HOW TO: Ship electronics with lithium ion batteries from Japan

electronics, laptop, cell phone, ship, lithium ion battery, Japan

I recently tried to ship an old MacBook Pro and iPhone to my sister in the U.S. We took them to the post office, paid 8,000 yen, and went on our merry way. A postal worker called us later to say that they couldn't ship the items as they contain lithium ion batteries, which fall under the "dangerous goods" category. We asked about shipping by sea, but were told this was not an option.

This then led to researching various other options for shipping these items abroad, although in the end, the cheapest option is to ship just the laptop without the battery in it (it's dead, anyway).

However, we also discovered that although Japan Post says you can't ship electronics with lithium ion batteries overseas, another pdf on their site says that you CAN ship some electronics with lithium ion batteries, but only to certain countries, and only by sea (surface) mail (船便, ふなびん, funabin). Of course, the U.S. is not one of them (which would explain why we couldn't send the laptop and cell phone), but Canada, England, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and several other countries are. You can find the pdf here, although it's all in Japanese.

Also, you can send the tiny little wristwatch batteries by airmail through Japan Post.

So what are some other possible options for shipping your lithium-ion-battery-containing electronics from Japan? 

30 Clickable Japan Links From the Past 2 Weeks

Japan, Obi Matsuri, Shizuoka

Flowers are budding and blooming everywhere, and how refreshing it is! Spring is here folks (although I wish the weather would warm up here in Shizuoka). Here's another round of top Japan links from the past two weeks for you. Maybe enjoy it with a sakura treat or two? ;)

Living in Japan

Over 60% of early quake warnings since 3/11 false alarms (Japan Times) - At least we'll always be "prepared"?

Domino’s Pizza runs Buy 1 Get 1 Free campaign (Japan Today) - Although, unfortunately for many of us, Domino's is only available in some locations around Japan. Speaking of pizza though, did you know Sbarro exists in Japan?

Six Tokyo Starbucks Try All-You-Can-Read Offer (RocketNews24) - Enjoy your beverage and a good book at the same time. Without the price of the book.

Push to replace Tokyo's aging expressways with tunnel routes revived (Japan Times) - Will Tokyo get a facelift?

15 Ways to Survive Hay Fever Season in Japan

hay fever, allergies, Japan, pollen, flonase, tissue, kafunsho

Plum blossoms are blooming, cherry blossoms are either budding or blooming, depending on where you are in Japan, and various other types of trees and flowers are starting to show their spring colors. Graduation ceremonies are being held (or have already happened) all over Japan, as one year ends and another is about to begin.

Then there's the pollen. Hay fever season in Japan has also arrived. And if you have allergies, it might have already hit you hard (or will...). How do you get through allergy season in Japan? You'll find some ideas below.

A few words to know:

花粉症    かふんしょう       kafunshou    hay fever
花粉     かふん             kafun           pollen
アレルギー                  arerugii        allergy

Now, a few ideas to help you survive hay fever season in Japan:

1. Wear a mask outside.  

Even if you didn't wear one in your home country, "do as the locals do" or "when in Rome..." or something like that. I personally can't stand wearing them, but I know some people who now like wearing them.

Japan Import Tax: The Basics

If you live in Japan, it's probably likely you've ordered something from overseas at some point in time, whether it's clothes, shoes, or dry goods, among other things. If you've ordered anything expensive, or made from leather, then you've probably, most likely, had to pay import tax.

On the other hand, if you have your mom or your best friend or someone send you stuff (or in my case, have some things sent to mom to save on shipping by stuffing everything into a space bag to fit into a flat-rate box...), you may not have had to pay any import taxes at all.

Why is that? For obvious reasons, we know some things will inevitably attract the attention of customs officers (leather shoes ordered from somewhere, for example), while a box of your favorite snacks from your friend worth less than 10,000 yen will probably not be given much more than a glance.

If you're interested in understanding the very basics of the personal imports system (it's more complex than one article, of course), I covered it in last week's Lifelines column:

Import tax: a complex, seemingly arbitrary minefield (Japan Times, March 13, 2012)

One import tax "loophole" many of you may already know about and take advantage of is labeling the package as a "gift." As long as it's sent from an individual and worth less than 10,000 yen, you shouldn't have to pay any tariffs on it. If my mom or someone sends me things, I usually have them do this and make sure the amount listed is less than 10,000 yen (or in their case, $100 USD, not counting the exchange rate). So far so good.

