Purchasing MD Gear in Japan

Nick Winkworth ([email protected])

I would like to pass on some of my experiences purchasing an MD portable unit in Japan.

Where to buy MD in Tokyo?

Everyone told me to go to Akihabara ("Electric Town") and while this is a very fun place to visit - many many retailers of electrical and electronic stuff - it's not the cheapest (unless you haggle - which I don't). Although there are some larger "anchor" stores (like LAOX), most are very small - personally I would feel a little uneasy about buying from some of these "hole-in-the-wall" places.

I found two stores (both of which have multiple branches) with much better prices and good service: Yodobashi Camera, and Sakuraya Camera. I ended up at Sakuraya and recommend it highly. One of my Japanese colleagues recommends Yodobashi. I also had a recommendation from David Iannucci from this list for BIC Camera (though I never got there, since Sakuraya had the same price Dave had seen at BIC). These stores are all based around the Shinjyuku and Ikebukuro stations, on the other side of Tokyo.

It is possible that there are cheaper places, if you know some locals to show you where - but you may not be able to get the Duty Free so easily, or the 5% points card discount (see below).

Duty Free

In Japan you usually have to add 5% "consumption tax" to items like MD players. If you are a foreign visitor you can avoid this. If you go to the "Electric Town" area there are special Duty Free branches of certain stores. It seemed to me, however, that the prices were inflated here so that you end up with little benefit.

To get the Duty Free price at Sakuraya, for example, all I had to do was show my passport and the clerk filled out a form. That's it. As you leave the country you are supposed to show this form plus the goods (to stop visitors buying stuff tax free for residents). In practice there was such bedlam going on at customs that the guy just took my form and waived me through.

Finally, don't go to Duty Free at the airport! Yes, they do have MD portables, but prices are at least 25% higher than the highest street price I saw!

Points cards

Both Sakuraya and Yodobashi have "points cards". Other larger stores may do too. These are great. When you buy anything they put 5% of the value onto this card - which you can then spend on the spot. (I just bought some MD blanks, which I was planning to get anyway) So it is effectively a 5% discount. Very cool.

Power adapters and other accessories.

Many MD-L folk have been complaining about the difficulty of using the supplied 100V power "warts" in the US. The answer is to get the Japanese travel power adapter. The Sharp one I have (AC adapter AD-SS70AP) is half the size and a third of the weight of the conventional "wart". It takes any input 100-240V 50/60Hz (auto selecting) and since it was designed for it, it works perfectly with my unit in Japan, the US and Europe. Great for travelers and a bargain at $33 US.

Knowing that accessories will be scarce (at best) in the US, I also got an extra battery, the dry cell pack (clips onto the back of the unit) and an optical cable with the minijack plug. Other bits 'n bobs are available too, so it's a good idea to know beforehand what you need, bearing in mind that they may not be easy to get at home. (There's a list of Sharp accessories on the MD Community web page.)

Naturally, all the Sharp accessories work with any of the clones.

When you take the points discount into effect, MD blanks are about $4.10 each (Sony 74min in ten pack - JPY4800, less 5%). I wish I'd bought more.

My new Toy

I decided I preferred the Sharp MS200 clones to the Sony R30 (cheaper, too!) and of those I chose the Denon model (DMP-R70) Why? The buttons are large, clear and positive compared to the other models - plus it comes in a cool blue color.

All the Sharp clones are absolutely identical, by the way - except for the button layout and cosmetics like labeling and color. My manual is identical to the MS200 manual that is on the web (except for the pictures). The Denon is the same price as the Sharp everywhere. The Kenwood and Pioneer are also the same price as each other - more expensive by exactly the cost of included LCD remote (which is optional on the other two).

The lowest price I found was JPY28,300. Taking the 5% points card discount into effect gives JPY26,885 - $240 US out-the-door tax free!

Everything about it surpassed my expectations (and I have been researching for a while). Apart from anything else, it is smaller, lighter and is easier to use than I expected.

The only negative is the skimpiness of the english section in the Japanese manual.

My first test was to record a CD. I did this manually, just connecting to the tape outputs on my receiver - using analog input and manual level setting. I then did an A/B compare with the original CD, using both speakers and phones. I can tell the difference between the original and the recording, but it is hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. Less "spacious" or "punchy" maybe - but it's more like comparing two different CD players than, say, CD and Tape.

It's worth adding that recordings made on my R70 sound identical to ones made on my JE-510 when played back on the JE-510. So any audible differences are due to the R70 A/D converters or output circuitry - not what is actually recorded to the disc.

Considering that this is a portable unit, an analog recording and played back via the dual purpose headphone/line out jack, I was very impressed. (BTW, even with analog input it automatically puts the track marks at the right places, something I thought needed digital input.)

For portable use, the supplied "ear-buds" sound amazingly good, and headphone volume is more than adequate (20, on a scale of 0-30 suits me fine).

So far I'm very impressed.

If you're thinking of getting one of these, do. You won't be disappointed.

Another reader writes: In the Tokyo station underground shopping mall there is a little shop near the centre which has the lowest price I have seen. Do not under any circumstances buy duty free, it's more expensive.
-Rod Boswell
To which Nick adds:

What you should avoid are the Duty Free shops and outlets - yes, these are indeed more expensive (aimed at tourists, of course). But you can still (and definitely should) avoid paying duty!

It's a simple matter of showing your passport and filling out a form. My experience is that the large Tokyo chains can all do this as a matter of course (they do not need to advertise this with big signs). I can't speak for the smaller places, however, but all they'd need to do is hold a supply of the special forms.

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