How to buy Japanese books (from Kobo)

I managed to exchange money for books in Japanese!

I’ve found it very hard to buy Japanese language media from outside Japan, and ebooks in particular are hard to find in other ways. I have an eReader I like reading on, which means I don’t want to use the bookseller’s mobile app to read a book, which cuts out most of the options.

My eReader is made by Kobo, which is owned by Rakuten, which is a Japanese company. This should be easy! I tried using my existing Kobo account to buy from the Japanese Kobo store, but even with a VPN “Japan” didn’t appear in the location dropdown. Some searches revealed that you can only say you’re in Japan if you log in with a Rakuten ID. The Rakuten ID reportedly can’t see Overdrive (which I use to check out library books in Canada), and switching accounts involves resetting the entire device, so that was a dealbreaker for me.

Time passed.

My Kobo became flakey (but not unusable) so I got a new one. Now I had a spare mostly-working eReader to mess around with, remembered the above problem, and tried it again.

Creating a Rakuten ID was straightforward and free. Despite the link being in Japanese (楽天会員登録(無料)) the sign up form itself was in English, which I think was the only part of this process I did in English. I was able to skip entering an address initially, but when I actually bought a book it required one, so I used a hotel that I’d stayed at on the assumption that they won’t check and it likely won’t matter. I browsed Kobo’s Japanese site, found a book I wanted to purchase, and bought it with my Canadian credit card. I set up my new Rakuten ID account on the eReader, voila! my newly purchased book was there!

After how much hassle it was the other times I tried and failed, it was almost a letdown that it was this easy, now that I had a dedicated Japanese reading device.