What is Tenso?
Tenso is a forwarding service based in Japan, so this guide works for any online store in Japan. Basically, they act as a middleman – you order with Tenso’s address and they receive the package, work out the international shipping costs and send it on to you. They charge a small handling fee for this service but it’s very reasonable.
What do I need to be able to order from Japanese shops?
You will need a credit card that is accepted internationally (this includes most of the big companies – Visa, American Express, Mastercard etc.). Some sites may also allow PayPal. If in doubt, check with the site you want to shop with before joining Tenso.
What could go wrong?
There are a few risks with using Tenso (or any forwarding service). If the shop sends you the wrong thing or it doesn’t fit, you have no way to return it since they won’t accept international returns. There’s also the possibility of your package getting lost or damaged in shipping, though if you choose an insured option, you should be able to get a refund. Shipping and customs fees are also difficult to predict.
Step 1: Register with Tenso
This is pretty easy to do. Tenso have an English website so have a read of the information and then click on the sign up button when you’re ready. You need to first verify your email and then complete a simple form with your personal details. To make things easier later, enter your name and address exactly as shown on official identification (passport, driving license, ID card, utility bills etc.) as you will need to verify your identity. You can change it later but it will delay shipping.
Step 2: Get your Tenso address
Once registered, Tenso will give you a Japanese address to use. This includes a unique user number – mine is blurred above – never forget to include this or your parcel may be rejected by Tenso.
Step 3: Go shopping!
You can order from any Japan-based website. That includes the Japanese stores for brands like San-X, Sanrio and Disney (with exclusive products not available outside Japan), Japanese companies and shops that only sell in Japan, auction sites (Tenso can help you place bids), Amazon Japan (for sellers that aren’t part of Amazon Global) and anything else you might be interested in. The best thing about forwarding is that you get to shop yourself so you can set an alarm for a sale or limited item and place pre-orders or custom orders. If the site is only in Japanese, use the Google Chrome browser as it can translate the text automatically.
Step 4: Double check your order
Since you’re not really a Japanese customer, you can’t return items so make sure you’re ordering the correct size/colour and quantity. Use a currency converter to check the costs and remember that you have international shipping to pay on top once it arrives with Tenso and your country may also charge customs fees. It’s easy to get carried away, but don’t spend so much that you could have booked a flight to Tokyo instead! It’s best to start with a smaller order and see how it goes.
Step 5: Checkout
Once you’re happy, continue to checkout and fill in your details. Remember to use the address supplied by Tenso, your registered name and your own email address.If the city/prefecture is a dropdown, your Tenso address is in Tokyo. If you get errors about full-width/half-width characters, you can convert the text. It may ask for your name in katakana. You can just enter your name in English again.
For payment, enter your own credit card details (or PayPal if available) as usual. Do not try to use any of the local payment options. It’s fine that the billing address is your Tenso address – it shouldn’t reject your card for that. Have a last check of your order and submit it.
Step 5: Delivery to Tenso
You’ll receive emails from the site you shopped at confirming your order and notifying you when it ships. Check these emails as it’s possible there could be a problem or delay. Once your package arrives at Tenso’s warehouse, they will email you. If it’s your first order, you’ll need to verify your identity by photographing ID/paperwork. This takes around 24 hours to be checked.
Step 6: Arrange Forwarding
Tenso will hold your mail for a short time and consolidate multiple packages into one parcel so that’s worth doing if you have a few things to buy from different shops. With larger or heavier packages, shipping will probably be cheaper if you keep them separate. Tenso will offer you a range of different shipping services from express tracked to surface mail. It all depends how quickly you want the package and how much you want to pay. Surface mail is more likely to get lost but express is more likely to incur customs fees. I tend to use standard airmail. If your items are expensive or fragile, always choose an insured tracked service in case of damage or loss.
You also need to add a description and value for each item inside for customs. This is one of the reasons I use Tenso over a Japanese site as sometimes they use words like electronics or jewellery that always incur high fees when the item is really more of an accessory or toy. Of course, I certainly don’t recommend changing the value or description to avoid fees 😉
Here’s the costs for my San-X package. As you can see, Tenso only charge a small fee and the overall costs for shipping & handling are reasonable for an international order.
Step 7: Receive Your Parcel!
If you choose an express or airmail shipping service, you can expect your parcel within a week. One thing I loved is that it’s the original shop packaging and Tenso just put a new label on top. How cute is the Sumikko Gurashi packaging? You can see what was inside here.
Leave a comment if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer!
- Buyee – Tenso’s service for bidding on Japanese auction sites
- Mary Bear video on ordering from San-X Japan
- Emii-chan guide to ordering from Liz Lisa & other Japanese fashion brands
- Other ways to buy kawaii from Japan
Marceline is the co-founder and editor of Super Cute Kawaii and author of The Super Cute Book of Kawaii. She also designs cute character goods as Asking For Trouble. Having visited Japan five times, Marceline is enormously inspired by all things Japanese and especially loves bunnies, space and any kind of food object with a happy face.