Japan Trip - Looking For Shopping MC Cartridge Recommendations


I lived in Japan from 1990-99 and went back there on business 1-2 times/year for several years after that, so I consider it my second home.  
My change in jobs has kept me away from Japan for about 6 years, but this summer I'll be going back for a couple of weeks.  I will be mainly in the Tokyo area, and would like recommendations from those who know where to find great deals on phono cartridges.  
I have read several threads on these forums about the much lower prices on carts in Japan, but I know that not all shops are cheaper than the U.S. pricing.  I'm looking for specific shops I can visit to find good deals.  
I'm very familiar with Tokyo and navigating its trains and subways, so if you're recommending shops I only need to know the shop name and which train station it's nearest to.  Akihabara used to have quite a few high end audio dealers but the last time I was there it seemed to be overrun with Cosplay and gaming shops.  I imagine there are still a few shops there, however.  
I'll be shopping for a new MC cartridge.  I currently have a Lyra Delos and will either move up the Lyra line or look at other excellent cartridges that sell in the U.S. for $4-$7K.  Emphasis will be on getting a much better price than U.S. pricing.  If the savings is not significant I'll just buy it here instead.
Thanks for any help you can give me.  My time will be a little shorter than I'd like on this visit so I need to make a focused plan.
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First, you will not find Lyra cartridges for sale in Tokyo. Second, the price differential between Tokyo and USA is very variable depending upon brand.  This is because different US distributors have very different mark-ups on the particular brands that particular company imports. Therefore you should take with you some sort of US price guide for the brands you like, to verify that you're getting a "deal".  Finally, there are many great audio salons in Tokyo; it's almost like you went back in time to NYC of the 1970s, but for one stop shopping, I recommend Yodibashi Camera in Akihabara.  It's a gigantic department store that has every sort of appliance, camera, and audio toy you can imagine all in one place.  Yodibashi give a discount of the Japanese VAT (about 8%), if you present your passport, and an additional similar discount if you use your credit card. Audio is on the 5th floor, I think.  Salesmen as a rule do NOT speak English.  Be prepared to use a lot of sign language.  The check-out guys and girls do speak enough English to help with the actual transaction. At Yodi, you will see some unusual Japan-only cartridges and many familiar brands, but not Lyra.
@lewm  Thanks for the suggestions.  I know Yodobashi Camera very well as it was one of my regular haunts while I lived there.  
I was unaware that Lyra is not sold in Tokyo.  Why is that?  
I'm also considering some other brands of cartridges made in Japan.  ZYX is a brand I've heard great things about, for one.  Are they any brands that you know to be significantly less expensive in Japan than in the U.S.?  
Thanks

Be careful with zyx as there are many problems and it is better to have a good after sale service.
Specific ZYX problems??

The only problem I had with mine that I bought from 2juki was that I plain wore it out!

I was considering another one but would like to hear what these " many problems" are.......
My Zyx airy 3 began before 1000 hours to get suspension probem,and I bought it through official importer. On my French forum 5 people got problem with zyx mistracking  ,or with bad sound ...at low millage. 4 were bought at official dealers and one from 2juki.
On German forum there were complaints about zyx cartridges.
In fact I think zyx are made by subcontractors and there are not enough control of quality.
On whatbest forum a man received a 10k zyx, the box was empty. They send a new one and it was mistracking ,the third one was working. I think it sums up the situation.
For ZYX you’d better contact Mehran at SoraSound in Chicago, you can get the best deal ever, warranty, trade-in options for the future. He’s is a nice guy to deal with, highly recommended. He’s a friend of Nakatsuka-San who design ZYX, as far as i know Mehran used to live in Japan for some time. My ZYX Premium 4D SB2 from Mehran was perfect, no issues.

P.S. Previous Airy 3 from grey market dealer juki was very strange during burn-in process, i’ve hear distortion for some time, but no problem with suspension.

Anyway there are many great cartridges in Japan now: Miyajima, Shelter, My Sonic Labs, Dynavector, Audio-Technica ... you know all of them, i’m sure.

