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Slippery... any advice for importing soap for small scale selling in Japan?

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  • Slippery... any advice for importing soap for small scale selling in Japan?

    Hi all,

    My missus and I are thinking about setting up a hobby/business selling boutique handmade European soap here in Japan, where we live. Nothing extravagant, maybe start with about 5 kg of high quality bars of soap, template e-commerce platform and word-of-mouth advertising, and see what happens. If nothing happens, well, at least we'll be very clean...

    I've been in touch with some suppliers in Europe (small businesses themselves) who are happy to sell me small batches. I'd love to talk to anyone who has any experience about importing soap to Japan, and I'd also be very interested to learn about how I can avoid falling foul of customs regulations. I've searched the net and called JETRO but just got sent round in circles.... Nobody official I've spoken to seemed particularly interested in my soap ops and I was essentially just referred back to the JETRO website, but I'd rather be safe then sorry.

    Any advice is very gratefully received!

    Best,

    MO

  • #2
    Don't worry too much when starting out small.
    Providing there are no harmful ingredients and it's definitively not edible you have little to worry about.

    You will have to investigate as you grow, having Japanese packaging with a Japanese bar code.
    List of ingredients on the label or packet as well. You may even need to register a company to get a lot of this done properly.

    We are currently making our own organic soap in Japan (as well as shampoo and conditioners and other products).

    Set your price high if the quality is good and the ingredients are not so common.

    You can buy cheap soap anywhere...you want customers looking for expensive soap.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Chromedome View Post
      Don't worry too much when starting out small.
      Providing there are no harmful ingredients and it's definitively not edible you have little to worry about.

      You will have to investigate as you grow, having Japanese packaging with a Japanese bar code.
      List of ingredients on the label or packet as well. You may even need to register a company to get a lot of this done properly.

      We are currently making our own organic soap in Japan (as well as shampoo and conditioners and other products).

      Set your price high if the quality is good and the ingredients are not so common.

      You can buy cheap soap anywhere...you want customers looking for expensive soap.
      Hi Chromedome, thanks for the good advice mate. I've spoken to the suppliers about ingredients, the ingredients are all "natural" and all their stuff is tested and certified up to the max in Europe. We'll do as you say and price it pretty high to reflect the soap's quality and rarity - we want our soap to be seen as an affordable luxury, but a luxury nonetheless.

      I'm just a little concerned about declaring the soap to customs, whether I have to have it tested by Japanese authorities etc. If this is indeed the case then the idea is sunk because I gather that paying for testing is very expensive and takes months. I don't mind paying import tax on what is just a few man yen's worth of goods if I need to, hopefully it wouldn't be too much. I have read that soap might fall into the category of "pharmaceuticals", which would be a pain as this category is tightly controlled. Ideally, the suppliers would just send me a small box by regular post and it arrives at my door - I'm just trying to find out if this is legal or not!

      Cheers again, and any more advice is gratefully received

      MO

      Comment


      • #4
        We get our liquids and creams tested once a year. It's not that expensive. We stopped one import because the bacteria count was consistently near illegal limits.
        We've never had to test soap.

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Chromedome,
          Cheers again for the advice. Do you import the soap or make it yourselves? (you said in a previous posting you make it). Good to know testing is not expensive though! It would be a shame to have to test (and pay to test) for the sake of a hundred or so bars only, but rules is rules I guess...
          All the best
          MO

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Mikeyokazaki View Post
            Hi Chromedome, thanks for the good advice mate. I've spoken to the suppliers about ingredients, the ingredients are all "natural" and all their stuff is tested and certified up to the max in Europe. We'll do as you say and price it pretty high to reflect the soap's quality and rarity - we want our soap to be seen as an affordable luxury, but a luxury nonetheless.

            I'm just a little concerned about declaring the soap to customs, whether I have to have it tested by Japanese authorities etc. If this is indeed the case then the idea is sunk because I gather that paying for testing is very expensive and takes months. I don't mind paying import tax on what is just a few man yen's worth of goods if I need to, hopefully it wouldn't be too much. I have read that soap might fall into the category of "pharmaceuticals", which would be a pain as this category is tightly controlled. Ideally, the suppliers would just send me a small box by regular post and it arrives at my door - I'm just trying to find out if this is legal or not!

            Cheers again, and any more advice is gratefully received

            MO
            anything that is ingested (food, drinks) or put onto the body (makeup, skincare, body wash etc) has strict rules in Japan. EVERY imported item that is not for personal use must go through the testing process (usually just one time) and there musn't be any ingedients in there that are not approved in Japan. Even one ingredient that is not allowed in Japan will result in having the product rejected for import.
            Each item must be properly labelled in japanese with the importers name, ingredient list (without these, if somebody has a complaint, who do they contact?) and contact information.
            If you don't want to pay for the testing (which, depending on the product, could be several million yen), just import some, sell on yahoo auctions or at flea markets and see how it goes. Remember that if you are caught selling a product that you have imported for personal use, you could be heavily fined.
            I tried to sell body building items in Japan many, many years ago. I resarched the product, spend more than 8 months trying to become the importer of the product (Japanese red tape is just BS) and finally couldn't do it as there were a few ingredients in the product that weren't allowed in Japan. The amercian maker couldn't take those ingredients out (so I could import the product) as they were vital to the consistency of the product.
            So I just imported a few hundred items (using different addresses), sold on the Japanese internet, and the product was a huge hit. I imported more, without too much drama, then one day somebody (it was the health department) came to my door and told me what I was doing was illegal. They wanted me to contact all the people I had sold the product to, and to give refunds to all of them (several million yen), so I said my computer had crashed and I didn't have the information anymore.
            They said that I could be liable for millions of yen in a lawsuit if anybody got food poisoning from the product. I had to write a huge "I'm sorry, I won't do it again" letter, they took my details, and I was told that if a similiar issue came up in the future with selling products, I could not only be fined, but face criminal charges.

