You may be wondering how to help the people of Japan cope with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred March 11. You can do it by buying goods from Japanese companies online. This post tells you the best way to shop Japan via the Internet.
One idea for economic recovery that I have not seen mentioned is to shop directly with Japanese businesses online. Americans and others around the world have donated millions of dollars through various relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, and many others have traveled to Japan to volunteer their services. But, while donations of money satisfy the immediate need to get supplies to the people in the towns of the tsunami-ravaged Tohoku region, dollars can be infused into the Japanese economy long-term by shopping via the Internet from anywhere in the world at Rakuten.
Many people outside Japan have not heard of Rakuten. It is an online shopping company. It is Japan’s equivalent of Amazon. The Japanese name “Rakuten Ichiba” translates to “Rakuten Shopping Mall,” which is exactly what it is — an aggregation of 33,000 Japanese shops and businesses. This huge online shopping site offers 60 million products. Rakuten is the second most visited site in Japan, with over 50 million registered users. In fact, this Internet shopping giant is the reason Amazon has not been able to make much headway into the Japanese market.
It is estimated that one-third of households in Japan shop at Rakuten. And that is significant: Japanese consumers, particularly those who shop online, are known for being finicky and demanding. Rakuten has met their needs to the point that it is now one of the top ten Internet companies in the world. It has international scope. In addition to products, it also has its own extensive travel services site, which anyone in the world can use.
Rakuten is now actively expanding its shopping services in other markets throughout the world, including Europe and the United States. Amazon may be the largest online shopping company, but sheer size is no guarantee of quality (Microsoft sells more operating systems than any other company but no one thinks their OS is the best, and General Motors became the largest automaker in the world selling cars inferior to a number of other makes). I would not be surprised if, in a few years, Rakuten has noticeably eroded Amazon’s market share.
Think of Rakuten as the Honda of online retailing — i.e., innovation and quality.
What does that mean with respect to helping the Japanese economy weather the aftermath of the earthquake?
We know that the world’s economic fortunes are subject to ripple effects that transcend national boundaries. Mortgage foreclosures in the American mid-west affect the value of the Euro. The price of labor in China impacts how much Walmart pays its US workers. The Russian wheat harvest affects the price of food in Delhi and Des Moines.
With respect to the world economy, Japan is a titan, boasting the third largest economy after the US and China. So any financial woes that Japan experiences as a result of the triple whammy of the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation contamination from damaged nuclear power plants will affect not only the Japanese people but people in the United States and around the world. (Already, it is projected that US demand for the Prius will not be able to be met, since there are parts suppliers for the car in the affected region. And US beef exports to Japan may be hampered by damaged port facilities.) The domino effect of an economic slowdown in Japan coupled with the need to re-build infrastructure could affect your personal financial situation. So it is just common sense to help your Asian neighbor.
If you shop for Japanese goods, you can help not only Japanese businesses and consumers as they recover and re-build, but your own economy as well. The easiest (and most enjoyable) way to shop in Japan from outside Japan is Rakuten. Spend a few bucks there, get yourself some interesting, well-made Japanese products, and you’ll be helping float everyone’s boat. After all, just imagine what it would have meant to a local hardware or stationery store in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina if they had had a steady influx of customers… If they had experienced damage or hardship from the hurricane, sure, packets of freeze-dried food and blankets would have met their immediate physical needs, but long-term, it’s customers buying from businesses that sustain an economy, whether in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi or Ofunato, Japan.
You can find just about any kind of product at Rakuten, from books to ice cream to motorcycle parts. But why not get something interesting or unusual? How about:
Momotaro Jeans (maybe the best jeans in the world)
Edible Seaweed from Ofunato (the northeast region)
You can also try using the search field on the Rakuten homepage to search for city names in the northeast region, such as Sendai, Kamaishi, Miyako, and Kuji, in order to find stores in those cities from which to buy. Keep in mind that operations at those stores might be curtailed or slowed for awhile — but they will still appreciate the business!
Rakuten currently ships to over 50 countries (and the list is expanding) and their site has pages optimized for a number of countries, including the USA, Canada, China, France, and the UK. If you’re outside Japan, when you place an order you’ll usually be put in touch via email with the shop that sells the item to arrange a shipping method and cost. (Note that some shops offer special free international shipping promotions, or $1 international shipping.) There is a weight restriction on items shipped to the US via certain carriers, but many shops can arrange a shipping method to the US that gets around this limit.
When you first explore the site, you may wonder where to go and how to approach it, but anyone familiar with online shopping can quickly figure it out. Explore. In addition, they have a handy instructional page here.
Think of it as an adventure, man. As well as a good deed.
Here’s a testimonial from a customer in the US posted on the Rakuten site:
“I recently found Rakuten via Facebook, and boy I couldn’t be happier. As a person interested in Japanese culture, this website is great. I’ve found many things I had been looking for as well as new items that have caught my eye. The website is well laid out and very intuitive to navigate. And the search feature is one of the better ones I’ve encountered for a merchant website. And this is all from a website that isn’t set up for business in the USA. If the USA website is half as good, then it’ll be better than most merchants that I’ve purchased from. by Nick M – NJ, USA”
Hey, if Nick can do it, you can, too. And remember, you’ll be helping the cause. It all adds up.
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