The first of November in Japan is marked by a noticeable drop in temperature and the sudden appearance of decorations and music in public spaces with Christmas themes. In our home countries, this early appearance would annoy us a bit, but this is Japan, and at least it reminds us that this is the perfect time to begin Christmas shopping if planning to shop locally and send gifts home via air mail.
The most commonly used (and user-friendly!) service is EMS (Express Mail Service) from Japan Post. Because this is a tie-up with other post offices internationally, it is usually both economical and fast. Prices start at just JPY 900 for a 300-gram package. Because the service is through Japan Post, you can EMS at any post office location. And remember, most significant offices in Tokyo are staffed with English-speaking staff. The website is also in English as well and allows you to print labels, calculate rates, estimate delivery time, and so on. You can also find the phone number of your nearest post office and schedule a free pickup of your package if it is already ready to be mailed.
Next are the private services. You’ll pay a little more, but you’ll get a little more in the way of convenience as well. All offer home or office pick-up and have English websites. However, if you don’t feel like waiting for a delivery driver, you can pop into almost any convenience store; most are officially supported by Yamato Takyubin or Sagawa. There, you’re able to fill out forms and pay for shipping with cash or (in some cases) a credit card.
If you want to give something from Japan but not deal with shipping headaches, you can try shopping online from Rakuten or Amazon Japan. These sites stock a lot of “only in Japan” goods like tea sets, housewares, and even traditional souvenirs. When you get to the shipping section on the site, you can opt for the goods to be drop-shipped to a different address internationally. If you will be simply sending your loved one or friend a gift and “Japaneseness” isn’t a priority, then just use the website of your choice in whatever country that person resides in; this is how I’ve been “sending Xmas cheer” for the last few years. There’s no hassle, no wrapping, no worrying about dates and customs forms this way either.
Back in the good-old-days, giving a gift card could have marked you as being “that guy that gives uncreative presents,” but now that we live in the age of Netflix and Nintendo Online, most people don’t mind getting them in the slightest. I tend to use Gyft, a service, and app that lets one purchase and send out electronic gift cards. It’s a bit easier than the regular method of going to each store’s website and doing it manually since they’re all in one place. Just remember this is an American service, so the resulting cards will only work in the US.
Lastly, whichever way you choose to send your holiday cheer, remember to do it as early as possible to avoid any delays due to customs and delivery on the receiving end. Happy holidays and happy shopping!
— By Jason L. Gatewood
Photo by Ray Proper