            Anyway, morale of the story is to watch your back. You never know who will make an order of a product that you aren't supposed to be selling. The trick is to do what the foreign buyers club do- import on behalf of a customer. So get the order, then import the product using their name, so then it becomes a personal import, and there is zero liability for you.

            Comment


            • #7
              Hi Crazy

              Awesome help mate, thanks very much for letting me benefit from your experience here. I think that I will indeed go for the model you describe of taking an order and then having it sent over to Japan with the customers name.

              After I read your email, I started to have a look at various fulfilment services which could handle my supply ops and mailing from source. I've found some that can pick up my soap from my suppliers, store it, and send it directly to customers in Japan when they place orders. Of course they charge for all this (a base, freight, plus a cut of all sales), but I will not be obliged to import, to have the soap tested, or any other admin beyond tax.

              The downside to this solution is the fact that customers will have to pay a higher price because of the fright costs, and they will not be able to receive the goods for at least 2 weeks.

              Still, I'm going for a price worthy of the luxury soap I'm dealing with, so although freight will of course eat at my margins, I hope to pass some of the cost on. The length of time taken to deliver is a pain though, but here's hoping it will not stymie things too badly.

              Thanks again Crazy, you are a real help, if you have any more advice or thoughts, please keep 'em coming.

              M.O.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Mikeyokazaki View Post
                Hi Crazy

                Awesome help mate, thanks very much for letting me benefit from your experience here. I think that I will indeed go for the model you describe of taking an order and then having it sent over to Japan with the customers name.

                After I read your email, I started to have a look at various fulfilment services which could handle my supply ops and mailing from source. I've found some that can pick up my soap from my suppliers, store it, and send it directly to customers in Japan when they place orders. Of course they charge for all this (a base, freight, plus a cut of all sales), but I will not be obliged to import, to have the soap tested, or any other admin beyond tax.

                The downside to this solution is the fact that customers will have to pay a higher price because of the fright costs, and they will not be able to receive the goods for at least 2 weeks.

                Still, I'm going for a price worthy of the luxury soap I'm dealing with, so although freight will of course eat at my margins, I hope to pass some of the cost on. The length of time taken to deliver is a pain though, but here's hoping it will not stymie things too badly.

                Thanks again Crazy, you are a real help, if you have any more advice or thoughts, please keep 'em coming.

                M.O.
                Market it as a Halloween soap and then the fright costs may seem reasonable.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Chromedome View Post
                  Market it as a Halloween soap and then the fright costs may seem reasonable.
                  Ahaha! Yup, that'll teach me to drink and type!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi MO,

                    Any luck in soap selling? Recently I lost my job and now I am thinking of doing the same. I mean soap selling. Please advice.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Chromedome View Post
                      We are currently making our own organic soap in Japan
                      I thought the first rule was that you weren't supposed to talk about that!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by rv0303 View Post
                        Hi MO,

                        Any luck in soap selling? Recently I lost my job and now I am thinking of doing the same. I mean soap selling. Please advice.
                        Hi there. Afraid I didn't go for it in the end - we were looking to import from Europe, but soap is classed as having "a mildy pharmaceutical action" and thus heavily regulated. Having the stuff tested by government labs would have cost far too much for what was supposed to be just a hobby.

                        Sorry to hear you lost yr job mate, and I wish you all the best.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Hi MO and Deathblob,

                          Thanks for your advise and sorry that it took me so late to reply. As I have no job, I went to Ofunatoshi to do volunteer work. Something I wanted to do for a long time. While I was surfing I came across this link. http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/reports/ma..._cosmetics.pdf

                          Lot of information inside.

                          Thanks once again.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by rv0303 View Post
                            Hi MO and Deathblob,

                            Thanks for your advise and sorry that it took me so late to reply. As I have no job, I went to Ofunatoshi to do volunteer work. Something I wanted to do for a long time. While I was surfing I came across this link. http://www.jetro.go.jp/en/reports/ma..._cosmetics.pdf

                            Lot of information inside.

                            Thanks once again.
                            Hi mate,
                            Great information, I didn't come across that when I was scoping my soap idea out, but skimming through it I think it largely confirms what I'd heard about the need for a big heap of documentation, permits etc. which I was just not up for.
                            So whilst I gave up on the idea because of I wasn't willing to put in the time to cut through the red tape, I still think that there is a market in Japan for (very) high quality, handmade, natural soap. You just need to find good suppliers, and find an "angle" which might appeal to Japanese consumers - you are selling lifestyle after all, not simply soap.
                            So after I kicked the soap in I discovered niche marketing, which I quite enjoy and which is generating me some nice, passive income. Which the wife spends on high quality, foreign soap.
                            Best of luck to you.
                            MO

                            Comment

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