Have you had to pay tariffs on anything you've received from overseas while living in Japan? If so, what type of items were they? Have you had to pay anything for "gifts"? Let us know below!

Q&A: Travel insurance options?

Kathleen recently wrote in asking about travel insurance options.

Q: Do you have any recommendations or information on travel insurance (ex missed flights/connections etc).?

A: I've never used travel insurance myself (though I think one of our credit cards might have some kind of plan), so I don't have any personal recommendations.

If you have travel insurance (or have used it before), do you have any suggestions for Kathleen? I'll compile your answers here.

HOW TO: Upload and Print a Document at 7-11 and Circle K in Japan

Now that you have the how-to's to set up an online network print account to upload your documents from home and print at 7-11 and Circle K, in this post you'll learn how to upload and print out these documents. If you're wondering about the other print, copy and fax services at convenience stores (some do allow you to print from a USB drive, with limitations and depending on the store), please check out: A Guide to Convenience Store Copy, Print, and Fax Services in Japan.

Let's just go over a few notes on specifications and potential problems before we jump in.

First of all, Americans, you'll need to make sure your file is the appropriate size (Letter size doesn't work here, so choose A4, the basic equivalent). Typical file sizes are B5/A4/B4/A3 or "L size". If you try to upload a size that doesn't work, it will error.

The recommended browsers are Internet Explorer 7.0 or later for Circle K and Internet Explorer 6.0 for 7-11, but I've used Chrome in both cases with no problems.

For 7-11, costs are as follows:
  • Black and white (all sizes)     1 sheet / 20 yen and up
  • Color  B5/A4/B4       1 sheet / 60 yen and up
  • Color A3       1 sheet / 100 yen and up
7-11 supported file formats: Windows (but don't worry Mac users, you can print things too; I've done it many times.)
  • .doc, .docx, .rtf (Note: .doc doesn't always work for my Mac, but .docx does)
  • .xls, .xlsx
  • .ppt, .pptx
  • DocuWorks Ver. 3.0
  • JPEG
  • TIFF
  • PDF
  • PNG
  • XPS
If you upload a .doc, keep in mind that only some fonts will work, so if you use any other font, you'll want to save your .doc as a pdf instead. The fonts that will work include: Arial, Arial Black, Arial Bold, Arial Bold Italic, Courier, Courier Bold, Courier Bold Italic, Courier Italic, Symbol, Times New Roman, Times New Roman Bold, Times New Roman Bold Italic, Times New Roman Italic, ITC ZapfDingbats.

Other specifications:
  • File size limit: 2MB, JPG is 4MB
  • Up to 10MB total upload capacity

For  Circle K, document costs are as follows:
  • Black and white (all sizes)     1 sheet / 20 yen and up
  • Color  B5/A4/B4       1 sheet / 60 yen and up
  • Color A3       1 sheet / 100 yen and up
Circle K supported file formats: Windows (but don't worry Mac users, you can print things too; I've done it many times.)
  • .doc, .docx (Note: .doc doesn't always work for my Mac, but .docx does)
  • .xls, .xlsx
  • .ppt, .pptx
  • PDF
Other specifications:
  • File size limit: 2MB
  • Up to 100 files (20MB capacity)
  • Up to 30 pages per document

How to Upload and Print a Document at Circle K with Network Print Service

35 Useful and Entertaining Japan Links From the Past 2 Weeks

Shed and tea bushes in rural Japan

Hope you all enjoyed a fabulous weekend. Mine went by all too quickly, although I'm excited because we're heading out of town this coming weekend for a few days! Time for a short break and a slight change of scenery (although I'm hoping desperately for a change in temperature). The following links have been collected from the past two weeks - please enjoy!

Living in Japan

Krispy Kreme expands in Japan (Tokyo Weekender) - For more of that sickly sweet, glazed goodness, they may be popping up near you.

Ben & Jerry’s to return to Japan with Omotesando Hills store (Japan Today) - Ben & Jerry's fans? I'm still waiting for a Red Mango franchise to show up here.

