Allow me to share some experiences with Japanese merchandise shopping before I dive into this ZenPlus review.
My earliest solo trips to Japan were deeply memorable. Luggage nightmares too because I always ended up buying so many books, collectibles, snacks, and handicrafts. But with e-commerce already somewhat of a thing during those years, I remember telling myself, someday, I’d be able to do all such fanboy shopping on the Internet. When I visit Japan, it will purely be to enjoy the sights, the food, the incredible omotenashi, etc.
Jump forth to today, and my prediction is somewhat true. I say “somewhat” for while many international online marketplaces now sell Japanese products, the selection offered is frequently limited. That is, unless you buy from a Japanese site, with all your searches and ordering done in Japanese. This is because a lot of the good stuff is still only listed in Japanese on such sites.
This throws all of us back to the 80s and 90s, doesn’t it? After so many years, the language barrier is still an issue!
But things might have already changed, with a service and marketplace like ZenPlus. For a start, this isn’t another Japanese online marketplace with a separate, smaller section for international customers. At first impression, they feel like a genuine effort to bring an entire online Japanese bazaar to the English-speaking market.
Like a true marketplace, they have second-hand goods and collectibles on sale as well, which boosts their already impressive merchandise selections to truly incredible levels. While preparing for this review, I (again) had quite a kick just going through page after page of their listings. Actually, I spent hours doing that before I even started writing.
ZenPlus: A Huge Online Marketplace Connecting Japanese Retailers With the World
ZenPlus is what’s known as a proxy-buying or proxy-shopping service. In other words, they are alike Amazon or an actual Japanese departmental store with one major difference. They only cater to the overseas market. They don’t deliver within Japan.
As a proxy-shopping service, ZenPlus acts as a bridge between you (the shopper) and Japanese retailers too. When you place an order, ZenPlus collects the items from retailers, check that they are in good condition, and handles the rest of the shipping process. Vice versa, they also ensure that listings from retailers are legitimate.
Operating from Osaka with their own warehouse, ZenPlus furthermore has authentic Japanese product listings from over a thousand Japanese retailers on their marketplace—according to them, with some 7 million items on sale. Once you’ve made your selection, different shipping and payment modes are available.
For shipping, there are two options: standard and express. For payment, you can pay by credit card or via PayPal.
With nearly ten years of experience with international shipping, their assurance is that you wouldn’t have to worry at all about logistics. You focus on the shopping and they will handle the rest. Your item will reach you in good condition.
What’s more, any order on this e-commerce platform can completely be conducted in English. This is hands-down ZenPlus’ greatest strength.
A lot of online marketplaces have the option to view in English or Japanese. However, listings displayed from searches are often significantly different. For example, on Amazon.com, many Japanese products will not appear even if you search in Japanese. You can only find the listings for these by using Amazon.jp and with your searches done in Japanese.
As far as I can see, ZenPlus invested considerable effort to avoid this issue by having both English and Japanese descriptions for every listing. Now, I obviously can’t go through several million listings to thoroughly verify, but for the listings that I’ve viewed, you can instantly translate product descriptions from English to Japanese, and vice versa. I’m assuming this is possible for all listings.
ZenPlus even allows you to send queries about listings. This is available as an “Ask About This Item” tab beside individual product descriptions and FAQs. Should you use this function, ZenPlus’ multi-lingual team will do their best to respond to your questions after they have checked with retailers.
Quality of Translation
Is quality of translation a concern? It is to me, having seen too many Japanese hotel websites for which the English versions are far thinner than the Japanese originals.
Again, as far as I can tell, ZenPlus takes an effort to properly translate Japanese listings. (Or they insist on the retailers providing a sensible English write-up) Truth be told, awkward sentences do still occasionally appear but I did not encounter any case of a listing description being incomprehensible.
If any information is missing from an English listing, the same goes for the Japanese version. On this, I assume everything ultimately depends on what the retailers provide. On ZenPlus’ part, their team does whatever they can to ensure customers shopping in English enjoy the full experience.
7 Million Listings?!? Feels Like It!
I mentioned earlier that I spent hours browsing ZenPlus’ listings before working on this review. I am not making this up.
The marketplace currently has 32 categories, with many of these containing over ten sub-categories. The Food category, for example, has 14 sub-categories.
These sub-categories then contain equally as many sub–sub-categories.
Browsing through these categories and listings is positively mesmerizing. Simple search words like “Yokai” or “Buddha” throw up page after page, after page of hits. Even when I narrowed results using the filters provided or searched with specific names like “demon slayer,” the results were still substantial.
Thanks to the listings for pre-loved items, my searches were also unexpectedly entertaining in a nostalgic way. My searches pulled up dozens of listings for Famicom cartridges, game magazines, and Manga that I bought in the 1980s. I even saw listings for a miniature Miroku figurine that I “bought” in Nara in 2018.
The latter was a prize from a Gachapon machine located on the shopping street. I can now order the full range and complete my collection! Yatta!
