Light Novels: Where to Buy Books
A big question when you’re itching to read a light novel or manga in Japanese is where you can order it from. If you live in Japan, you can just walk to the closest bookshop and get whatever you want. But not all of us are so lucky. Personally I live in Europe, and while there are local stores that sell literature in Japanese, they don’t have much to offer, and what there is can be quite expensive.
Luckily, this is the age of the internet, and there are plenty of online bookstores hoping to do business with us. Since I began reading manga in Japanese back in 2004, I have ordered literally thousands of books and manga from Amazon Japan. They have an enormous inventory, extremely fast delivery, and are reliable. Shipping costs are expensive, however. That’s why I’ve lately started using BK1 instead, as they provide a lot more options for shipping methods.
To give you an idea of the difference, here are the details:
Amazon Japan takes a minimum of 3400 yen ($38) per shipment, and an additional 300 yen ($3.32) per item, which means ordering 1 book = 3700 yen ($41) just for shipping! Delivery time is 3-5 days. (link)
BK1 charges depending on weight with no minimum charge, estimating 200 grams per book, which using the SAL method means 1 book = 280 yen ($3.10) for shipping. Delivery time is 1-11 weeks!
It’s plain to see that you save enormous amounts of money by going with BK1, but it isn’t always this clear-cut. Shipping via SAL means you have no way to track your shipment, and delivery time can be very unreliable, so you may be checking your mailbox furiously before eventually being lucky enough to find something in it. There’s also no insurance, so if the package is lost, you’re most likely screwed. Having said that, the five times I’ve ordered, I’ve received my packages in around two weeks.
It gets even more complicated from here on. Since BK1 charges depending on the weight of your package, the contents of your order have a big effect on the shipping cost, and can be hard to guess before they’ve actually packaged everything and sent it out.
• Toradora 1 - 155g [light novel]
• Brave Story 1 - 227g [light novel]
• Gosicks 1 - 180g [light novel]
• The Twelve Kingdoms 1 - 188g [light novel]
• Major 72 - 161g [manga]
• Bakemonogatari 1 - 402g [light novel]
• Dragonball (Perfect Edition) 01 - 435g [manga]
• Please Save My Earth (Perfect Edition) 01 - 697g [manga]
So as an extreme example, if you were to buy the entire PSME series from BK1 in one go, your package would weigh 10*697g = 6970g which is about 7000 yen ($77)!
Compare this with Amazon Japan, where you would be charged 3400+10*300 = 6400 yen ($71) and be reimbursed if it was lost.
In general, I’d recommend using BK1 for orders up to 15 items, and Amazon Japan on orders of more than 15 items. Note that the prices will differ somewhat if you live outside Europe, with Amazon being slightly cheaper for Americans, while BK1 is about 15% more expensive than the example prices I’ve used. As a bonus point to Amazon, they also provide buttons and information in English.
Commenters inform me that a good alternative for residents of the USA is Kinokuniya, so you may want to check that out as well. As another global option, there is Yesasia, who offer free shipping, but have higher book prices.
Note: Since the writing of this post, bk1 has changed names to honto, but still offers the same pricing and shipping alternatives.