A mall full of holiday shoppers (Photo credit: slowburn♪)
by Greg Beck
So the holiday season is here and that means mindless consumerism! YAY! Before I get into the wonderful world of online shopping, I’d like to remind you of a few fun, free (or at least low-budget) ways you can express your love for those domestic and abroad:
These postcards are a Japanese tradition and can be as simple as bulk-bought “Thanks for this year, よろしく next year!” cards available at your local Post Office, or you can go all out and design your own, either by using nengajo computer software or by making hand-made, hand-written cards. Don’t forget to include the zodiac symbol for next year, the rabbit!
The simple nengajo can be sent to anyone whom you have an address for and are a great way for maintaining so-called “weak ties”, or people you only see once in a great while. Don’t be afraid to go all out and include personal messages for those close friends and family you’re mailing. Nengajo would also make an awesome gift for your friends back in your home country!
Okay, so these days a mix-CD or iTunes playlist might be more realistic, but it is a fun and low-budget way to show you’re thinking of someone. It is also pretty safe, simple and cheap to mail a CD to someone, whether they are in the neighboring prefecture or the southern hemisphere.
Seriously, how often do you get them? It feels pretty good, right? Especially if it’s out-of-the-blue, a nice, long, hand-written letter has something intimate and special about it. This also gives you a chance to reflect as you update the addressee on your life.
So let’s say you’ve got a little cash in your pocket, and someone back home deserves something nice. You could buy them something Japanese-y, wrap it, and pay a bajillion yen to send it to them. Or, you could cross the millennial threshold and do your holiday shopping online! Here are some reasons why:
- Postage: You can use sites that ship domestically from your home country. Not only will your loved one get it faster (allowing you more time to browse and find that perfect gift), but many online shopping sites offer free shipping, and sometimes free or reasonable gift-wrapping. Amazon has, in my opinion, horrible prices on gift wrapping, but still gives you a place during “check-out” to include a personal message.
- Convenience: Sitting at your computer is something I know everyone can do, or else how would you be reading this? Also, last minute shopping doesn’t mean you will be picking the leftover stock at some shop or running around frantically.
- Compare and Save: Once you decide what you want to get, it is as easy as a quick Google search of the product name to find other sites and compare prices. You can also buy things direct from their manufacturer.
- Reviews: One thing that the Internet is never in short supply of is opinions, and that’s good news for consumers! You can find product reviews so you know exactly which snow cone-maker is best, and follow it up by reviewing the online store itself to make sure they have a good reputation for sending the products you order on time. Don’t forget to go back and leave your two cents for the next guy!
So now that I have you in love with the idea of online shopping, here are some sites that I use for online shopping:
If you’re online shopping in Japan there are four sites you need to check out, in this order:
1. www.amazon.co.jp/In-English/b/ref=topnav_switchLang?ie=UTF8&node=1094656 The first thing it says when the page loads says it all: “Shop in English. Now all products, Free Shipping”
2. http://www.hikaku.com/ This Japanese meta-search engine finds you the products you want at the lowest price by comparing (hence the name hikaku) prices at online shops all over the web.
3. http://www.rakuten.co.jp/ Only available in Japanese, but it sells EVERYTHING.
4. http://www.sej.co.jp/ Literally, “Seven-Eleven Japan” (SEJ). This site offers free shipping, pick-up at your local 7-Eleven (which is open 24/7), and sells lots more than just your average, already extensive selection of conbini products.
For the U.S.
1. Again, I am a huge fan of www.Amazon.com. Their one-click buying is so easy to use it is darn-near irresponsible! They even have it set up so you can make secret phrases to automatically choose your registered method of paymentand addressee of choice. (Example: you type “sister dearest soapbox” and it uses your visa to mail your order to your sister’s address).
2. My new favorite site for gifts is www.ThinkGEEK.com! They have lots of great clothes, toys, gadgets, and sci-fi or nerd-themed trinkets, like a passport-case that blocks the RFID chip in there from being scanned, or a hat with a logo that displays available Wi-Fi connections wherever you go. It is almost too easy to find something there you think your friend/brother/dad/aunt would want.
3. For those of you who want to buy something electronic, nothing beats www.Newegg.com in terms of price, selection, and product reviews. It also has a really convenient system of ranges you can click on the left-hand side of the screen to narrow your searches.
One more site that warrants mentioning is http://www.dhgate.com/, a Chinese wholesale online store where you can buy things for cheap. Also, if you buy in bulk it’s insanely cheap. The products are sometimes of more-than-questionable authenticity, but you get what you pay for and can purchase things like r4 cards for downloading Nintendo DS games, dirt cheap projectors, and gaming systems already modified to play all regions, etc.
Now you know my secrets! Happy shopping!