In Iwakuni and locally
Okay, so you're moving to Japan. And, even if you haven't thought about it, you are probably expecting some sort of Mall, shopping center, a Target-like store or a few name brands, etc.... Well, not in Iwakuni, people. Tokyo and Hiroshima, yes! Iwakuni... well, think of a small town Stateside and imagine something maybe close to that.
Yes, there are Uniqlo, You Me Town, and Fuji Grand in Iwakuni. And, there are a couple Japanese style higher-end stores in downtown Iwakuni, but again, it's not like shopping in the States. The styles are different, selections are limited and of course, as a society, Japanese are smaller than Americans, thus so is their clothing.
Also, below is a google map with the store locations. Click on "View larger map" below this map to see exact detail of store locations. The Green 'house' in the map below is MCAS Iwakuni's Main Gate.
Hiroshima offers two malls, Aeon and Alpark, each with anchor stores and many other retail stores. There are some familiar retailers: Gap, Babies-R-Us, Tommy Hilfieger, Eddie Bauer, Sports Authority and Starbucks. Sizing and selection at these stores usually are the same, or similar, to those in the US. The many other stores, though, may be hit or miss with regard to sizes and styles. For more info, see Mall info on the detail shopping page.
Regardless, it is always an adventure shopping in Japan. Whether it is the styles advertised in the stores or actually worn by the locals, life is almost always interesting here.
T-shirts and signs can even be entertaining here. Check out the 'Lost in Translation' page for some interesting, and sometimes confusing, sights.
And, one last piece of advice: You will need to take off your shoes and leave them outside the dressing room door when trying on clothes. I have never been to a place where I didn't have to do this. Also, many dressing rooms come equipped with a paper 'collar' to put on before you pull the shirt off that you are trying on. This keeps the clothes make-up free for the next customer.
After the novelty of shopping in Japan subsides and you are ready to really shop, you will soon discover which of your favorite stores ship to APO/FPO addresses and what new online stores will become your favorites.
For those of you that are accustomed to being able to actually touch the fabrics and try on clothes before purchasing, it's true that online shopping is just not the same. However, with so many online reviews and free shipping offers, online shopping is about as good as it gets in Iwakuni for your favorite American items.
- Plan ahead. Shipping takes on average a week to 10 days for Priority Mail and 4-6 weeks for other methods. See Transit info below for more detail.
- Always check the website's shipping policy for APO/FPO.
- If an online retailer doesn't ship to APO/FPO addresses, check out www.shipitapo.com. For a fee, you can get that so-badly needed purchase to Iwakuni (without bothering friends/family to mail it for you).
- Check the website's return policy. I recently found out that Macy's charges a restocking fee if you decide the item just isn't what you wanted. (Really!)
- Join a rebate program to take advantage of savings for online shopping. You will do more online shopping while living in Iwakuni than you realize. I use Ebates.com. Check it out below.
- Before completing purchase, google the store name and "coupons" or "promotion code" for potential additional savings when completing your purchase on the website. You really can save some money by shopping online.
- At Christmas, plan very far ahead. Shipping gets backed up traveling to APO/FPO at the holidays, sometimes for many weeks.
A few online retailers that make shopping in Iwakuni easier:
amazon.com (normally quick delivery if order actually comes from amazon.com and not another retailer via amazon),
zappos.com (free shipping and returns and items get here in about a week)
backcountry.com (usually 5-6 business days - never has been over a week for me - They are located on the West Coast.)
target.com, skincarerx.com, kohls.com, oldnavy.com, anntaylorloft.com, nordstrom.com (great for ball dresses), gap.com, oldnavy.com, and many, many others.
It's important to know that your military FPO address/zip code is a US address in California. If a person has never shipped a package to an APO/FPO address, he/she will be comforted to know that the only difference will be that he/she will have to complete a Customs Form. This is more an inconvenience than anything else. But basically, the package contents and values must be detailed on a form and given to the Postal worker.
Shipping costs are calculated normally - from their destination to a California zip code - with no extra charges, since the package is simply being sent within the United States.
Anything mailed to you will be mailed to California and then it becomes the Military's responsibility to re-direct the mail to the correct duty station. Order of shipment is based on the type of mail in which the package was originally sent. Below are details:
- Priority Mail - Usually takes a week to 10 days. This is by far the fastest most cost-efficient method for shipping items to Iwakuni.
- Parcel Post, Media mail or any other method than Priority can take 4-8 weeks. It is mailed Space-A, or Space-Available, which means when space allows for your package after Priority and other higher priority items have been loaded.
- FedEx shipping - don't let that fool you either when shopping online. Fed Ex is fast in the states, but upon reaching the Military mail sort facility, it is treated as any other 'ground' package, which means it goes Space-A. These shipments also can take 4 - 8 weeks.
From my experience, it is almost always better to have packages sent via Priority mail. First class prices are almost the same, but Priority is more timely. When shipping space-A, parcel post, or media mail, the post office will tell you to allow 4 - 8 weeks for delivery. For me, many times, these packages have taken about 4 -5 weeks. However, I have had a couple packages take the full 8 weeks and since then, Priority is the only way to go unless you are really planning ahead.
And, if you aren't already a member, check out Ebates.com. I have been a member for awhile now and have received many rebate checks, but not one unwanted email from stores I have shopped through the Ebates site. Basically, depending on the retailer you use, you will receive a kick-back (rebate) for each quarter you made qualifying purchases. You can see the rebate or coupons applicable for your retailer before you actually shop.
So, you are probably wondering, "What's the catch?"
It's simple: You have to enter your store via the ebates.com website. Simply register and start shopping! Oh, and you will get some sort of rebate (which you chose) after you complete your first purchase through Ebates. Even better, they have promotions for referrals get a rebate, too! If you are so inclined, please email me and I will send you a referral email and we will BOTH receive a rebate!
I am proof this works. My guess is that Ebates tracks your spending habits, using them for advertising and/or research. But, they must do it generically, since I have yet to be negatively affected by using Ebates.com.