My cousin gave me a gift… and also a problem.
After returning from a prepandemic trip to Japan, she handed me pasalubong in the form of Today’s Cosme Zero Spot Patches by Popberry. They would turn out to be the best acne patches I’ve ever tried. They were thin, came in two sizes and were very effective in helping pimples heal quickly. And when the patches were close to running out, I started to panic. They weren’t available in the Philippines. What would my pimples and I do now?
Another cousin provided the solution: HM Sakura Shop, a Japan “pasabuy” service run by a friend of hers. HM Sakura Shop accepts orders for all kinds of Japanese goodies—from skincare and snacks to clothes from GU, Disney Store cuteness and finds on Mercari.
The process is simple: you place your order, pay the 50-percent downpayment and wait patiently (your items will take at least four weeks to get to the Philippines). Once your items arrive, you’ll settle your balance and have your orders delivered to your doorstep. I’ve been getting my pimple patches this way and I usually add Japanese snacks like Calbee Miino, Cheeza and Tohato Caramel Corn to my order.
HM Sakura Shop (@hmsakurashop on Facebook and Instagram) is one of many Japan-based pabili services catering to Filipinos. These services existed long before the pandemic, but at a time when returning to Japan remains just a dream for many Pinoys (the country will start testing opening its doors again this month—but only to certain triple-vaccinated tour groups from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore), they feel like a godsend for travelers who’ve been missing gallivanting around Tokyo.
Chiqui Goto, the woman behind Japan Curated (@japancurated.jp on Instagram; japantreats.mystrikingly.com), started shipping packages from Shinjuku, where she lives, in 2017. “But back then, it was primarily for my friends and relatives,” she told Lifestyle.
It was the pandemic that inspired her to offer the service even to strangers. “When the borders closed, people were deprived of the experience of shopping in Japan. I realized that I could give them this experience to some extent.”
For Goto, Japan Curated is more than just online shopping. “It’s a way to give my clients a good shopping experience in Japan while they are outside Japan.”
At first, she focused on Japanese chocolates and cookies like those from Meiji, and also G-Shock watches. “Then I slowly evolved into selling luxury items.”
Right now, her customers love ordering “European branded luxury items such as clothes and bags and special collaborations released by American-brand shoes.”
Browse Japan Curated’s Instagram page and you’ll see New Balance collabs, limited-edition snacks, JW Anderson slides, the Marni X Veja sneaker collab and more.
Japan Curated promises to “order and deliver anything to you from Japan via EMS worldwide.” Packages usually take less than two weeks to reach customers, Goto said.
Goto continues to be a one-woman team. “I communicate with my clients, answer inquiries, carefully pack each items, send them to the Philippines or abroad, and send them tracking numbers.”
Serving her customers brings her joy. “I love shopping and exploring new places in Tokyo. Every time I find something kawaii (cute), it makes me think how Filipinos can rock or enjoy the products.”
And her clients love her service—some of them even send her letters, physical letters, to show their appreciation. “They thank me for the services I rendered, telling me how much it meant to them. They even send me photos showing how they enjoy the items I shipped for them . . . Sometimes they even send a gift to me, a seller!”
Goto is meticulous when it comes to wrapping her packages. “I want to make sure that they will arrive in good condition. If you experience shopping in a high-end shop in Tokyo on rainy days, you will notice how they wrap your shopping bag with a plastic cover. That’s the kind of experience I wish to give my clients.”
Live shopping sessions
“Carey,” the woman behind Ballpens And Etc. (@ballpensandetc on Instagram), another popular Japan pabili service, takes her followers (who she calls BAEs) on live shopping sessions on Instagram, so they can place orders and call dibs as she and her “BAEsties”/team visit different stores.
Ballpens And Etc., which started in 2015, is a hit with those who love Japanese stationery but they also offer toys, snacks, limited-edition Starbucks items, Disney and Sanrio stuff, and all kinds of kawaii-ness.
Ballpens And Etc. is good at engaging its customers, thanks to the charming Carey. I sometimes find myself watching the live shopping sessions even though I’m not planning to buy anything (they’re a good way to see the streets and stores of Japan). Even their packing sessions are fun to watch.
While many pabili services offer a wide variety of goods, some focus on specific products, like Tokyo Faves PH (@tokyofavesph on Facebook and Instagram), which brands itself as an arts and crafts store that sells items bought from Japan. And they’ve managed to find even limited-edition items that I’ve given up on, like the olive edition Traveler’s Notebook.
They don’t just offer pasabuy services, they also have products on hand that are ready for purchase. They also go to special events like the upcoming Women’s Stationery Expo Tokyo and offer to buy stuff for their customers there.
Tokyo Faves PH offers ink, washi tape, stickers, letter sets, glue, notebooks, and, of course, pens.
There’s no shortage of great pens you can buy in Japan and the number of businesses offering to buy pens for you is proof of this.
Ja-Pen PH (@japenph on Instagram, @japen2112 on Facebook) specializes in fountain pens and ink. It is their hope that “more people will discover the joy of writing using fountain pens. In a world where everyone does things digitally, it is a real pleasure and therapy to do handwriting activities with a nice pen and a quality journal.”
Run by a team of doctors, instructors and artists based in Alabang, Las Piñas, Tokyo and Osaka, Ja-Pen PH brings “difficult to purchase items from Japan to the Philippines.”
They started the business in July, selling a custom limited-edition fountain pen from Itoya and a complete set of 12 fountain pen inks, both sold exclusively in Japan.
These days, limited-edition Sailor, Platinum and Pilot fountain pens are popular with their customers along with Traveler’s Notebooks. “Now we also offer watches and other Japan exclusive items,” said the team.
They have a lot of happy clients in the Philippines including the president of Fountain Pen Network Ph Inc. “She bought 12 ink bottles (in different shades of blue) in one go. We had to deliver it personally to her since we fear that it might break if we send it via courier. We were so starstruck to meet her in person,” the team told Lifestyle.“
Galing nyong humanap ng rare pens!” customers have told the team. “You bring in the best fountain pens we never thought we could buy unless we go to Japan.”
Another suki (who once asked them to buy the whole Nippon Art Collection Namiki Fountain Pens set for her) was so impressed with their service that she coined a meaning for the name Ja-Pen: “Joyful Acquisition Procurement ENtity.”
There is joyful acquisition happening here, as evidenced by the unboxing videos and happy photos shared by customers of these pabili services.