Groovy Osaka: Tips On Buying Electronics In Japan

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Photo by Franek N

In Osaka, there are several places to go to for electronics. You can go to the big chains like Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera, or you can venture into Den Den Town. You can find just about anything you are looking for in Osaka, at a price. Sometimes that price is paid in frustration.

Here are some steps you can take to avoid unnecessary problems.

Mind the voltage, frequency, and wattage

There are two general standards for voltage (V) and frequency (Hz). The North American Standard is 120 V at 60 Hz. The European Standard is between 220 and 240 V at 50 Hz. However, Japan does not follow either of the two main standards. It has one of the lowest regional voltage, with 100 V at 50 or 60 Hz depending on the region. This means that you need to be careful when bringing Japanese electrical devices to another country.

Many laptops, tablets, and smartphones are dual voltage, which means they can be used with both standards, but you will want to check on the packaging, tags, or on the charger plug itself to see if 100/240 V or 110-240 V AC is written anywhere. If both standards are marked, it is a dual voltage device and doesn’t need a converter. If the device only says something like 110 V AC, then you are dealing with a single voltage device.

If you have a single voltage device, you will need to use a converter in regions with a different voltage. If your destination has a higher voltage, you will need to use a step up converter. There are many converters that can do both step up and step down converting and can be used with your other international devices.

When buying a converter, you need to do so based on the wattage (W) of the device. That should be indicated near the voltage. Always buy a converter that is at least 2 times higher than your device. If the device is 50 W, make sure the converter is over 100 W.

Mind the plug shape

According to the International Electrotechnical Commission, there’s nearly an entire alphabet worth of electrical plugs and their variations. Always check which type you need for your destination country. Japan uses both A and B, but be careful.

electric-plug-japan

Many A or B users assume that their devices will work in Japan since the plugs are technically the same type, but there are some major variations. Japan does not use a grounding pin, so computers or other appliances with the circular pin below the prongs is going to make it impossible to plug in the device. Another variation that causes issues is the polarized plug, where one prong is slightly larger than the other. In most generic Japanese sockets, this will not work. In these instances, you will need an adapter.

Mind the region

Just because it’s the same brand and model does not mean it is the same. Many international brands release region specific models of their goods. Most people are aware that a great number of video game consoles, media drives, and software are region or language specific. However, there are other items that can surprise you with region specificity.

I bought a sports watch with a heart monitor back in 2012. It was the same as the model sold elsewhere in the world, or so I thought. When the battery in the heart monitor died, the English instructions, along with the instructions in 10 other languages except Japanese, said to remove the Phillips screws on the back of the device and simply replace the button battery. I flipped over my heart monitor and did a double take. The screws weren’t Phillips screws like in the instructions. They were the star-shaped Torx screws used on electronics to prevent tampering.

I tried to use a flathead screwdriver, but all I managed to do was slightly strip a screw. I stopped before I could do too much damage. I was frustrated. I found images online of the same monitor with Phillips screws. Both mine and the models in the images had the exact same codes and model numbers. Both were made in Taiwan. They were identical with the exception of the Torx.

A quick internet search found a bunch of other Japanese customers complaining about buying specialized screwdriver sets just to change their batteries. There were no compatibility or technical issues once they had done so, so there was no reason to use the Torx screws. The price I paid for the device was about the same as the other international versions, so in the end I had to pay more due to the regional variation. Buyer beware!

Mind the fine print

As with the regional variation, nothing is more frustrating than buying an item to only realize the version has considerable limitations. Even when buying an international brand, you are sometimes limited to monolingual Japanese support. This is fine if you speak Japanese, but if you are a tourist buying duty free goods, this can be a nightmare.

For example, Sony and Panasonic cameras are usually sold in Japan with no other language options other than Japanese. While cameras from Canon and Nikon offer a number of international language options. Be careful that you don’t get home and find out that you can’t read the menus on the new GH4 you bought.

If you go back to your home country and the item is damaged or it was flawed to start with, you may be limited to sending it back to Japan for repairs. With shipping, it may be cheaper to just buy a new one in your home country.

In the end, some items can be more frustrating than the slightly better price or favorable exchange rate would have you think. The best way to combat this is to look up your prospective purchases online and read reviews before you buy, or even contact the branch of the company in your country to determine if they can provide service for internationally bought products.

