The Sleeping Giant's Sea Lion

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Many tourist guide books that are sold here in the US for travel in Japan have entire sections dedicated to buying camera equipment, as if there are huge financial advantages to doing so. I suspect, though, that with the advent of cheap online retailers in the past decade and the strengthening of the Japanese Yen might have nullified such advantages. Since I may be going to Japan again, I wonder if I should hold off buying some equipment and purchase it while I am there.

Under what circumstances is it financially beneficial to buy camera equipment (bodies, lenses, &c.) while in Japan?

I realize that this is going to vary a lot over time as it is dependent on exchange rates and duties/taxes. Let's assume one can be refunded the Japanese consumption tax and one can also avoid all import duties. Can it really be significantly cheaper than buying from a discount online retailer?

I'm specifically interested in stories from people who have purchased equipment while abroad in Japan, and/or direct comparisons between current prices in Japan and prices in other countries. For the latter, please post the current exchange rate between then Yen and the currency of the other country so this information might be useful to future readers.

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Keep in mind the warranty will only be valid within Japan. It's essentially gray market elsewhere... –  nwcs Apr 8 '12 at 16:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Pros & cons of Asian buying:

This relates to my personal experiences of buying in Asia.
You can decide how well it extends to Japan specifically.

I have visited Asia frequently in recent years - although not Japan (China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, ... ). Pricing is generally competitive in the best cases but not stunningly better in most cases and it's easy to pay more than western prices if not careful. Prices on ebay from Asian sources are usually as good and sometimes better than the best you can find "on the street", with an occasional stunning exception. I was in Kuala Lumpur in mid 2011 when D700's were offered at about $500 less than the going rate elsewhere. I didn't buy one. I shall mourn forever :-).

Products may be "grey market". These are often genuine products that have come from sources that do not have official manufacturer sanction, for whatever reason. You need to be aware of which products are or aren't grey market and whether this has any implications for you.

Some manufacturers offer international warranties on product bought in another country. Some don't. it may vary by product for a manufacturer.
Sony offer international warranty if you visit their offices in the country of purchase after purchase and fill in appropriate forms. (I bought a Sony A700 and SAL18250 lens in Hong Kong and registered them on this basis).

Sellers lie and misrepresent in some cases. This happens anywhere, but you may have slightly better hope of redress if the seller is in your own country rather than far far away. Maybe not. (I bought a Compaq laptop (not a camera, I know :-) ) in Hong Kong and the seller misrepresented the warranty - it turned out to be a "refurbished" model with 6 months warranty). It failed out of warranty BUT when I complained to Hewlett Packard they honored the warranty that I had been told I had. I'd expect that in most cases camera manufacturers would not be so accommodating.

Firmware / Software versions may differ and you may have to apply the correct update for your version. This may be available, may be described in a language you can understand and may have all the same features as the ones available in your market (or more). Or not.

Resale value may be affected.

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If a Japanese-only warranty does not dissuade you, then one reason I can think of is to get a gear that isn't available yet in other countries.

That was my thinking when I attempted to buy (in Japan) a Canon 70-200 / f2.8 IS II USM when it was launched. Decided not to after considering the tax, exchange rate, and lack of warranty for the expensive gear.

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It's likely not a Japanese-only warranty though, depending on the manufacturer. In the case of Nikon for example, bodies have three warranty zones: US/Canada, Europe and Rest of World. But in the case of lenses there is almost single worldwide warranty: it does not matter where you bought the lens, you can get it fixed under warranty in any place except the USA (no, I don't know why Nikon USA goes out of its way to provide an extra-low quality of service). –  James Youngman Apr 9 '12 at 19:54

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