By: JT Neal
First things first, let me introduce myself. I’ve played Magic on and off since Ice Age, albeit only very seriously since Innistrad. I’m an American (Atlantan, to be specific) and I’ve lived in western Japan for the last six years of my life. The first five of those years were mostly spent in rural Shiga, a lovely prefecture with historical castles, Japan’s largest lake… and dismayingly few shops that run Magic events*.
Then, in 2012, I moved to Osaka. Japan’s second-largest city, Osaka is the seat of western Japanese cuisine, comedy and commerce. It also boasts the Nipponbashi district, second only to Tokyo’s Akihabara as a geek mecca. With one move roughly two hours west, I’d gone from Magical famine to feast. Of course, this bounty presented a new threat to my wallet; enter my budding interest in Magic finance.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a new hand at this, and I’m very grateful to be able to share my discoveries in an unfamiliar market with you all here on MTG Price. The Japanese Magic scene is vibrant and worthy of attention, and I think we can all stand to gain by learning a little more about foreign markets. I’d like to start off by going over a few things that might surprise a visitor or new expatriate stepping in to the Japanese scene for the first time. (As a note, all US dollar figures I’ve given are based on the current exchange rate as I write this, of 101.72 yen to the dollar.)
– There’s a surprising amount of English product available. Stores stock English booster packs, and many carry English versions of products such as Commander decks as well. As far as single cards are concerned, most shops that specialize in Magic will have any given card (with the exception of very new or very old sets) available in both English and Japanese.
Between high availability and a relatively older player base, card language is rarely an issue among Japanese players. I know Japanese players who strongly prefer to use English cards, fellow expats who strongly prefer Japanese cards and everyone in between. It’s easy to forget all about the language barrier once you start playing.
For the most part, stores charge more or less the same amount for non-foils in either language, though very new English cards and older Japanese cards may cost a touch more due to supply issues. For foils, though, all bets are off – if you visit, you’ll probably find that last Japanese foil Stoneforge Mystic you’ve been hunting for, but don’t expect to get a deal on it.
– Many shops explicitly prohibit trading on the premeses. The store where I usually play doesn’t, but trade binders are still a relatively uncommon sight there. There’s plenty of trading going on at Grands Prix and the like, but at least in Osaka, few cards change hands under store roofs. There’s cold comfort in the fact that buylist prices are often pretty competitive. They have to be, because…
– In urban Japan, game stores are typically found close together. If you don’t like the prices or selection at one store, the next may be as far as one city block or as close as another floor in the same building. Some stores handle this competition well, by aiming to have the lowest prices, or stock the fullest discount case, or host the most events. Unfortunately, some deal with it rather poorly; one Osaka branch of a major store has banned all cell phone use, and I’ve seen the staff harass customers for carrying shopping lists.
– And then there’s the elephant in the room: Singles in Japan tend to cost a good bit more than you’re probably used to. Individual packs for in-print sets cost around 300 yen, which is on par with retail price in the United States. Single rares and mythics, however, generally retail for about 120 to 150% more on this side of the Pacific.
This is a fairly consistent rule of thumb, but of course there are outliers. If you’re in Osaka and you need a True-Name Nemesis in your hands today, you’ll spend anywhere from 7000 to a whopping 10000 yen ($69-$99) for the privilege, depending on the store. Tokyo-based tokyomtg.com can hook you up for 5,500($53).
On the other hand, while card price fluctuations in Japan tend to match worldwide patterns, they often take some time to catch up to spikes in the United States. For whatever reason (and I’m open to theories), I have noticed this tendency is particularly strong with eternal-playable lands. Zendikar fetchlands, Wasteland, Rishadan Port, even Serra’s Sanctum; all of these afforded at least a week’s time to act after spiking Stateside.
Single prices do look a little more familiar if you browse Yahoo Auctions ((http://auctions.yahoo.co.jp/
– Legacy is alive and well in Japan. My usual shop in Osaka runs at least two Legacy tournaments every week (it was four until recently, when they replaced two of them with Modern); another nearby spot runs Legacy events alongside their Standard FNM. There are several non-sanctioned Legacy events organized by members of the local community, too, like the popular Known Magician’s Clan ((http://mtgkmc.wix.com/kmc-
I hope this has been at least a little informative or interesting. What would you like to know about the Japanese Magic scene? Please don’t hesitate to contact me here, or on Twitter @JohnnyToNowhere, with any questions/comments/complaints/
* Respect due to Dragon Tale ((http://www.dragontale.jp)) in Kusatsu, Shiga