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Groovy punky reggae nerd from Kansai.
  • Dale Goodwin says:

    I am from the US, not Europe, but I have never had any problems using electronics purchased in Japan in the US. I do get the impression that things like hair driers run hotter in the US, but it doesn’t affect the device’s performance. I suspect that many of the problems encountered in this comment thread relate to language issues. I do agree that the mega stores like Yodobashi camera and Yamada denki have terrible staff. You must hunt them down and then carefully articulate what you want to buy, which is usually on another floor, making you go through the whole process again when you get to the area you wanted to go to initially.

  • Benjamin Broadbent says:

    I recently saw this thread AFTER I bought a PC in Japan and registered just to make this comment:

    AVOID DOSPARA LIKE THE PLAGUE. Read on if you really need a reason why my experience, at least, was horrible.

    I ordered a rig from them and while new, it was defective. Thing is, I understand that new computers can have problems that quality control doesn’t always catch so I called them, they picked it up, and “fixed” it. So far, so good. When it came back, though, I noticed that it was the same unit–okay, whatever, I told them it was probably a hardware problem considering the unit was BRAND NEW–but it also literally would not start AGAIN. And before you ask, no, there are no peripherals attached, no new software installed. The problem is NOT on my end. So whatever component they replaced was not the problem, and yet they still returned it to me even though it literally would to start up?

    Here’s where I am now: they still refuse to just fucking REPLACE the unit with a different one of the same model or just refund my money–instead, they are going to “fix” it again–yeah, the exact same unit–and then if THAT one doesn’t work, then they will refund my money.

    One more twist:when they return the unit to me, there will be a tech present to look over my shoulder to make sure it works, which is fucking insane. I have literally wasted a month of time with this company and their shitty service. Even if the PC works, the taste is so sour in my mouth that I don’t even want the damn thing. Even if it does start up, I have no confidence in it and DON’T WANT A COMPUTER THAT HAS BEEN REPAIRED THREE TIMES IN LESS THAN A MONTH.

    I have lived in Japan for ten years, speak Japanese, and have only had a few negative experiences as far as being treated by customer service in any way, let alone one that has made me feel like complete garbage. I have no proof but I really get the feeling that this is because I’m a foreigner.

    Fuck you Dospara, and I hope my two cents here can prevent one poor sap from being talked down to and shit upon by your company.

  • Shubham Sharma says:

    Thanks for the insight

  • Sik says:

    Here burnt up by the prong issue too (albeit not with Japan). The laptop I’m using right now is from Germany and the plug looks practically identical to the old kind used in Argentina, so I thought it’d just plug right away… nope, the thickness is off by like 1-2 mm or so (you literally can’t tell apart unless you put them side by side, argh).

    Lesson: unless you’re 100% sure just assume prongs are different because chances are there’s probably something even extremely small that will make it impossible to use without an adapter.

  • Theo Lubbe says:

    If wattage isn’t indicated anywhere, take the voltage and multiply it by the amperage drawn by the device or its power brick (not the output one, the input, or drawn, one).

    For example, a 100v 1.5A device will use 150Watts. A 110v 1.35A device will use about 148.5W. A 220v 0.675A device will, likewise, use about 148.5W. I wouldn’t say you need to buy a converter which has twice the power your device draws at its peak usage, but having one with a good amount of surplus is good since transformer-based ones are less efficient and output less power the warmer they get, which will happen during operation as well.

    As far as I’m aware well-designed switched step-up converters don’t have this issue, though for this and the transformer remark I may need to be corrected.

  • papiGiulio says:

    Good article, very important stuff.

    Very off topic I know, but I really can’t stand Yodobashi camera stores. Yes they have everything but the place is always sardine packed and every minute they have that bloody YO-DO-BA-SHI- CAMERA tune playing. Im surprised, people working there haven’t lost their mind yet.

    • TheBaldr says:

      I absolutely love the Yodobashi Camera store in Kyoto. I even have a points card there. The staff are really helpful there too. Bic Camera in Kyoto is terrible.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      Agree. They have a million staff running around all the time but none are able to stop and help you.

  • kpharck says:

    Worth mentioning are “international” or “worldwide” guarantees offered on some products.
    For supplying more than a few watts, one might consider devices called autotransformers. They are functionally equivalent, but significantly cheaper than full transformers.

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