi, called something like "International House". It up on 18th/19th floor (great for testing out your camera equipment) and allows anyone of any age to stay. Cost: 3100yen per night in dormitory (8 to a room). Reservation is necessary.

Peter Bury , December 04, 1998; 09:31 A.M.

Not quite as cheap as downtown Osaka, but there are a couple of shops worth checking out in Kyoto. 5 minutes walk west of Hankyu Kawaramachi Station on Shijo Street there's Naniwa Camera. They stock a pretty wide range of equipment and keep most of the cameras out on shelves for shoppers to handle (unfortunately, the EOS 3 is behind glass, but if you ask, they're more than happy to get one out). They also keep sample lenses on hand for you to check out. Prices are about average for Kyoto - an EOS 5 with 28-105mm lense goes for about 98,000 Yen. Just north of Sanjo/Kawaramachi Street (five minutes from Sanjo Keihan Sation) is another worthwhile shop - Medic (Mutsumodo). Prices are about the same as Naniwa. Unlike some stores, though, they usually have English manuals (at least for the main Japanese makers).

Marese McGrane , February 19, 1999; 10:33 A.M.

I have a warning to those inexperienced camera buyers who may wish to buy equipment in Japan: "Beware the language barrier!" Make sure you know exactly what you want before you go to Japan. I stupidly rushed in and bought a camera in Japan, only to discover later that it was APS. DUH!

Quang-Tuan Luong , April 14, 1999; 10:36 P.M.

At Yodobashi they told me that they could not waive the 5% tax since they are not a duty-free store. That, in combination with the 120Y/$ rate made the price hardly better than B&H's for 35mm gear. Film was actually more expensive than at B&H.

Lucien Moolenaar , April 16, 1999; 11:52 A.M.

What is the best internet source for reasonably current street prices of camera equipment in Japan? I am particularly interested in Rollei 6008 Integral and 6003 Professional systems, but information on Nikon systems would also be helpful.

Patrick Malachy Noone , July 17, 1999; 09:54 A.M.

We in Britain pay threw the nose for most consummer goods on a recent visit to NYC, I visited B&H and found them cheaper than any stores in England. up to a wacking 50% saving, but when home I contacted B&H for some studio lights, if I used mail order the 50% was lost in shipping, it seems we in Britain are on the losing end of manafacturers keeping the price of there goods artificially high.

Bobby Jefferson , November 28, 1999; 02:38 A.M.

I was in Tokyo, I figured that the cameras there would be cheaper than in NYC. (being that it is made in Japan!) NOT SO ! don't fly to Japan yet !! I done shopping at local stores and big chainstores and here are the prices I found. 11/04/1999

(Yodobashi in Shinjuku / Regular Tokyo street camera store / B&H)

Rebel 2000/Kiss III ... 48,000 / 69,000 / 25,900

Canon Eos 28-80 3.5-5.6 ... 18,800 / 25,000 / 9995

So go to B&H if you need regular consumer gear.

comments? Dennykgee@hotmail.com

Image: EOS 50E in BLACK !! Where can I get one???

Image Attachment: Mvc320f.jpg

Thomas James , May 13, 2001; 06:48 P.M.

This is a pretty good article, but it's seriously out of date. I don't know where Mr. Chow is now but perhaps he should concider updating his article. The consumption tax isn't even the same these days, and now that point card system is very popular with most places only giving you 10% points based on a cash purchase.

Thomas James Tokyo Japan

D Strother , April 10, 2002; 02:16 P.M.

WARNING.....if you're buying a camera in Japan, make sure that it has an English-language warranty card with the words "world-wide warranty" (or something similar) and the camera's serial number on it before handing over your plastic. In mid-March 2002 I bought a Minolta DiMAGE X (a super camera for what it intends to do) from a leading reputable dealer in Kyoto. It has an English-language instruction book. I was assured that it had a world-wide warranty, even though the warranty card they filled out was all in Japanese. Now I'm back home in the States and tried to register the warranty. The cold fish at Minolta digital tech service informed me that the warranty is valid only in Japan, and that Minolta USA will not, under any circumstances, perform warranty work on it.

M Sell , August 23, 2007; 04:32 P.M.

Thanks for the tips. I'm moving to Japan soon and definitely found some useful information. I wonder how much has changed in the 10 years since this article was written.

max hodges , November 08, 2010; 11:21 A.M.


whiterabbitexpress.com

White Rabbit Express can also help you buy anything from Japan without having to travel there:
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