Details of a Purchase and Delivery
Before I discuss ZenPlus prices, allow me to share the details of a purchase and delivery.
This order consists of five items, which are:
POP UP PARADE Jujutsu Kaisen Yuuji Itadori Completed Figure (¥3,900): Good Smile Company’s new Pop UP PARADE range features meticulous reproductions of popular Anime characters, at affordable prices. What’s great about this figurine is that it also comes with “two heads.” Depending on my mood, I can display normal Yuuji or his demonic persona.
Dragon Ball Super DRAGONBALL LEGENDS Collaboration Figure SS Son Goku (¥2,530 discounted to ¥1,949): A collaboration between Dragonball Legends and Banpresto, this 20 cm figurine features Super Saiyan Son Goku in a champion pose, while wearing Yardrat costume.
Lakshimi Kobe Japan Premium Honey Black Tea® Te’ Miel SUPREMO® (¥1,512 discounted to ¥1,164): Lakshimi is one of the leading specialty tea stores in Kobe, and so I’ve read, this sweet honey tea of theirs is a big hit with tourists in recent years. Great for after-work relaxation too.
Wain Refreshing Mint Flavor Domestic Spearmint x Green Tea Midsummer Dream 80g (¥2,230 discounted to ¥1,717): According to a WebMD article, spearmint green tea could be a great remedy for digestive problems. This blend is made from green tea leaves from the Yame region of Fukuoka Prefecture and organically grown spearmint from Miyazaki. In other words, the best of Kyushu agriculture.
Pure Titanium Chopsticks Katsuki | Stripe Design (¥8,520 discounted to ¥6,560): Made with Titanium by an eyeglass craftsman in Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture, these exquisite chopsticks are light, durable, and classy. Because they are purely made of Titanium, they are safe for people with metal allergies too.
By the way, Wain has all sorts of herbal and blended teas. Other than Spearmint Green Tea, which is a “midsummer’s tea”, they have Hibiscus tea, a Camomile and Houji tea mix, and Echinacea tea.
All blends exotic names too. For example, their Echinacea tea is named “Tea Fairy of the Earth.”
Are ZenPlus Prices Good?
This is an important consideration, and to get the answer, I did two rounds of price checks at physical Japanese stores and Anime collectible outlets. By the way, I live in Singapore and we have quite a lot of Japanese merchandise and Anime stores in town, including a localized version of Don Quijote and Books Kinokuniya.
The result: I could only find the POP UP PARADE Yuuji Itadori figure. This was on sale at a shop for SGD 57/-, which converts to around USD 42.85/- at February 2023 rates.
In comparison, ZenPlus’ price for the figure, inclusive of tax and shipping, works out to a total of around USD 45/-, which makes the marketplace’s price tag slightly higher. However, if you add my time and transportation expense to and from the physical store, Zenplus’ price is actually more attractive. The same scenario applies to premium green tea leaves similar to the Wain’s Spearmint Green Tea.
Online checks further reveal that Good Smile Company, i.e., the manufacturer is selling the Yuuji figurine at exactly the same price as Zenplus. So does an international Anime collectible portal.
Here’s what’s interesting too, and why I keep mentioning the Yuuji figure. If you refer to my earlier descriptions, it was the only item that was not on discount. Since Zenplus pricing is overall, competitive, any item that’s discounted on this e-commerce platform will truly be that—discounted, a good bargain.
Based on the above, I think it’s safe to conclude that you can find good prices and great deals on Zenplus. This is especially so if you’re willing to wait for special offers or do a few rounds of searches.
Review Conclusion: Is ZenPlus Worth Buying From?
To sum up, I think ZenPlus works hard to open the Japanese retail scene to international audiences.
Amassed on the platform is a huge, and I mean HUGE selection of Japanese merchandise. There are food and beverages, artistic handicrafts, apparel, pre-loved collectibles, etc. All listings come with English descriptions and should there be something that you need clarification on, you can easily send a query.
In fact, there’s so much variety in this online marketplace, one potential “downside” is that you could be easily distracted when shopping for something. You are thoroughly spoilt for choice and there’s just so much competing for your attention.
Payment, shipping, and delivery are hassle-free too. On these, I suspect some buyers might prefer more payment and shipping options. For example, a choice of courier when opting for express delivery.
I can only say that I have not thoroughly investigated all possible shipping scenarios and so I cannot meaningfully comment on whether more flexibility would bring about substantial cost savings. I will assume the ZenPlus team selects what’s best based on their extensive experience.
Lastly, even if you’re not buying something, this marketplace is absolutely fascinating to go through! Throughout all my visits to Japan, I’ve always thought Japanese departmental stores were great places to learn about Japanese culture. The same goes for ZenPlus. You’d be amazed by the unbelievable number of products in the marketplace, and through them, learn a little more about Japan.
A devoted solo traveler from Singapore who has loved Japan since young. His first visits to the country were all because of video game and Manga homages. Today, he still visits for the same reasons, in addition to enjoying Japan’s culture, history, and hot springs.