Toys“R”Us/Babies“R”Us store to open in Fukutsu in April (Japan Today) - Who doesn't enjoy shopping at the toy store? I still feel nostalgic over the annual Toys"R"Us Christmas catalog my sister and I used to pore over every year, circling the things we wanted. So materialistic, I know, but we never got many toys anyway.

Support for child-rearing families (Japan Times)  - This is an editorial on the new plan to combine kindergarten (yochien) and daycare (hoikuen) to make a new "kodomoen."

Tax Time Again (ACCJ Journal) - Some tips and advice for filling our your Japan tax return, if you need to file one (not everyone does, keep in mind).

Tokyo’s Crime Hotspots (Tokyo Weekender) - Though Japan is known for its lower crime rates, incidents still do occur, and sometimes more often than you think. The article includes a map of the hot spots.

Bullying, child abuse at record highs (Japan Times) - But is it at "record highs" because more people are reporting it than in the past, which has been the case in the U.S. and other places? Regardless, it's still an important issue.

Japan Post launching new, cheaper international parcel delivery for auction buyers on April 1 (Japan Times) - This seems like a good deal, although it says it's for items bought via auctions in Japan, weighing under 2kg and shipped abroad.

Thinking back on March 11

I've been thinking about what to write for this day. Should I stay silent and not post at all? Should I come up with some "in remembrance" post? It's all still so fresh in my mind - hard to believe a year has gone by since that day.

I was three months pregnant at the time and had yet to announce it to the world. David (my husband) was at work just down the street. Parked in front of a space heater and bundled up in fleece, my typical winter attire, I was working away on my laptop.

As I was typing, I started feeling a little dizzy. I looked up, over towards the sliding glass doors that lead to our balcony. Some of the empty clothes hangers I had hung on the curtain rod were swaying. I glanced at the hanging light in the middle of the room. It too, was swinging back and forth. Then I realized it wasn't me and my pregnancy hormones feeling lightheaded - it was an earthquake.

I sent a text to my husband and hopped on Twitter. Sure enough, this quake was being felt not just in Shizuoka, but in Tokyo and beyond. Rolling, rather than shaking, and it lasted a lot longer than any previous quake I had felt.

I went to the Japan Meteorological Agency's website. Then I saw this picture:

This earthquake had shaken almost the whole country.

I flipped on the TV, and noted my husband still hadn't responded. Tried calling, but calls weren't going through.

Then the images: a wall of water; giant ships being tossed around like toy boats in a bath tub; it kept rushing forward and didn't seem to stop. The last time something had felt this surreal to me was 9/11.

That's when it all started.

For the next two weeks I was online, on Twitter, blogging, etc., all day, every day, with the exception of one day my husband and I actually went out for a walk. My Twitter handle took on new meaning (@survivingnjapan.) It didn't feel right to me to do anything else but try to help in any way that I could. But I mostly felt helpless.

This could have been us. The thought circled through my mind numerous times.

When I came to Shizuoka we were constantly warned about the Tokai earthquake, expected to be the next "big one" in Japan. As in, the scale of the Tohoku quake. Just a few different tectonic plates and we would have been in the same position, and I would have been pregnant, wondering what in the world would happen to us.

The nuclear crisis did bring about questions. We live pretty far from the plant - farther than Tokyo, so we weren't all that concerned, but did consider that if the situation became more dire, we would have to do something about it. Especially with this tiny being inside of me, I can tell you my mama radar was on full alert. I was already doing everything possible to protect this baby, and I wasn't about to let some situation I couldn't control compromise that.

But enough about me. I haven't ever felt like this was about me. I felt hesitant when foreign media would ask for interviews, as they all scrambled to find people in Japan to talk to about the whole situation. I focused on working to provide resources to others.

The stories that have come from the people living in Tohoku, and those who evacuated, have been heartbreaking. Whenever I read of a lost or missing loved one, especially if it was a parent or child, I cry. (I'm an emotional person in general - I cry pretty easily). My heart goes out to all those kids who lost their parents; I just want to be there with them and play with them and give them some love, even though I know it's nothing compared to what they lost.

