A large percentage of high-end camera accessories are either produced in Japan or made by Japanese-based corporations. This mass production has contributed to the idea that camera lenses are cheaper in Japan. But is there any truth to this statement?
Camera lenses are not cheaper in Japan, and prices for certain models are equivalent to those in foreign markets. Additionally, most of the lenses you purchase in Japan may not be compatible with cameras purchased elsewhere.
This article will explore whether camera lenses and equipment are cheaper in Japan compared to other markets.
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The Real Difference in Lens Prices
While Japan may have been responsible for mass-producing camera equipment in the past, the price of their equipment today is similar to the American or European markets. The only difference is that some stores offer discounts to foreigners, and second-hand gear is easy to come by in Japan and often available at considerable discounts.
In this video, travel vlogger Jason Vong goes over whether it’s cheaper to buy camera gear in Japan and where you can get the best deals.
In the modern international economy, merchandise is produced in a small number of countries and shipped all over the world. The internet allows corporations and merchants to see what their competitors are charging in the global market. This knowledge of pricing allows them to maximize profits while maintaining competitive prices.
The result is that most consumer goods (including camera lenses) cost roughly the same all over the world.
However, there are two main factors that may contribute to cheaper lenses in Japan.
- Consumption Tax
- Second-Hand Equipment
Tourists in Japan can benefit from a regular discount if they know how to avail of it.
The Japanese government imposes an 8% consumption tax on imported goods, which is included in the sticker price shown in stores. Fortunately, foreign tourists are legally exempt from paying this tax when purchasing the product.
When shopping at a Japanese camera store or retail outlet, you can show your passport to the cashier and they will deduct the consumption tax from the sale price. As such, this will reduce the overall price of a camera lens.
While camera lenses and other gear aren’t necessarily cheaper in Japan, you can spend less if you’re willing to purchase second-hand equipment.
The Japanese are known for being careful and gentle with high-tech equipment, and as a result, their second-hand camera gear tends to be in great condition. Additionally, most Japanese stores only accept second-hand gear if it’s in working condition and comes with the packaging.
Although relatively little camera gear is produced in Japan today, the photography industry has a rich history linked to this country. And technology in Japan is typically a step ahead of most places. As a result, second hand camera equipment is a significant business in Japan, with plenty of high-end options for the aspiring photographer.
You’re sure to find several Japanese retail chains that specialize in selling pre-owned, returned, and refurbished photography equipment.
Why Do People Think Camera Gear Is Cheaper in Japan?
People think camera gear is cheaper in Japan because for several decades it was less expensive than in the rest of the world. Today, most gear sold in Japan is produced in China and is subject to import tariffs. After conversion, you’ll find that Japanese gear is priced the same as western markets.
While the prices are similar today, there are a few reasons why people continue to believe that camera lenses are sold cheaply in Japan.
When researching the prices of lenses and other equipment, you’ll find that most grandparents and those from the older generation claim to have bought cheap, high-quality gear during the previous decades. The people who spread this idea of cheaper equipment are typically ex-military personnel who served in Japan during the Cold War.
These ex-officers were stationed in a country, which, at the time, was known for cheap camera equipment. They returned to the USA eventually spreading information that camera equipment was the cheapest in Japan.
After World War II, Japan was stripped of its arms industry by the Allies. The American government decided that the Japanese economy should be built on technology instead. As such, today Japan is still one of the world’s biggest hubs for high-tech development.
During the Cold War, Japan produced a large percentage of the world’s computer and camera hardware, ensuring that the prices were relatively low due to the low cost of production. This started to change in the 1970s and 1980s.
During the Golden Age of China-Japan relations, Japanese corporations started outsourcing production to China. These days, most products sold under Japanese brands, like Nikon and Canon, are produced in China.
Depending on the brand, Japanese camera gear may be wholly produced in China or have certain parts produced in China and assembled in Japan. While prices were cheaper in the past, the import tariffs and cost of transport from China are added to the eventual sale price today.
Currency Exchange Rates
According to USA Today, American students don’t even score in the top 30 nations for achievements in mathematics, and foreign merchants are known to take advantage of this weakness.
In late March 2022, the exchange rate for Japanese Yen (JPY, ¥) to United States Dollars (USD, $) was 1 JPY to 0.0081 USD. This means ¥1000 is worth $8.10 and a camera costing $1,300 in the US will cost ¥160,976.40 in Japan.
When you’re traveling to Japan, this discrepancy in currency values can give most people the impression that they’re actually spending a lot less on camera equipment. When, in fact, stores may be selling their equipment at a premium knowing that most people won’t double-check exchange rates.
Contrary to popular belief, camera lenses and other photography equipment are just as expensive in Japan as anywhere else in the world.
The idea that Japanese lenses are cheaper comes from the past when much of the world’s photography equipment was produced in Japan and a large number of American military service members were stationed there.