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Shopping For Computers

Author: Scott Harlow, Issue: June 2004, Topic: Computers, Shopping

In Akihabara, in Tokyo, there are many shops for discount new and used computers. Stay away from the "duty free" shops because long-term residents in Japan don't qualify for the duty rebate and the shops raise the prices a lot on the same products. I've found the exact same item in a non-duty-free section for 20 - 30% less!

There are many wonderful and innovative computers sold in Japan, but the models that are sold only in Japan often don't have any parts or support overseas (this means you won't be able to get batteries, power packs or accessories in the UK). Also, Japan-only models often have special sound systems or other internal parts and the company has never made any English language drivers for them.

The easiest way to get a computer that will be good to bring home is to choose a model in Japan that is the same as one sold overseas. For example, most IBM ThinkPad models are the same (the keyboard is the only part different and that doesn't matter). Most Dell, HP, and Compaq laptops are the same. Toshiba has a mixture of models - some are the same as overseas, some are Japan-only. I would avoid NEC, Panasonic, Sony, Mitsubishi and Fujitsu unless someone very expert can check it out and make sure all parts are standard. These companies make great products, but they all have no English support and some of them provide no help with drivers or set up at all, even in Japanese.

If you buy, for example, a Dell laptop in Japan and it matches a model sold overseas, you can erase the Japanese windows and install a complete English system on it using the drivers and setup information from the U.S. web site. The Japanese keyboard takes a little getting used to, but at home you can just plug in a full-size desktop English keyboard and use that. This is by far the cheapest way to do this, since you can buy a good used system and just install it the way you like it. New English laptops with the English keyboard are available from IBM and Dell in Japan, but you pay about 15 - 20% more than in the U.S. Sometimes there are "close-out" deals when they change models, and this is the best time to buy.

If you want to buy a brand-new system in English, I would recommend buying from the United States. Many companies will ship to Japan, the shipping on a laptop is not very expensive, and if customs charges any duty, it will only be 5% of the price. The total will still be cheaper than buying a new English machine here. If you want to save on the price, buying from a reputable used-PC shop on Ebay can save a huge amount. These machines can be purchased as low as 50,000 - 70,000 yen. Shipping will be around 6000 - 8000 yen.

Also, if you are close to Tokyo, check out the Tokyo PC User's Group. This is a group of people who help each other with PC problems, explore new products and services, and often sell their old equipment to other members. Their web page is www.tokyopc.org. Their web newsgroups have forums specifically for questions about PCs, Internet connections, email and many other issues. Many people are beginners, so don't be shy about asking anything.

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