We’ve all been there. You drank too many Strong Zero 9%, bought four kimonos, a Totoro fan for everyone including your best mate’s uncle and every single flavor of KitKat. Now you’ve ended up with way more than your luggage allowance will permit.

What to do? You’ll have to ship your stuff home from Japan.

Shipping Things Home

Shipping things home while traveling overseas can be pretty confusing, especially when you don’t speak the language. But fear not! We’ve done the research so you don’t have to and put together a guide to help you save money.
*If you want to ship your luggage around Japan, check here.

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Types of Shipping Service

Deciding on the best service for your baggage is mostly a simple trade-off of between speed and budget.

In Japan there are two main types of international delivery service.

  • The first is operated by Japan Post, which has four different options and is connected to the Universal Postal Union, a global postage network operated by the UN.
  • The second type is takkyubin, operated by privately-owned courier companies. In Japan the most common is Yamato Transport (TA-Q-BIN).
ship your boxes internationally
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ServiceCost (500g)Cost (10kg)Arrival Time (USA)English supportPickupNotes
Yamato Transport2,750-8,850-4-6 daysYesYesCalculates cost by size so the price can increase drastically. Open on weekends.
Surface (Japan Post)720-6,7501-3 monthsVariesNo
EMS (Japan Post)2,40022,5002-3 daysVariesNoNot available at all branches
Airmail (Japan Post)1,270-17,6505-8 daysVariesNo
SAL (Japan Post)1,120-12,5502 weeksVariesNo

Japan Post Services

Easily recognizable Japan Post sites can be found across the country. If speed is not of the essence you can ship things unbelievably cheaply. The prices for shipping to the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Oceania are counted as the same, which means less confusion if you’re sending stuff to your home in London and your auntie in California.


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There are four types of postal service found at the Japan Post offices.

  1. EMS (Express Mail Service)
    EMS pops your parcel onto its EMS-exclusive plane and zooms it off to its destination. Like business class but for parcels and kit-kats. Parcels and packages normally take two or three days to reach their destination.
  2. Airmail
    If EMS is Business Class then Airmail is more like Economy Plus. Planes zip your parcels across the world within a week (six days, to be precise). A practical option to meet price and speed halfway, Fergie would approve.
  3. SAL (Economy Air)
    Then we have the economy option, where your package will be sent as the space on the planes becomes available – essentially a waitlist. Whilst estimates vary, the general timing for SAL items to arrive is 2-3 weeks. Good if you got carried away at the start of the holiday.
  4. Surface Mail (Ship)
    This one is the cheapest shipping from Japan option. Basically similar to popping the parcels on an ocean cruiser, leisurely making the trip around the globe in 1-3 months. Perfect if you’ve got time to spare.

Notes: Documents such as invoices are available in English but staff might not speak English, especially at Japan Post offices away from touristy areas, so we recommend going in with a Japanese speaker.

Some Japan Post offices don’t have an EMS service so remember to check via the website before going in.

Japan-based International Couriers

Of course, Fedex and DHL are a thing in Japan and if you’ve an account with them, go for it. Using a local delivery service is a lot cheaper though. In Japan the most accessible local courier is Yamato Transport (previously called Kuroneko Yamato).

The distinctive Black Cat logo from Yamato Transport can be found up and down the country. Their international shipping service AKA TA-Q-BIN is fully available in English and they can come to wherever you are to pick up.

Yamato Kuroneko Takkyubin logo
The ubiquitous Yamato Kuroneko logo. | Photo by Gregory Lane

The Yamato website is very user friendly and provides useful guides on how to pack, arrange a pick up and see off your item(s). Pick up is not required and you can save 100 yen by heading into one of their many conveniently-located sites. If you realise you’ve overpacked at the very last minute, they have stations inside most airports too.

How to Ship from Japan

Check what’s allowed

Nothing like packing and arranging everything only for the courier to turn you away. Things like fresh foods, perfumes and cacti can’t be sent internationally, so be sure to check before packing. Other things such as frozen or chilled products may need a separate service.

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Pack

Check how to pack your items. Japan can be pretty strict as to how to package items so it may be worth buying a proper box. Make a note of what you’ve packed—straight on the invoice if possible.

Arrange pickup/Take to a local site

With Japan Post you’ll have to go there. Many are only open weekdays so check before heading in!
Yamato Transport will have an option to pick up from a specified address. Alternatively, save some money and drop it off.

Pay and send

Done! Once you’ve filled out the invoice, paid and marvelled at how delicately they treat your items, wave them off and prepare to see them again across the world.

Beware! Stuff you Cannot Ship

There are various things you cannot ship and they will refuse to ship packages if you have declared something banned.
Examples include:

  • Perfume
  • Fireworks
  • Alcohol over 24%
  • Lithium-ion batteries or devices containing them

Yes, we know your sister really wanted the Hello Kitty candy perfume but the pink glitter lipstick is just as good. Full list of prohibited items here.

Cheapo Hack

Packing: If you can pack as compactly as possible, you can save big. Yamato, for instance, bases their prices first on the size of the box, and then on the weight. The size up from the mid-range 10kg costs an additional ¥7,000! Here’s a handy guide on how to measure.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.

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Filed under: Living
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