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Importing Video Games From Japan: What You Need to Know

Importing Video Games From Japan
Are you considering importing goods from Japan? This article discusses the exploding gaming culture in Japan and how it translates to importing video games from Japan.
USA Customs Clearance
April 29, 2022
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Last Modified: March 2, 2023

Importing video games from Japan has become a major industry for entrepreneurs and gamers alike. In 2022, the video games industry has dominated digital entertainment sales globally. Even if you combine major motion pictures and sports, it still doesn’t come close to the value of the video games industry. The heart of this juggernaut industry lies in Japan.

Entrepreneurs have started importing video games from Japan due to the high value and rarity of these commodities, as well as increased demand from western markets. Typically, these imports include retro games, region locked systems, and Japan-exclusive games and accessories.

Are you trying to import the latest in Japanese gaming or find the hidden retro gems hidden in Japan? Then look no further. Our comprehensive guide will point you in the right direction.

Why Import from Japan?

Importing Japanese video games is currently one of the latest crazes around the world. Every gamer, or those in the business of buying and selling games, is critically aware of Japanese game development's impact on the industry.

It is said that the best games in the world are created, developed, and manufactured in Japan. There are many game studios worldwide, so what makes Japan so special? It has to do with culture, sophistication, and storytelling, for starters.

These three ideas have been and continue to be hallmarks of what makes the gaming sphere in Japan so impressive and why it will continue to stand out amongst the crowded field of games and console development around the world. Speak with a customs broker to learn more about importing directly from Japan.

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An Exploding Market

Importing systems, games, and accessories that are Japan-exclusive or manufactured has exploded as a business. Everyone who is anyone in gaming wants these titles from Japan. Especially commodities related to games that have not been localized for western markets.

Market trends illustrated here show imports versus exports regarding the boom in the Japanese video game market and why importing video games, systems, and accessories is so advantageous to American importers.

Export Market Trends


Import Market Trends


Games that have not been localized for western markets carry increased value over the mass-produced titles that are given a western translation. Perhaps one of the most well-known Japan-exclusive titles known is Mother 3. This game never made its way to the west and now carries an insane price tag.

Importing from Japan brings many benefits to any business or private sector consumer. You will have access to the very best in gaming, which just so happens to have a wide following, high market value, and strong consumer demand attached to it.

A Brief History

Back in the early 1980s, the video game market in North America crashed. Companies like Atari, Colecovision, Intellivision, Commodore, and Vectrex dominated the industry. They manufactured anything and everything, flooding the games market with poorly-created titles.

Consumers would view this industry as a short-lived fad for the moment and nothing to be taken seriously. That is until the Japanese games developers swooped in with creative titles like:

  1. Super Mario Brothers
  2. Donkey Kong
  3. The Legend of Zelda
  4. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!
  5. Duck Hunt

The Japanese quite literally saved gaming for everyone in North America with the invasion of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1986. Since then, a passion for these games has grown over generations.

Retro Gaming and Modern gaming are interlinked; there is both a passion and a market for both. Anyone looking to import Japan-exclusive titles should be aware of the desire to own them in the west.

Japanese Retro Versus Modern Gaming

The values of Retro versus modern games are radically different. While modern games carry not only a Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), they often go on sale within weeks of launching worldwide. Retro games, on the other hand, are a whole different animal.

The retro games industry has seen a nuclear boom-like reaction within the past few years. The demand for retro games has skyrocketed. Add Japanese versions or exclusives to the mix, and that idea just went to the next level.

Every gamer out there that plays Japanese games relishes the idea of importing games from Japan. Some feel that the Covid-19 pandemic played a large role in the industrywide boom. Others feel it's just the generation that grew up with the NES that are now in their mid to late 30s and early 40s that are repurchasing their youth.

The younger crowd is most interested in modern gaming. Owning Sony consoles with a Playstation Network (PSN) account for online play and access to the PlayStation Store is the chief reason for gaming. Since the digital age of gaming is booming and region-free gaming is here to stay, options are plenty.

In modern digital gaming, you don’t need a Japanese console or a Japanese PSN to buy a Japanese game or import Japanese games. All you need today is a credit card and a game console, no matter where it's from in the world. Even the last Sony handheld device, the Playstation Vita, can run imported games, unlike the old Super Famicom, Sega Game Gear, or Xbox 360.

Because of these ideas, the industry of importing video games from Japan has become what it is today. Let us take a look at market values for both retro and modern games:

Retro Game Value Comparison

NES (North America)Famicom (Japan)
The Legend of ZeldaThe Legend of Zelda
Example Source NES  Example Source Famicom

Modern Game Value Comparison

Nintendo Wii U (North America)Nintendo Wii U (Japan)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildThe Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Example Source Wii U Example Source Wii U
Source: Grand Adventure Japan

As you can see from these examples, retro games carry a slightly higher value than modern games. However, in both examples, the Japanese imported version has a higher average value and dictates that the market for those versions is ever-increasing in North America.

When considering importing games, systems, and accessories directly from Japan you need to be aware of customs protocols and procedures. Our team of experienced and knowledgeable consultants can help facilitate your questions and order today.

