Buying kits from Japan: reviews of Tenso, From Japan and ZenMarket

I was checking up on my ancient FAQ which is mostly out of date, and thought I might say something about buying models from Japan. 

As mentioned in my previous post, a lot of the regular kits can be gotten from HLJ or BanziHobby. There are also 1999 which painstakingly scanned all the manual pictures and I relied on them heavily for stuff like kit color references and stuff, but unfortunately their kit prices weren’t as competitive as these two. I think their discount is probably at 15% on average whereas it’s 20% – 25% for the former two. But they sometimes have older kits that they don’t have, so I did buy from them once.

Most of the more interesting models however are not available there. First there’s Premium Bandai kits or P-Bandai for short, which is hated by many as they are not available in the states and are really difficult to buy. Then there are Yahoo Auction kits, which gives us a chance to buy impossible to get kits like old releases. I have wanted for instance a 1/8 Scopedog for almost 20 years after its release! The proxy companies do both buying and bidding, so I’ll just discuss the 3 I’ve used. 

Tenso is one of the more established proxies and I learned of them soon after I decided the first US-based proxy buyer Big In Japan was charging too much overhead. It has a service called Buyee which through some deal is very well integrated with Yahoo Japan auction (YA for short), so if you browse YA outside Japan you see a huge banner offering you a chance to bid. From there you can place bids, which require you to put a hold on a Paypal deposit. Everyone offer the same 2 types of bidding, straight bids and sniper bids. From the description it wasn’t clear what Sniper Bid does *exactly*, but here is what happens. If you put in a sniper bid of say 10000 yen, 5 minutes before the end of the auction, the system will place a bid that exceeds the current bidding amount but below 10000. For example if the current bid is 8000 yen, the system will bid 8100yen (I’m not sure what the increment is or even the same for different auctions). If no one outbids you, you’ll win the auction and only pay 8100yen, not 10000yen. Now if another crazy dude outbids you, the system will keep trying to outbid each other until 10000yen is reached. You can keep increasing the sniper bid while the auction is still live. 

I’ve used Buyee on a lot of auctions because it was really easy due to the tight integration with YA. However I started feeling the charges were piling up. They have a lot of stupid fees in addition to their commission (which is also high due to it being a floating percentage rather than a fixed fee), such as 500 yen to sight check packages, 1000 yen to “consolidate” packages and a suspicious higher-than-average shipping fee. The end result is your package ended up almost 30% above your bidding or more. So I looked for alternatives.

For Premium Bandai kits I tried From Japan a few times. Their fees seems to be milder than Tenso/Buyee, so it seemed like a reasonable alternative. They used to have the same consolidation fee for combining mulitple items for shipment, but they got rid of it. I didn’t try them for auctions.

Then there was a relatively newer place called ZenMarket, which I quite like now. They charge a low fixed commission, I wish I used them for my scopedog! 🙂 They don’t have hidden fees like Tenso/Buyee, with auctions you pay the bid, local shipping, *sales tax* (yes you need to pay for that since it’s a proxy), commission and finally foreign shipping. More importantly, it offers a type of shipping no one else does, which is DHL direct that costs much less than EMS and almost comparable with SAL, except it is still faster than SAL and does not seem to have the weight limitation that SAL does. DHL direct is often half of EMS or less. It seems DHL direct uses DHL in Japan, and USPS in the US. I was under the wrong impression that sniper bids were only available from Buyee which is why I didn’t try them for YA earlier, but most recently I sniped a few kits successfully so sniper bids much be just a common functionality that YA offers, and ZenMarket supports that as well.  

Anyway I picked my clear winner 🙂   I’m not sure if ZenMarket can keep up with this aggressive pricing – one has to wonder how they make money 🙂 But I do hope they’ll last!

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