Buying Guide

Guide – Shopping for fabrics on Rakuten

April 15, 2013

Talk about procastination. After the flurry of requests last week about how to buy fabrics from Rakuten, I dug out this old draft that I started in February!

Before I begin, I must emphasize that this may not be the cheapest way to get the fabrics because of the additional shipping costs and administration fee incurred. If there are certain designers or fabric brands that are already being sold on online stores like Etsy, then it might be cheaper to purchase from them especially when the sellers are located in Japan (like how Miss Matatabi is my favourite source for nani IRO fabrics 🙂 . It will also be easier to communicate with them. I only purchase from Rakuten if it is a fabric I can’t find elsewhere, or sometimes if it’s on sale and makes it worthwhile to purchase despite the additional shipping fees. Like all online stores, there will be free shipping above a minimum order amount. So look out for the words 送料無料 which means free shipping.

This guide is for purchasing from Rakuten, because they have a global site in English, which makes it possible to get through the checkout without having to read through browser translated (read: incomprehensible) terms and conditions. Rakuten is basically an online marketplace like eBay or Amazon.  Some of the shops do ship internationally so that’s quite straightforward, but this guide is for those shops that only ship domestic and can be found only on the domestic Rakuten site.

Let’s start with the Rakuten Global Market home page. This is what you see when you go to the global site for the first time.


Just for experiment, let’s try searching for fabrics on the english site. If you search for fabrics on the global rakuten site in English, you will get very different results from the Japanese site.

I do get some results but quite limited and none of the usual fabrics I see on the Japanese site.

Searching for double gauze gives you this 🙂

Gauze for bandages!

 Even if I searched by the name of the fabric shop (trying with shugale which is the name of one of the fabric shops I know) which is in English, it returns no results.

If you can search in Japanese, you will find some results similar to the Japanese site, but if you can input in Japanese you probably won’t need this guide 😛

So what can we do? First, follow the links that I’ve included for the fabrics featured on my blog posts on Japanese fabrics (no I don’t get commission on that, but it’s just to help you get started on browsing the site without having to input the search terms in Japanese). You can also continue browsing within the shops as well as related item links on the site. You will notice the links bring you to the site which is based on Japanese for domestic customers. But the site is in Japanese and the checkout procedure is entirely in Japanese, not to mention most of them only ship domestic.

 Here’s the trick. After browsing the item on the Japanese site, open up a new browser window (using the same browser of course), and go to the global rakuten site –

 Now you will notice that above “Hot Products” there is a now a  new section called Recently Viewed Items. If you look under the “Recently Viewed Items” you will see the last item (or last few items) that you just looked at on the Japanese site. So this means that when you search in English, you can’t find the items, but since the database of items on Rakuten is connected to one single database, the last viewed items show up even on the English site.

Click on the thumbnail, and you will get to this page which is now in English. Now you have to select the color and quantity.

Choosing the color is straightforward enough, but what are the units? Most of the time I can guess by the price, but to be sure, scroll down to the bottom.

In this case, the fabric is sold in 1m units, so the price listed is for 1m of fabric, 115cm wide.

Note that this is not the standard, in fact you should always scroll down to check! For example, for this fabric from Yuwa, it can’t possibly be S$1.20 for 1m?

Scroll down and you will see. 1unit represents 10cm. And this particular shop also restricts 3m (30 units) for normal mail/postal delivery (the automatic translator translated mail to email but here it actually means normal mail/postal service) but there are no restrictions for courier delivery.

After sorting out the color and quantity, time to check out.

If the shop does not ship out of Japan, under shipping, select forwarding service.

The rest of the checking out is done under the global rakuten site in English which is pretty similar to most online shopping sites.

Just a quick note on the forwarding service. For those of you who have not used a forwarding service before, basically it is an office address that accepts parcels from online shops that only do domestic shipping, and for a fee they will collect and consolidate your parcels and then ship them to your international address. So the important thing you have to note is that when checking out,  billing address will be based on your credit card details for verification, but shipping address will be sent to the forwarding service address located in Japan. Once the office receives your package, they will email you and requests for payment (shipping + admin fee).

The shipping forwarding service that is promoted by Rakuten is Tenso has a very good guide in English which teaches you how to input the address correctly for the different online shopping sites. There are other alternatives available, which you may prefer, so I will not go into further details on how to use them. Unless you can’t figure them out, then you can always ask me here. I have made quite a number of purchases from various shops on Rakuten via this method. And I must highly recommend Tenso (no commission here too ;P ) because they are super fast, polite and efficient. I’ve bought cloth scissors, fabric, bento accessories, even ski suits and ski boots for my kids through Rakuten + Tenso! Love it! The actual shipping time varies, mostly dependent on the actual online shop. Most of my goods were despatched in 3 days except for one instance where the fabric shop stated that it will take 5-7 days to ship out, and so that was a little slower. Once it arrives and Tenso’s office the shipping notification is provided within a day and if you make payment quickly, you can get it in two days (at least that’s the speed it takes to get to Singapore).

I hope this was useful in helping you purchase the fabric of your dreams. If you have questions, just ask!

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  • Reply cathy voight April 15, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Wow! Thank you so much for this guide. It will be very helpful. Also makes me appreciate Miss Matatabi. Love your blog.

  • Reply Ashley April 15, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this! Seems the stuff I always want isn’t available internationally and this sounds like a great way around that.

  • Reply Nicole Morgenthau April 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

    I also sell Japanese fabrics (nani iro) on my site on etsy. I also stock some of the tools that are critical to Japanese sewing technique. My etsy shop is Finch Sewing Studio:!/pages/Finch-Sewing-Studio
    I’m in the US, and I do priority shipping, so my turn around is quite speedy. Happy shopping!

  • Reply Rinda April 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Very very useful information. Thanks heaps for your generosity for sharing this!

  • Reply Wendy Pang April 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    This is terrific! I love Rakuten, so this will open a whole new world. Thank you.

  • Reply Cindy April 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Great how-to guide! Once I get the boys to school I’m going to give it a try!

    🙂 Cindy

  • Reply janet lee April 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    thank you for the guide. Swapping between the japanese and global sites is such a great trick! I’m definitely going to give this a try.

  • Reply Gillian April 16, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Oooh, great tips and tricks! I found out about English Rakuten just a month ago, and was so exited about it! I lived in Japan for years, and it drives me nuts how impossible it is to double gauze and other Japanese fabrics here in Canada. I blogged about my experiences here:

    A couple tips I found handy:
    -Asking for SAL shipping in the notes to vendor section made it very affordable
    -searching for Engrish terms helped turn up what I wanted! I.e. “loan” for “lawn”, “ripple cotton” for seersucker, etc

    My purchases arrives just as quickly as they would from the USA, and I was really pleased with that I got! 🙂 Yay Rakuten!

  • Reply Jaya April 16, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    wow. great idea, i would have never thought of this trick! thank you for the detailed post.

  • Reply Using Japanese Sewing Books | Japanese Sewing, Pattern, Craft Books and Fabrics April 17, 2015 at 9:34 am

    […] Buying from Rakuten – How to purchase Japanese fabrics from Rakuten Japanese site.  Guide – Shopping for fabrics on Rakuten […]

  • Reply Catherine Conrad January 16, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    What an amazing coincidence. I just accidentally discovered this Rakuten site last week and was almost in tears because I wanted to use it so badly, but was utterly intimidated. Thank you, thank you.

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