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Herbal Price Differences

December 31st, 2007

Some things really are just more expensive in Japan. I have noted before that electronics made in Japan will cost up to 70% more in Japan than they do when exported to the U.S. And while vitamins cost more in Japan than they do in the U.S., the difference was even more pronounced twenty years ago, when vitamins were not as easily found in Japan as they are today. But Sachi and I found that herbs are much more expensive in Japan–sometimes ridiculously more so.

In Japan, Chamomile herbs, at their cheapest, cost ¥313 per 30g package. The same herbs, from this store we visited in San Francisco, cost $4.90 for a 1-pound bag. That translates to ¥550 for a 454g package–or ¥36 for 30 grams, or just 12% of the cheap price in Japan.

An even more extreme example is Yellow Dock Root–in Japan costs ¥19,950 ($177.49), while a one-pound (454 grams) package in the US costs just 4.55 (¥511). The Japanese price is 35 times more expensive.

No wonder Sachi wanted to shop for herbs here in the U.S.!! Our only worry is that Japanese customs might not like all those herbs in our suitcases. If there are no restrictions, it would be a nifty way to pay for the trip–one suitcase full of herbs could net a profit of $2500 or so, if you could sell everything. Not that we’re planning to–we’ll just be happy if we can get the stuff in for our own personal use.

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  1. Paul
    December 31st, 2007 at 14:20 | #1

    I’d think that like so many things these days, if you ship it to yourself you’re more likely to avoid Customs problems. The amount of cross-nation stuff has gone WAY up in the past several years, thanks to eBay and the like.

    For example, I bought a knock-off watch from a guy in China. It’s a replica, of course, but built with a Japanese version of the movement that’s identical to the original Swiss.

    (There’s a couple of versions of knockoff watches- the really cheap crappy ones that you can buy for anywhere from 10 to 50 bucks, and then there’s the decent ones that are essentially identical replicas- same construction, same movement, same materials- but they run more like 200-500 dollars. Of course, that compares to the originals that are 1500 and up.)

    I was worried about having it shipped, but a little research online indicated that while the knockoff business used to have trouble with shipping, over the past several years the amount of stuff that goes by UPS/FedEx/etc has increased so much that very few of the watches are ever confiscated.

    The pricing difference between Japan and the US, though, strongly suggests that there are official barriers to those herbs being imported into Japan for business. Plus… let’s face it, importing plant materials is something that’s going to draw a lot more attention than more of a “hard goods” kind of thing.

    But with that kind of markup… could you guys sell herbs on your own, without a storefront, in Japan? Might be worth it to buy/send yourself a few packs of herbs on a strictly speculative basis!

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