What Video Games are Imported From Japan?

What Video Games Are Imported From Japan?

There are various systems that have been designed and manufactured in Japan. Not all of these systems are still produced by the same company today. Manufacturers like Nintendo of Japan still manufacture systems today.

While other companies like Sega of Japan no longer manufacture or produce systems like they once had. Instead, they just develop and produce software titles both exclusively for Japan and also software that has been localized for western markets.

Here are some highly sought-after systems that were made exclusively for Japan:

  1. Bandai Wonderswan (1999): This was a handheld gaming system made exclusively for Japan that did not have a backlit screen and used one AA battery. Ultimately, this machine lost out to the more popular Nintendo Game Boy and was discontinued.
  2. NEC PC Engine (1987): This home console system was made exclusively for Japan in the late 1980s and was very popular well into the early 1990s in Japan. This system used a HuCard for its games, unlike other gaming systems at the time that used large bulky cartridges.
  3. Panasonic Q GameCube (2001): Released only in Japan, this is one of the crown jewel systems sought after by most gamers. It had a relatively short lifespan being discontinued in 2003. This device had a unique look and could play DVDs and the mini DVD Nintendo Gamecube format.
  4. Nintendo 64 DD (1999): This home console addon was for the Nintendo 64 game system and was released exclusively in Japan. This device expanded the read/write memory to 64mb while enhancing the audio and visuals of game experiences.

Here are some highly sought-after games that were made exclusively for Japan:

  1. Mother 3 (2006): This role-playing game (RPG) was developed by HAL Laboratory in Japan as the finale of a long-treasured series. This is perhaps one of the most sought-after Japanese-only games ever made.
  2. Dobutsu no Mori (2001): The original release of what the world knows as Animal Crossing. Dobutsu no Mori, aka Animal Forest, was the original Japan-exclusive release for one of the most popular game franchises in the world.
  3. Jump Ultimate Stars (2006): A fighting game made exclusively for the Japanese market for the Nintendo DS. This game was a collaboration of over 300 Manga characters in a fighting game.
  4. Shining Force 3 (1997): This japan exclusive is a turn-based Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) developed for the Sega Saturn Game Console.

These systems and games are just a few examples of what people generally are looking for when importing this medium from Japan. It is important to note, that this is just a sample of a much larger offering of what is available in the market.

Region Locking

Since the early days of gaming, console manufacturers created a method of binding their systems and games to specific global markets. This was known as region locking, whereby a consumer could not purchase a Japanese version of a game and play it on a European version of the system.

There were many reasons for region locking software, primarily to control staggered launches globally. Also, this was a means to control market prices in the various regions they were sold. Here is a list of typical region formats found on most retro and modern games.

  • PAL: Europe
  • NTSC: North America
  • NTSC-J: Japan
  • NTSC-K: South Korea

Today, modern games are rarely region locked on the newest platforms like the Nintendo Switch, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X or S, and the Sony Playstation 5. Region locking is something usually found on retro games that are imported.


The market for video game systems and games is not only desirable, but the industry is also booming. Game culture is about to pass $200 billion dollars in 2022, surpassing movies and sports combined. What was once a novelty has become the premier form of entertainment globally.

Source: Walk & Travel

From the mid-1980s to today, the games industry has seen tremendous growth and adaptation into mainstream society. However, help from the global pandemic and the generation that grew up on video games coming of age has caused a resurgence in game collecting. More specifically games from Japan they always wanted.

Individual Versus Commercial Purchases

Individual versus Commercial Purchases

When considering how you wish to import games, there are two ways to look at this topic. Whether it is personal or business interests that are driving you to import video games from Japan, you need to know the methods for doing so.

Importing video games from Japan differs depending on how you wish to proceed and to what degree you are looking to import. The following two examples will shed some light on the process.

  • Proxy services: If you are importing individual titles or systems, then you will likely look to eCommerce sites or proxy services in Japan to fulfill your requests. This is because they have distribution networks already situated for international commerce.
  • Customs brokerage: If you are looking to import mass quantities of gaming products for commercial purposes, then you will likely need expert assistance to facilitate your import needs in order to have the required documentation and adhere to U.S. Customs laws.

Our customs brokers are knowledgeable of all laws and regulations which govern the transport of goods internationally. At the same time, they’re able to provide industry-leading expertise in importing your video games, systems, and accessories from Japan. Brokers can also facilitate information based on import costs and handle all your shipping needs from Japan to the United States (U.S.).

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Japanese Trade Laws and Agreements

Japanese Trade Laws and Agreements

Japan and the U.S. have a very unique partnership when it comes to trade laws and agreements. The world’s third-largest economy is Japan, and they are the fourth-largest partner to the U.S. in trade annually.

However, it is important to understand that the recently approved trade agreement, adopted on October 17, 2019, only affects agricultural and some industrial goods. Further expansion of the trade agreement is still in the works.

Per the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. has begun the elimination and reduction of 241 tariffs per the Japan Free Trade Agreement. Unfortunately, video games, systems, and accessories are not yet included in the exemption.