My heart aches for every mother or father who lost a son or daughter. I hug my daughter a little tighter at those times and tell her I love her, even though she's usually wriggling to free herself so she can go scoot around the bed or floor.

One story in particular mentioned a group of parents who were suing the kindergarten their children had attended, because the school bus took 12 kids home from the school (which was on high ground). After dropping off seven of the 12, the bus was washed away in the tsunami. One of the mothers had a daughter named Airi. Airi is our daughter's name.

Or the women who gave birth on March 11; I can't even imagine how stressful that must have been. I doubt I would have been able to stand it - childbirth was hard enough, but with a huge earthquake and tsunami? I admire those women.

That doesn't even begin to cover the thousands of other stories.

So today, I don't really have much else to say. I hope we can remember and think about what happened that day and remember those who have been affected by the devastation on March 11. Losing loved ones. Losing their homes. Losing their jobs or livelihood and life as they know it. I mean, what if it had been us? What if it had been you or I?

Let's continue to offer our support however we can. And thank you to those who have done so thus far.

Q&A: Concert tickets in Japan

Q: Beverly asked over on Facebook how and where to buy concert tickets in Japan (more specifically,  for the upcoming Lady Gaga concert in May). I know you can buy tickets at various convenience stores in Japan (here's the Lawson page for the event), but I haven't actually been to a concert here myself, so haven't gone through the process of purchasing concert tickets.

I know many of you have, so what are your best Japan concert ticket buying tips for Beverly? Is a convenience store the best option? I'll compile your answers in the "A" section.

A: Here are some of the reader responses we've received so far:

From JW:

"For a big event like this buying from a convenience store is absolutely the way to go. Lawson and Family mart are the two that I know sell them. You have to go to the electric kiosk thing and search for the concert. If you know the Lコード for the concert (which you can see on the page for that Lady Gaga concert) you can just search for that at Lawson and it will come up. If you don't know the Lコード or you buy it at a Family Mart you can just search for the concert by city, date, and venue. Once you find the show you can print out a receipt to take to the counter where you will pay. There is a small service fee of about 100 yen, but it's worth it for the convenience."


Maha writes:

"Getting them that day will be very difficult. They will sell out within a minute, and that includes both online and at Lawson. Here's a text guide to using Loppi:  Here's a video guide: May be slightly outdated, as Lawson continually changes the Loppi interface, but you can ask a staff member to help you if you get lost.

"When Gaga came to Japan before, I tried to get tickets online and the site crashed and when it came back up the tickets were gone. But then - they announced more concert dates! I was smarter that time and signed up for the pre-order service with the company associated with the concert for Y5,000 yen/year - Creativeman Productions (  That time, I got tickets for me and 9 other people. Our tickets were also better seats than a couple friends who had gotten normal access to the new concert date ahead of time by accident.

"The preorder time for the Saitama concert is already over, but be on the lookout in case they announce other concert dates in the next few days. There will be another preorder period then."


@dariamoe shares on Twitter:

"Here's the link and scroll [down] for Gaga:

"Basically the payment process is like buying a bus ticket. :) Book online, pay at Family Mart or Lawson."


Thanks for the helpful responses everyone! If you have any other tips to add, let us know!

A Guide to Convenience Store Copy, Print, and Fax Services in Japan

In my last post, how to print in Japan without owning a printer, I mentioned a few places to print out your documents in Japan and listed two guides explaining how to set up a "net print" account with 7-11 and Circle K. However, some of the feedback I received prompted me to clarify exactly what services some of the major convenience store chains in Japan offer.

So the husband, baby and I drove around town visiting various convenience stores to confirm what their websites state they offer in the way of copy, print and fax services. I should note that not all stores will offer exactly what the website says (and the websites confirm this). While one 7-11 may offer all the services listed on the website, it's possible another one might not (please let me know after reading this post whether you've seen anything different at your local stores).

ALL of these places offer photo printing, so I have not explained them in this post. Photo printing will take up an entirely different post.

Below I've covered the details on copy, print and fax services offered at 7-11, Family Mart, Circle K, Lawson, and Mini Stop. And, to get the main features at a glance, I made a quick reference chart of each of the five convenience stores I've covered in this post.

As always, let me know if you've experienced anything different, or if there's something I missed.