Shipping to Japan – The short guide that presents the best freight option for your products

Shipping to Japan

To initiate exports to Japan is not always an easy task for small business owners who long for increased sales in the far East. If you plan for exports to Japan, I recommend you to read this short guide. I guide you through the benefits of using different freight options and present the import procedure to Japan. Let’s start with the latter one.

Export/import procedures to Japan

The Japanese Customs provides valuable information on their website. You can find information regarding certification, application procedures when exporting/importing goods, FAQ and lists that show goods with prohibition.

  • As a first step, you need to submit an import declaration (That shows quantities, the value of the goods and other information required). If you export the goods without support from a Japanese importer, you are liable to provide all the documents yourself. To communicate with Japanese personnels can create obstacles due to their sometimes limited English skills. My advice to you is to request help with communications from your importer or distributor, if you have one.
  • A Japanese customs office inspect your goods prior to the clearance and the goods is stored in a bonded warehouse until the inspection has passed. If the inspection doesn’t pass the goods can be demolished or sent back.
  • Import taxes and consumption taxes to be paid. Other taxes are added if required, e.g. tobacco taxes if that’s the product you export.
  • Your products are now ready for customs clearance and will be moved from the bonded area into Japan. A Japanese freight company picks up the goods and delivers it to the importer.

Sea freight

To ship by sea is the most common way of transporting commodities worldwide and there’s one major reason for that – lower costs. Sea freight is suitable for all kinds of products, but becomes self-evident for heavy and spacious products. Sea freight is a must if you plan to export products included in one of the following segments:

Shipping costs, lead times and delivery issues

To ship consignments by sea takes around 5-7 weeks from Europe and the US to Japan. People sometimes question why sea freight is the better choice, as the lead times are so much longer. And after all, if the volumes I export are not high, the cost difference can’t be that big?

Well, longer lead times are generally not an issue if you plan your deliveries well in advance and have close contact with your counterpart in Japan. It’s important that you receive updates of order schedules on a frequent basis, if stocks are running out or if the buyer sees rapid increases in sales within a short time.

A critical point here is to set up a well organized system where you can get updates continuously from your buyer, hence avoiding late deliveries or unnecessary air freight costs as consequences. I can recall hour-long discussions with customers who increased their order quantities with 50% from a week to another, and no-one were willing to pay for the extra air freights. There’s one way to solve it – Be clear in your agreements.

It’s impossible to share fixed figures for both sea freight and air freight as freight costs fluctuates on a daily basis due to various reasons. The product type, the weight, the volume, what freight forwarder you use are all factors that have an impact on the final price. Not surprising is that Supply & Demand affects the price as well.

Harbors in Japan

Japan has a long history of international trade and a vast amount of ports stretching from Naha in the south to Sapporo in the North. The biggest ports are (by cargo tonnage) located in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Yokohama.

Other major ports are:

  • Port of Akita
  • Port of Chiba
  • Port of Funagawa
  • Port of Hachinohe
  • Port of Ibaraki
  • Port of Kobe
  • Port of Noshiro
  • Port of Sakata
  • Port of Takamatsu
  • Port of Yokosuka

Air freight

Is the best option for deliveries of small quantities such as test samples, product samples, fragile products, products to be used on exhibitions or when time become critical and there’s no time for sea freight.

It takes around 1 week to transport goods by air from Europe and the US to Japan, which is a remarkable shorter lead time in comparison with sea freight. In round figures, a fifth of the time needed for sea freight.

Worth to know is that storage of goods is generally cheaper close to airports in comparison with ports. Be sure to confirm this point if you plan to store your goods for a longer time. Air freight is also a safer bet when it comes to quality assurance and protection of your goods.

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    2 Responses to “Shipping to Japan – The short guide that presents the best freight option for your products”

    1. Alay Shah November 4, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

      Hello,
      I am doing a project on economic analysis for exporting consumer goods product from India to Japan.

      I got to know from http://www.searates.com that air freight is cheaper than the sea freight. I kept the volume of material and weight as same for both the cases. But, I don’t believe this as sea freights should be cheaper than air freight.
      Please let me know more about this.

      I will be using consumer goods as bar soaps and would use 40′ FCL is I am using sea freight.

      Thank you,
      Alay Shah

    2. Dave Anderson May 24, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

      I was wondering the process of shipping things to and from Japan because there are so many things that we have here from Japan. Like you mentioned, there are a lot of things that have to be included when shipping to Japan including a declaration showing exactly what you are shipping and who you are shipping them to. Even though it is a huge process to be able to ship things to Japan it does make sense because each country has their own way of regulating things.

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