This is something new and it was J.Carr who informed us about this design:
http://topwing.jp/BlueDragon-en.html
I agree that Mehran is a very reputable and enthusiastic ZYX dealer.  I have not seen internet claims that ZYX cartridges are any more often defective than any other of the expensive brands.  The story about the guy receiving an empty box is certainly not evidence to support defectiveness.  The follow-up that his replacement sample did not track well could as well be due to incompetent set-up as to the cartridge itself. In Tokyo, you cannot buy any of the UNIverse line of ZYX cartridges.  These are made only for Mehran and sold only by him, so far as I can tell.  I am the happy owner of a ZYX UNIverse (the original) that has given me no problems and much pleasure for 2-3 years.  I bought it with very low hours from a fellow Audiogon Forum-er.

snackyp also asked about why Lyra cartridges are not available in Tokyo.  Probably it has something to do with making money. It's not a secret that they are made by Scantech using designs and material specifications provided by Jonathan Carr.  I wouldn't be surprised or upset to learn that ZYX cartridges are similar in provenance.  You CAN buy just about any ZYX cartridge at a good price at Yodibashi, except no UNIverses.
As to other brands, nearly all that Chakster names can be found at Yodibashi.  (Not sure if I recall seeing Dynavector, but other dealers DO sell Dynavector.) To his list I would add Ikeda, Denon, Grado (I think).  You won't get a great discount on Audio Technica, compared to US prices.  Probably you can save 20% to 40% on the others.
Often the larger price variable depends on if there is both a japanese export agent (hired by manufacturer to deal with foreign sales) that then sells to a USA distro so there is an extra layer of cost.


Don't want to derail this thread about cartridges available in Japan but...

I will be in Japan next fall and was wondering if a new turntable, like a Technics SP-10R would be significantly cheaper if bought in Japan?  

Any way of looking into this?  Thoughts @lewm ?

-Karl
Karl, even if they are a bit cheaper they will charge you consumption tax in the shops. And then you will have to carry this turntable into the plane with you ? Or you will put it in the luggage that can be lost/damaged in transit (it happens) ? Or you will ship it ? It's quite heavy 
@chakster All excellent points.  I guess it would be unlikely to be cheap enough to overcome those shipping charges?  I'll have to wait an see.  
Yes, but you can buy second hand, i've seen it for about $5000 in mint condition, amazing price for SP-10R, this is only possible in Japan :)) 
I just came back from Japan and China....   Prices are high and you have no assurance that you get the real thing
First, at yodibashi you pay no Japan tax if you present your foreign passport. Second, I saw the SP10R and the SP1000R for sale at yodibashi. After the discounts for passport and using a credit card the net cost would represent a 30 to 40% savings vs US prices. Closer to 40%. Third, my guess is that yodibashi could arrange direct shipping to your door. If they wouldn’t then there are shippers in their area in Akihabara. Piece of cake.

Not all audio stores will go to the trouble of helping customers  to avoid the Japanese VAT, which is one reason I like Yodibashi. The immense size of their business in comparison to the average audio salon permits them to do that, I guess.
One further thought. Since the introduction of the new Technics turntables there has been some rollback of list prices. Or for sure some US based dealers are now willing to give modest discounts. For that reason the margin of savings that one can achieve by shopping in Tokyo may be narrower today than it was last year when I last visited Tokyo. For example, I think I calculated that I could walk out of Yodibashi with an SP10R for the total cost of about $6700. I hope that helps.

Stringreen, Of course you ARE getting the “real thing” at stores in Tokyo. And it certainly would be silly to buy Japanese products in China, especially since the stores in Tokyo are mobbed with Chinese customers who travel there to shop. Funnily to me, the clothing stores are also full with Chinese, buying clothes that are mostly made in China.
The thing described by @lewm is probably what in every country called Tax Free Global Refund read more about it HERE, but as far as i know you will have to show the goods on the Global Refund office in the airport before departure to get TAX back in cash or on card. You can do the same in every big store all over Europe if EU is not your country of origin.

@lewm did you ever bought anything in Yodibashi yourself ? Just curious how it really works. Maybe they can ship it outside of Japan, but they can’t lower the actual cost in custom declaration, for the item with over $7-9000 custom value there must be an import TAX in every country, so your local custom will charge you anyway. Right ?

According to US Custom: "Thus, any articles imported under this section for personal use with a value of under $800 can be imported duty free, and any articles imported for personal use with a value between $800 and $1800, will be subject to a flat 4% duty rate."

What about an item with value over $7000 then, probably higher import tax ? 

Consumption tax in Japan, known in other countries as VAT, GST or sales tax, is a flat 10% on all items except food, drinks and newspaper subscriptions for which it is 8% (not including alcoholic drinks and dining out).

