Monday, February 04, 2013

Cheap Health Foods, Toiletries and Dietary Supplements in Japan

It's fun to run into new products by browsing at my local imported goods/liquor store, thanks to which I've learned, for example, that Swiss cereals are just unapologetic boxes of candy for pouring milk over. But when I have a specific product from home in mind, like a favorite canned soup, I find that shopping online is a much less hit-and-miss experience than the average Japanese import shop.

And for other preferences, like American toothpaste and deodorant, online retailers are often my only option--it's either that or stock up a couple years' supply during visits home... which I also admittedly do.

In past articles, AccessJ has shared some of our favorite online sources for buying supplements (including whey protein) and comfort foods from home. Between the lot of us I think we've used all the sites listed in those articles, and I personally have been a satisfied customer at many.

But the downfall of most overseas retailers is the exorbitant shipping costs. For four ten dollar bottles of vitamin supplements, I once paid almost as much over again getting them across the Pacific. And generic search terms on Google bring up so many retailers to choose from that it's tiring to sort the trustworthy and competitively priced sites from the chaff.

So when I come across a good one, I want to share it.

iHerb is an online supplement, health food, and hygiene product retailer that ships to several countries around the world, including South Korea and Japan. The shipping rate to Japan is what sets them apart for me: Using Sagawa Global Express, they'll send up to 30 lbs. of product to a postal address in Japan at a flat rate of $4. Expected delivery time (which held up in my first experience using them) is 3-5 days. That's for products coming from the US. At a cost of four dollars! I can't even get "standard 2-3 week" shipping at other overseas retailers for that price.

Some of iHerb's operating costs are being made up in product pricing, I imagine, as prices on items I looked at were not quite as competitive as However, I was surprised to see that iHerb's prices are still significantly lower than other places I've used (and thought were reasonable) in the past, like QolQol.

Along with toiletries and supplements, iHerb's site also lists several other categories, including groceries, kids' products, pet products, and home cleaning supplies. I checked out groceries too, to pad my order, and was pleased to find a few unusual items like unhomogenized peanut butter. But overall, the grocery section fell short for me, and I know I'll be using other sources to get my comfort foods--while hoping to see iHerb's selection continue to expand.


  1. Thanks for the advice, thinking of placing an order, couple of questions.

    1) Did you get hit with any import or customs duty?

    2) Since you introduced me to them, what's your referal code? (If you want it that is!)

    Thanks again,

  2. Thanks for the reply, Bob, and I apologize for not noticing it sooner. I placed my order on a Monday evening and received it Friday the same week. That was for the 400 yen flat-rate Sagawa shipping. I ordered about 5,000 yen worth of products, from canned goods to bath salts, and was not charged any customs.

    In the site's FAQ, I believe they mentioned that according to their customer feedback, customs are only likely to be charged on shipments to Japan exceeding 16,500 yen. In fact, here's the link:

    Thanks for asking for my code. You may have already placed your order, in which case, no worries. But I'll definitely order from them again, so would appreciate the points. I'll look mine up and post it here in a comment tomorrow.

  3. My code is CJG622

    Thanks again for offering to use it, and happy shopping!

  4. wow wow wow

    I am so glad i stumbled upon this. I am in dying need of Justin's Almond butter and Sunfood's Maca.

  5. Glad to be of help. For further reference, I have come across Maca quite frequently in Japan. Costco Japan sells bottles of tablets and even your drugstore around the corner might carry it as tabs or powder. Just ask your druggist for マカエキス ("Maca Extract")