After getting some emails from Scott Kaneko earlier this week regarding information that had appeared in Sports Card Magazine about both the Frank Howard and Cecil Fielder Calbee cards, I decided that I really needed to look into how I could get the magazine here in the States. I've gotten a few issues in the past, but only because my friend in Japan that I order cards from sometimes includes one with my order as a bonus gift. While this is extremely generous of him, I never know when or if I'm going to get an issue. So I decided to embark on a quest this week to see how I could do this.
The first, obvious, step was to ask Scott if he had a subscription and how he went about doing getting it. He quickly confirmed my fears - there's no way to get a direct subscription with BBM for the magazine here in the States and he had an arrangement with a Japanese book store that was local to him in California. Since I live in a suburban/rural area midway between Philadelphia and Baltimore, I don't have a lot of options when it comes to Japanese book stores. Some Google searches brought me a couple of options but none that looked particularly promising. There used to be a Japanese book store in Rockville, MD (~90 minutes drive) but it closed a few years ago. The best possibility was a Mitsuwa store in Edgewater, NJ (2 1/2 hour drive) which seemed a bit of a long way to go. And I never got a response from them regarding whether or not they carried or could carry the magazine. So Scott's option really didn't seem like a possibility for me.
Next I checked a couple of on line stores that I've used for buying cards. AmiAmi does not carry it. My initial search on Rakuten Global Market didn't find any issues either (more on that in a bit). I decided then to take a look at Amazon's Japanese site. A quick search showed that they had several issues, including the most recent issue (#104). So I decided "what the hell, what have a got to lose" and decided to see what I could do. I attempted to log into the site using my US Amazon account. That didn't work. But I could create a new account on the Japanese site. Once I did that, I added issue #104 to my shopping cart and went to check out. I entered my shipping address and the site accepted it, telling me that shipping for the magazine would be around $12. I was a little concerned that I would need a Japanese bank credit card but it accepted my US MasterCard without blinking. I pressed the button to submit the order and, surprisingly, the site told me everything was good and my order was submitted. The total price was $30.20 - $18.12 for the magazine and $12.08 for the shipping. The $18.12 was actually a little lower than the 1944 yen cover price of the magazine (which is what it's listing for now). The magazine price has gone up quite a bit in the last two issues (it was 1000 yen last year) because instead of including 2 to 7 promo cards in each issue, they're now including 12.
What was truly amazing is that the $12.08 was for Amazon's Global shipping which apparently uses DHL and/or EMS. I ordered the magazine Monday afternoon. It was delivered to my house Wednesday afternoon - roughly 48 hours after I submitted the order. Nice!
Monday evening I got a heads up from Scott that I had missed the Sports Card Magazines at Rakuten Global Market - they didn't show up in searches but they were in the category "Toys & Games->Hobbies->Trading Cards->Sports->Other". I decided that I'd see what ordering magazines from Rakuten was like. I found two issues that I was interested in - #100 from last fall (which both Scott and Ryan had told me included the full Calbee checklists since 1973) and #103 from earlier this year (which had 12 promo cards including the first six of the "Cosmic Cross" cards - more about them later). The total for the two issues was around $25 but that was before shipping was included. Now if you've ever ordered from Rakuten you know that the single most frustrating thing about them is that they don't tell you what the shipping will be before they charge you. I took a look at the "estimated" shipping and figured that two magazines would probably be about $12 for shipping, same as Amazon. Imagine my surprise Tuesday morning when I got an email from Rakuten telling me that they had charged me almost $25 for shipping! My two magazines were going to run me $50! Ugh.
On the positive side, however, Rakuten shipped EMS so I had the magazines in hand by yesterday. But this is the fourth time I've ordered from Rakuten and the second time that I've really felt burned by the shipping charge.
So the question now is going forward, if I decide that I want to continue to get the new issues, how should I do it? I think Amazon is going to be the way to go. I've been experimenting with putting items in my shopping cart and seeing if I would be able to order the items and what the shipping would be if I can. I've discovered that there appear to be three classes of items (beyond just the Sports Card Magazines) at Amazon Japan. First, there are items that are directly sold by Amazon (like the issue I bought). Shipping to the US for these items appears to start at $12. I put both issues #103 and #104 (the only two issues being sold directly by Amazon) in the shopping cart and got a shipping cost of $16, about two thirds of what Rakuten was charging me. The second class of items are items that are sold by third parties but are "fulfilled by Amazon". It looks like shipping for these items starts at around $30 (via "International Express"). The final class of items are items that are simply sold by third parties through Amazon. There's no way to ship these items to the US and unfortunately, this category contains all the boxes of baseball cards that I've found on the site.
What this means is that there are any number of interesting publications that are actually available for purchase from the US. For example, there's a successor to "The History Of Uniform" called "The Nippon Professional Baseball Uniform Chronicle" that you can order. Ryan had picked up a couple mooks last fall for me that I would have ordered myself had I realized that I could. This opens up a whole new world, limited really only by my ability to read what I order.
Oh, and by the way, there's a helpful link on the top of the Amazon Japan page that says "English" - clicking on it will render all (or at least most) of the text on the page in English. It appears to do a better job than having Chrome automatically translate the page.
The last thing that I want to mention here is that BBM is doing something different with the promo cards in the magazines this year. As I said before, there are now 12 cards per magazine instead of the 2 to 7 that they've had previously. Six of the cards appear to be the typical promo cards for new sets. Issue #103 had four cards for the Rookie Edition set plus a sumo and female wrestler card. Issue #104 had two cards for 1st Version plus single cards for the Swallows and Hawks team sets, the "Icons - Big Guns" set and the Yomiuri female TV announcer set.
The other six cards are from a set they are calling "Cosmic Cross". This appears to be the successor to the cross set subsets that BBM issued in 2010-2013. There will be six cards in each of the six magazines published this year. Like the previous sets, the fronts of the cards feature the image of a player superimposed over a background - in this case a star field. The back of the card shows the full picture that the image of the player was taken from. Here's an example:
You can see all the inserts here. I will point out that SCM is apparently labeling the cards by cover date, so the first two cards listed here are from issue #102 which has a cover date of January 2014 but was actually published in November of 2013. The first issue with the "Cosmic Cross" cards was #103 which was published in January 2014 with a cover date of March 2014. If the magazine keeps with its publishing schedule, the final "Cosmic Cross" cards will be in issue #108 which will be released in November 2014 with a January 2015 cover date. That implies that the final six "Cosmic Cross" cards will have a 2015 date on them. We shall see.