The only way to avoid import tax is physically imported good in your personal luggage on the plane.

ANOTHER problem:
The weight of SP1000R is approx. 40.2 kg (88.7 lbs)
and the weight of SP-10R is approx. 18.2 kg (40.2 lbs)

Normally free luggage limit on the plane is $20-25kg (44 - 55 lbs), most likely you will have to pay extra if your own luggage contain more than just one SP-10R. And you will definitely must use a taxi to the airport in Japan which is extremely expensive.

When you will put together all the expenses then you will realize it is not that easy.

*********** Official prices in USA: *************************

Ask Neil at Sunny Audio Video:

SL1000R is $18K

SP10R is $10K





 chakster, the VAT is deducted at the sales desk when you check out at Yodibashi. You do not have to pay the tax and then rely upon getting a refund at customs. You never pay the tax in the first place. That is perfectly legal and lawful if you have a foreign passport. They do look carefully at your passport and check its validity. And in answer to your other question, yes, I buy something at Yodibashi or other audio store every time I go there, which is just about every year for the past several years. My biggest single purchase so far was a Koetsu Urushi  cartridge, about 10 years ago, and I don’t think I was asked to pay duty on it. I also buy LPs at disc union near the Ochanomizu train station. Disc Union also honors the passport. My son has lived in Tokyo for going on 12 years now. The savings associated with avoiding the VAT is 8% or 10%, I cannot remember which. At Yodie, you get another similar discount just for using your credit card to make a purchase. If I bought something as heavy as an SP 10 R, I would check all my suitcases at the airport and carry on the SP 10R in its box. I have done that with large containers of LPs I bought at Disc Union . US customs at Dulles airport in DC are actually surprisingly lenient with innocuous tourists like myself, as regards actually collecting the customs duty. They typically look the other way, but probably you would have to pay a modest amount of duty for something as large and obvious as the SP 10R. If I didn’t already own a fully upgraded SP10 Mk3, I’d have bought a 10R last spring.
chakster, the VAT is deducted at the sales desk when you check out at Yodibashi. You do not have to pay the tax and then rely upon getting a refund at customs. You never pay the tax in the first place. That is perfectly legal and lawful if you have a foreign passport.


good news, this is different system then, japan is so different.

So anyone with not japanese passport can buy without VAT at their store, even if a person living in japan and then can ship it to his foreign friends with declared value of $500 and marked as used or gift). Sounds like a good plan @lewm But are you sure the price is in fact 40% cheaper than in USA ?

After the discounts for passport and using a credit card the net cost would represent a 30 to 40% savings vs US prices. Closer to 40%


SP-10R is $10 000 in USA
So it must be $6 000 for a foreigner if your calculation was correct ?

See my earlier post. I think I estimated last year, based on the list price at Yodibashi, that I could walk out with a 10R for $6700. But this is based on my memory; it might have been a little less.  And it assumes paying with a Credit Card, which gets you another discount.
You might have trouble using a long term resident of Tokyo who still holds a passport other than a Japanese one, as your purchase agent.  My son is such an example; he still has a US Passport, but he doubted he could get the deal as his home address is in Tokyo. (Although he certainly could use our address in the US as his home.)  But he is employed in Tokyo as well.  I am not sure it will work, but I am not sure it won't, either.
In all of this, I have forgotten to mention the exchange rate.  The actual cost will vary up and down with the exchange rate for your particular currency, of course.
I will ask my friend in Tokyo to check it out soon 
I remembered why my son could not fabricate and say his address is same as ours in the US:  They check the date of your entry visa into Japan.  His is 10-12 years old.
This is their website, but Technics SP10R is not available (out of stock)

https://www.yodobashi.com/product/100000001003856495/
Thanks for the excellent discussion and ideas.  I’ll do the numbers when I am there this summer!
The Technics units are about 35% cheaper in Japan. You will get a 100v 50hz model.

Eastern Japan, which includes all the major population centers like Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, etc, operates on 100V/60Hz, not 50Hz.  This is fortunate for all of us in the USA, because all we need is an inexpensive 120V to 100V stepdown transformer in order to enjoy Japanese-made motors.  We'd have problems with 50Hz.
I had spoken with a dealer in Japan before who said the unit would be 100v and 50hz.  It would be worth verifying before purchasing. Googling now it says eastern Japan (Tokyo) is 50hz and western is 60hz.