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.
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.