How to Import to Japan: An Easy Guide for Beginners

How to Import to Japan: An Easy Guide for Beginners

Wondering how to start your import business in Japan?

Before investing in inventory for your import business, your first step is to learn about Japan's regulations governing the goods you wish to sell.

Depending on the product category, there may be import applications, procedures, and other matters to deal with before listing your items for sale in Japan. 

What import goods does Japan regulate?

Here are 5 categories of regulated goods and what to know about them before starting your import business. 

1. Radio-wave emitting products

Mobile phones, Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi devices, and any item you wish to sell that emits radio waves must meet Japanese radio wave standards and have a designated mark that indicates it complies with Japan's import regulations concerning this category. Products in this category also include the following: 

  • IH cooking devices

  • Microwaves

  • Ultrasonic devices 

  • Wireless microphones

To learn about the Radio Act of 1950, go here for the English translation of this Japanese law. For details on the application process and how to get an imported product approved and a mark affixed to your imported goods, the Japan Quality Assurance (JQA) site has a comprehensive English summary of the pathway to approval.

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2. Electronic goods and batteries

Whether imported or made in Japan, all electronic goods must display a PSE mark verifying that it has met Japan's safety standards. Batteries are also included within this category. 

If you wish to sell an electronic product, you must submit an official notification to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) before listing the electrical goods for sale. This applies to goods in the following categories:

  • Small power transformers

  • Discharge lamp ballasts

  • Heating appliances

  • Motor-operated appliances 

  • AC-operated devices

To read the act governing the sale of electronic goods, see this PDF (English) from METI. For a full list of goods that require a PSE mark and how to get a PSE mark for the electric goods you wish to import, JQA's page (English) on the topic is an excellent resource. 

3. Pharmaceuticals and medical devices

This category is a highly regulated one. Importers who wish to sell a medical device or pharmaceutical must first either qualify as a Marketing Authorization Holder or contract with a designated Marketing Authorization Holder to apply to import and sell this category of goods in Japan.

The government developed this regulation so that a local company takes on full regulatory and liability responsibility for the product being sold.

To qualify as a Marketing Authorization Holder, you must have an office in Japan and full-time employees who fill the roles of General Manager, Quality Manager, and a Safety Manager, among other stipulations. 

In recent years, the government revised the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Device Act to ease import restrictions. However, entry into this market is still complex, and experts suggest you use a designated Marketing Authorization Holder to handle your applications for approving any product in this category you wish to import and sell. 

Japan's Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) handles this category of goods' approval process, under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare's (MHLW) jurisdiction. The PMDA site is in English here and provides a list of FAQs that give further insight into the application and approval process. 

4. Cosmetic products

Cosmetics are also regulated by the PMDA (mentioned above) and must comply with the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act. This applies to products in the following categories:

  • Perfumes and colognes

  • Makeup cosmetics

  • Skincare cosmetics

  • Haircare cosmetics

  • Special purpose cosmetics

  • Cosmetic soaps

Steps to approval include a Primary Distributor's License. Additionally, you will likely need a Cosmetic Manufacturer's License, required for any product where you—as the primary distributor—engage in the packaging, Japanese labeling, or storing of the imported items. Cosmetic ingredients, labeling, and marketing text must meet a regulated standard to receive importation approval. 

If the ingredients in the cosmetic product you wish to import do not violate Japan's Cosmetics Standards and all the ingredients are indicated on the labeling, the product item's approval for primary distribution is not required. However, caveats to this and authoritative sources suggest using a Japan-based distributor who can help ensure you are abiding by all regulations as you take your imported goods to market. 

The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), under the jurisdiction of METI, published a PDF guidebook for importing cosmetics to Japan, available in English here.

5. Food and certain products

This category is regulated by Japan's Food Sanitation Law, which applies to all imported foods and certain products that are likely to touch a person's mouth, such as tableware and baby toys. You will be required to submit a Food Import Notification Form to the port's quarantine station, where your food product cargo is temporarily being stored.

The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, which handles regulations and inspections, provides this flow chart showing the procedures involved with importing food to Japan. 


A summary of guidelines from MHLW on import procedures is available in English here. For a comprehensive explanation of all that you might want to know about importing food to Japan, refer to JETRO's English Handbook for Imported Foods (PDF). 