Careful planning, preparation, and accuracy of documentation are required when importing trade goods. You don’t want to violate any import laws or cause delays and the potential confiscation of your goods when they arrive at a port of entry. If this is your first time importing goods from outside the country, then we would strongly suggest seeking the help of an import broker.

There are a lot of things that can be overlooked or missed during this process. In order to receive your goods on time and without any hiccups, why not have the peace of mind knowing that you have a partner ensuring your success.

Japanese Import Costs

Import costs on goods being imported directly from Japan will not only vary, but certain exemptions are in place due to the free trade agreement that has been adopted and mentioned above.

When importing goods -especially for the first time - you need to be aware of everything that is involved. It is not as easy as ordering something online and getting it shipped. U.S. Customs regulates the importation of goods and is extremely thorough about it.

Import costs surrounding these goods can be tricky and often difficult to navigate. We have an incredible guide that discusses everything you need to know about import costs from Japan. This guide will help clarify questions you might have related to the costs associated with the importation of goods from Japan.

Harmonized Tariff Schedule for Japanese Video Games

Duty fees may come into play when importing goods such as Japanese video games, systems, and related accessories. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS) dictates whether or not something is duty-free or exempt.

When trying to calculate the costs of importation, you will need the HTS Codes for these items. These products typically fall under the code 9504.50. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), there are no duty rates applicable to imports of these products from countries to which Most Favored Nation (MFN) or special trade agreements apply - this includes Japan.

If for whatever reason your import requires a different duty, your calculations might not be as simple as that case, you should consult one on one with a customs broker to make sure that all the necessary fees, documentation, and planning are done to the letter.

Special consideration should be given to time and efficiency when it comes to importing from overseas. By doing so, you will ensure the expedient delivery of goods, especially with the delays that imports are still facing due to the pandemic.

What is The Benefit of Wholesale Purchasing?

Wholesale purchasing has many benefits for a business in today's economy. There are a number of benefits that ultimately influence the bottom line of any business venture, especially as it relates to the importation of goods to sell in a U.S. consumer market.

The following list provides definitive examples of the impact wholesale purchasing can have on a business in today’s economy:

  • Best price: when purchasing wholesale, there is a definitive cost saving from buying in bulk. You have the ability to negotiate the price of bulk purchases, saving you money in each transaction. This measure of savings will directly increase profit margins in all your sales.
  • Variety: Having a good working relationship with a distribution or supply chain overseas will open up opportunities for your business. A wider breadth of potential products in bulk purchases increases your inventories and gives them the variety consumers seek. Having this relationship with a foreign distribution network will allow you to import new types of goods before other businesses offer them to your market. This advantage will drive sales and give your business the variety of goods that consumers look for in a business.
  • Importing Less: When bulk importing, you reduce the risk of importing more often because of low supply or the need to replenish goods that are out of stock. Keeping an adequate cycle stock can be difficult. However, when you bulk import, you carry a larger inventory and will save money because you are importing less frequently.

The benefits of wholesale purchasing are clear: cost savings, variety, and negotiations for the best price. Ultimately, you are in the business of making money, and to do so, you must take every step to reduce backend costs and increase efficiency.

Major Publishers and Retro Dealers

Major Publishers and Retro Dealers

Here is a sample list of manufacturers and distributors in Japan that you can contact in order to set up the ordering process. Also, USA Customs can facilitate those orders into direct shipments ensuring their quick and accurate shipment to the U.S. in time for your customers to enjoy. Some of the major video game publishers in Japan include:

  • Nintendo
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Sega Games
  • Capcom Asia
  • Bandai Namco

If you’re in the market for retro dealers instead, look to some of these options in Akihabara:

  • Super Potato
  • Yodobashi-Akiba
  • Beep Akihabara
  • Surugaya
  • Trader Headquarters

There are many more major publishers within Japan; however, these are the most popular five. As far as retro game distributors, the Akihabara district in Chiyoda City, otherwise known as Chiyoda-ku, is an entire district devoted to games, anime, and manga comics.

You should have no trouble finding what you are looking for there. If there is something retro in Japan and you cannot find it at a store or distribution point in Akihabara, then it likely doesn’t exist at all.

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Let USA Customs Handle Your Imports From The Land of the Rising Sun

When considering importing video games, systems, and accessories from Japan, look no further. Our dedicated team of experienced and knowledgeable customs consultants are ready to assist you with your Japanese imports today.

We offer industry-leading service and support with special emphasis on offering an “unmatched experience” for you, the customer. We offer customs brokerage services for commercial importers and consulting services for personal importers.

Our services include:

  • Calculation of import/duty fees
  • Assistance with documentation
  • Support with Customs clearance
  • 1-on-1 time with a licensed broker
  • Import consulting
  • and more

If you are new to importing, we have a complete bundle that gives you the “best in industry” support and guidance. We provide three bundle options that are the complete solution for any first-time importer. This option ensures zero headaches, zero problems, and complete satisfaction.

We are here to help anytime or anywhere while also providing the customer with the absolute best in the industry standard of information and guidance. Your imports shouldn’t be a headache. Let us take care of your imports so you can focus more on your business.

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