As a Floridian, buying Rilakkuma plushies in-store is almost impossible without also buying a plane ticket. Even though there are stores that are official domestic carriers around the US, they’re predominantly located on the West Coast and pockets in the Northeast. To make matters worse, I have no knowledge of the Japanese language beyond “watashi wa kuma desu” (私はクマです) so browsing Japanese sites is out of the question for me (especially since many do not ship internationally). Bummer.
Luckily, through the magic of the internet, there are a number of ways to get genuine San-X Rilakkuma plushies if you live away from a Rilakkuma storefront – here are a few:
The online store of Rilakkuma carriers in your country
A quick look at the official San-X shop list and you can access the locations and websites of stores that carry licensed San-X products. In the US: Maido, Tamaya, Toyko Japanese Lifestyle, and Kawaii Gifts are all licensed San-X carriers that operate online stores.
Usually the shipping cost will be relatively cheaper/faster since it is domestic, and there’s no customs hoopla. Of course, many times their stock is limited or out of season, which may not be great if you’re looking for plushies or limited edition items. However, this can also work in your favor if you’re lucky: stocking out-of-season items means you might have another chance at catching plushies that are no longer sold in official Rilakkuma stores. In general, these online stores are very reliable if you’re simply browsing for Rilakkuma items.
I have a US-centric experience, so elsewhere, YMMV. You can try the other licensed sellers outside of your country who are willing to ship internationally, too, but they may charge a higher shipping fee, and it may take a while for your purchases to reach you. I haven’t used modeS4u, an officially listed store based in Hong Kong, but the pricing looks pretty reasonable and the pictures show you the actual product (versus just the catalogue picture), which is an encouragingly good business practice – may be worth a shot.
This is my preferred method of ordering Rilakkuma plushies mainly because of the direct communication options that are inconvenient in a lot of other online stores and since I’m really picky (and can only read English). eBay can be a really good resource if you have a specific item in mind; however, the number of fakes listed is staggering. I estimate that on any given day with a simple “Rilakkuma” search, the amount of fakes outnumber genuine products at least 50:1. It’s disheartening, but it’s definitely possible to navigate through, as long as you can differentiate the genuine products from the fakes (more on this in a later post). Shipping costs can be kind of all over the place depending on the seller, but the communication platform on eBay is pretty solid.
Tenso is a forwarding service that is recommended by the San-X Net Shop. Since the Net Shop doesn’t ship internationally themselves, Tenso will give you a Japanese address (a warehouse), and they’ll forward your San-X things from there! The Net Shop does not stock every Rilakkuma item, but you can access hundreds of products, AND sometimes there are Net Shop exclusives! I highly recommend Tenso for Rilakkuma purchases, but since the Net Shop is almost entirely in Japanese, it might be rough to navigate. I use Google Chrome for their auto-translate function – even though the translation isn’t perfect, it’s been good enough to place and order for me.
Other sellers with independent sites
There are a few independent sellers on different corners of the internet who use different platforms to sell Rilakkuma things. Like eBay, some of them are collectors that are selling their stock for whatever reason, some are stores that cater specifically to collectors, and others may be Japanese/kawaii interest sites. The reason I place this kind of seller in its own category because this platform presents a different buying experience – it’s pretty much a grab bag. There are some online stores with notoriously bad reputations, but sadly there isn’t a comprehensive blacklist to definitively know who’s a bad guy yet. Without the feedback system and buyer protection policies of larger auction sites, using this method can be a gamble, but there is a ton of diversity out there – with a discerning eye and careful online shopping practices, you could easily find that Rilakkuma you were looking for!
Networking & foreign agencies
Some websites, bloggers, and sellers offer consulting services to help you find what you’re looking for. This could mean putting you in touch with a seller in their network that already has the plushie, or a trustworthy agent based in Japan who can directly access actual Rilakkuma stores or Japanese auctions that only ship domestically and/or require a Japanese card/account. Japanese auctions/stores have SUCH a huge assortment of genuine Rilakkuma stuff; it is incredible.
Or, it can be an agent who can help you navigate through Taobao (a Chinese online marketplace) since that site uses Alipay which requires a Chinese card/account – this site has about as many (if not more) fakes as eBay though. In general, these agencies may be able to save you a lot of money in international shipping. They will charge a service fee, but this can be really helpful for someone who doesn’t know Japanese/Chinese but needs access to the extended Asian market. Certainly not necessary, but could be more convenient.
Even though sorting out all the fakes can be tedious, finding great sellers and rare products can be very rewarding. Many times, a reliable seller can also help you track down other Rilakkuma items in the future! However, if you’re like me, this can be a blessing or a curse because I end up spending more and more money on Rilakkuma haha.
Ultimately, searching for Rilakkumas can be quite the adventure, but with a little elbow grease (keyboard grease?), a whole world of Rilakkuma can be accessible right at your fingertips!