Step by step guide to import procedures for Japan customs

Whether you plan to sell online or in a brick-and-mortar store, here's a quick overview of the process for importing your goods to Japan.

Step 1: Know what category your product falls under

First things first, you've got to know what you're dealing with. What category does your product fall into? This is super important because different products have different rules and regulations.

Step 2: Get to know the rules

Now that you know what you're importing, it's time to get familiar with the rules. Depending on your product, you might need to sort out applications, procedures, and other stuff before you can start selling in Japan.

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Step 3: Gather your paperwork

Next up, you'll need to get your documents in order. This usually includes a commercial invoice, a packing list, and an original, signed bill of lading or an air waybill if you're shipping by air. Make sure your commercial invoice is as detailed as possible for each item in the shipment.

Step 4: Declare your goods

Once your paperwork is ready, you'll need to declare your goods to the Director-General of Customs and get an import permit. This involves an examination of the goods, so make sure everything is in order.

Step 5: Safety first

Japan takes safety seriously, so make sure your products meet the standards. For example, all electronic goods need to have a PSE mark to show they've met Japan's safety standards.

Step 6: Notify the authorities

If you're selling an electronic product, you'll need to give the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) a heads-up before you start selling.

Step 7: Get the green light

Now it's time to get approval from the relevant authorities. If you're selling a medical device or pharmaceutical, for example, you'll need to either qualify as a Marketing Authorization Holder or work with one to get permission to import and sell your goods in Japan.

Step 8: Bring in the goods

Once you've got all your approvals and permits, you can finally import your goods into Japan. Usually, it takes about two to three days for sea cargo and about a day for air cargo to get import permission.

Step 9: Pay up

After your goods have arrived in Japan, you'll need to pay any import duties and taxes. The amount of excise tax you'll pay depends on what type of goods you're importing and their value.

Step 10: Start selling

You've made it! Once you've completed all the steps above, you can start selling your goods in Japan.

Remember, this is a simplified overview, and the actual process might be a bit more complex depending on what you're importing. It's always a good idea to get advice from a customs broker or someone who can help you research the ins and outs of Japanese import procedures, like a bilingual concierge service.

Frequently asked questions

What are the general import regulations in Japan?

Depending on the product category, there may be import applications, customs duty payment procedures, and other matters to deal with before listing your items for sale in Japan. The categories of regulated goods include radio-wave emitting products, electronic goods and batteries, hazardous materials, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, cosmetic products, and food and certain products. Each category has its own set of regulations and approval processes.

What is the typical time between goods arriving in Japan and the granting of import permission in Japan?

The typical time between the arrival of goods and import permission is between 2 and 3 days for sea cargo and about a day for air cargo. 

What is the procedure for importing goods to Japan?

To import goods, individuals must declare the products to the Customs Director-General and obtain an import permit after the necessary examination of the goods. 

Are there any controls on goods imported into Japan?

Most products can be imported into Japan without controls. However, radio-wave emitting products, electronic goods and batteries, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, cosmetic products, and some food products are regulated by domestic laws and require permission to import to Japan. 

What are Japan's main imports?

Japan's main imports include food, mineral imports, and machinery. Leading suppliers of these goods are China and the United States. 

What are the requirements for importing pets into Japan?

To import dogs and cats from regions that are classified as non-designated, they must meet import requirements such as microchip implanting, at least two times rabies vaccinations. 

What are the regulations for importing food into Japan?

Despite Japan's strict control over importations, anyone can import food and drink to Japan. As long as importers dutifully follow the requirements and have all necessary documentation, the process can be straightforward. 

What documents are required for customs clearance in Japan?

Documents required for customs clearance in Japan include standard shipping documents such as a commercial invoice, packing list, as well as additional documents such as an original, signed bill of lading or an air waybill if shipped by air. The commercial invoice should be as descriptive as possible for each item in the shipment.

In closing

Remember, while this process might seem daunting at first, with a bit of preparation and understanding, it's definitely manageable. And the reward? Access to one of the largest and most sophisticated markets in the world.

And remember, if you ever feel stuck or overwhelmed, using a bilingual assistant service can help you with a wide range of tasks that you may be struggling with due to the language barrier.

From helping you figure out customs duty and import declaration forms to making sure you understand customs law, a bilingual assistant can be your hidden superpower to breaking into Japan's market.

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