The Story of Our Founder – Part 5

So, I started working in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, and found a great deal of interesting experiences there just by walking the streets of the town. One time, a sign that said “Judo lessons” caught my eye and I went in. There were about 20 people in judo uniforms practicing. While watching them, the instructor came up to me and asked, “Do you practice judo?” I answered “I don’t do judo but I do karate.” He asked me “Can you teach us karate?” Never one to pass up an opportunity like this, my answer was yes.

I used to practice karate when I was in high school and I had taught when I first came to the US from Japan, in Seattle, where my broken English was just enough to teach karate. In Yverdon-les-Bains, I didn’t have any knowledge of French, though! Still, I managed to get through. Thinking back now, I don’t know how I did. Several weeks later, a local newspaper reporter came to the judo training hall and he interviewed and photographed me. I felt as if I were a celebrity for a while after I appeared in the local newspaper.

Shortly thereafter, a sign that said “free English lesson” caught my eye while walking around Yverdon-les-Bains. I thought it was a great opportunity that I could learn English for free. There were two teachers from America and two students, a man who looked slightly older than I and a woman who looked about my age. The teachers came to Yverdon-les-Bains as Mormon missionaries but they also taught English for free.

This was another interesting opportunity; I knew nothing about the Mormons or their church, but they invited us for a picnic and church service. I must confess I couldn’t understand a thing because the service was held in French. When everyone was singing hymns, in order to fit in I pretended that I knew them and kept humming the tunes.

Seeking some comfort in familiarity, I was very excited to see that there was a local cinema playing Japanese films, so I eagerly attended. Initially, the film seemed to present an ordinary scene of men and women at a bar, but there was something strange about it, it seemed. After a moment, I realized almost everyone held their drink or cigarette in their left hand.

In the next scene, there was a jazz band playing, but it seemed like they were all left-handed. The piano and its player also seemed quite odd. The piano keys were supposed to be laid out with the lower pitch notes to the left and the higher pitch notes to the right, but for some reason it seemed to be reversed. For a moment, I thought this might be some kind of bar specifically for left-handed people, with left-handed musicians playing specially-designed left-handed instruments. This, of course, seemed strange.

The mystery was finally solved when Japanese text appeared. All the characters were backwards! They were reversed as if they were copied off the reflection in a mirror. I realized the film was mistakenly set to the projector in reverse, and wondered if anyone else in the movie theater noticed it. Perhaps the people of Yverdon-les-Bains just thought all Japanese people were left-handed?

OPAS’ Schedule for the Holiday Season

International Shipping Holiday Schedule Calendar 2017

The Holiday season is fast approaching, and with an OPAS mailbox for consolidation and international package forwarding, that means wherever you are in the world, you can take advantage of great sales in the US!

Historically, the holiday shopping season has been built around Black Friday, the day after the US holiday of Thanksgiving, which is always the last Thursday in November. In recent years, as online sales have become more and more pivotal to so many US companies, they have expanded these usually-limited-time sales to include more of November, and even October in some cases.

We wanted to take just a few moments to advise you about the important dates to bear in mind for the upcoming shopping season.

November 24: Black Friday. OPAS will be closed, so we will not be able to provide Personal Shopper services on this date.

December 8: this is our recommended receiving deadline; if you want to have items arrive in time for December 25th, it’d be best if they are received at OPAS by this time. We’ll still be shipping and receiving after this date, of course, but the closer you get to Christmas, the fewer options you will have for best economy in shipping.

December 11: the recommended date to submit a shipment request by if you wish to have US Postal Service delivery options, including ePacket.

December 13: you’ll want to have your shipment request in by this date if you want to use our slower, less expensive carrier options like UPS Expedited and FedEx Economy shipping.

December 15: you’ll definitely want to have your requests submitted by this date to ensure delivery before Christmas. At this point, it would be best to use faster methods like UPS Saver and FedEx Priority for shipping.

We will still be open and shipping the week of December 18-22. We will be working as fast as we possibly can to dispatch all your orders, but to ensure delivery by the 25th, we STRONGLY advise that you do not wait until the week of the 18th to complete your shipping request. This is mostly because of the way the weekend falls, and the fact that government customs offices will very possibly be closed and unable to process shipments through.

If you have specific questions, please email us at service@opas.com. We want to make sure all of our members know that you can get savings on holiday sales earlier than you might think, and it’s best to not procrastinate on placing your requests for OPAS to ship to you!

Portland Soccer / Football

There are men’s and women’s professional soccer teams based in Portland, Oregon where OPAS is located. The men’s team is the “Portland Timbers” and the women are the “Portland Thorns”. Last weekend (September 2, 2017), I attended the Thorns vs the Washington DC Spirit game. It was a beautiful day for a soccer game. We won 4-0! The stadium was quite full. Attendance was 19,141 people and there was no doubt that almost all of them were Thorns fans.

The Thorns’ average home attendance this season is 17,335 a game. That’s more than double the turnout of all but one of the nine other teams in the National Women’s Soccer League! Needless to say, both of the Timbers and Thorns are well-supported by many of the locals. This is why Portland is sometimes called Soccer City, USA!

Souvenirs and gifts are available at the official online store.
https://www.shopthornsfc.com/

There are many other official online stores of professional sports and teams. You can save by consolidating your purchases and using your Sales Tax Free OPAS Address! Please enjoy shopping at online stores and let us help ship to you!

Labor Day – International Shipping for Labor Day Sales

Labor Day is approaching, and while many savvy international shoppers may already know what that means, we wanted to take a moment to advise all OPAS members and those interested in buying products in the US: there will be great sales!

Labor Day in the US began, as in many other countries, as a day to celebrate the labor movement. It quickly gained status as the end of the summer season, however, and marked the transition into autumn and the beginning of a new US school year. As such, many stores used it as a time to offer deep discounts on clothing, especially those items for children headed back to school!

OLD NAVY has become a favorite for the cost-conscious shopper looking for clothing for growing children of all ages. As an international shopper with an OPAS US Address, you can get the benefit of these great US prices and sales!

RALPH LAUREN is another favorite among OPAS members, and sure to provide some very intriguing options for discounts for the sales holiday.

And of course, AMAZON will be rolling out their trademark brand of big discounts. Many international shoppers out there already buy with Amazon, of course, but many also don’t realize how much they can save by consolidating their purchases and using their Sales Tax Free OPAS Address!

Here’s just one of the many great resources you can use to coordinate your Labor Day sales shopping with your US Address from OPAS!

https://www.offers.com/labor-day/

There are many other online resources if you just search google or your preferred search provider for “Online Labor Day Sales“.

So get your Free US Address with OPAS today, if you don’t already have one, and get ready for these great Labor Day sales!

Japanese Saké Summer Festival!

On Saturday, August 26, one of America’s most well known and awarded saké producers, SakéOne hosted its SakéOne Summer Festival. This end of summer festival featured local food vendors, Oregon craft beer, Willamette Valley wine and of course saké. I enjoyed good food and drinks while listening to lively music. Ten tasting tokens were more than enough for me.

There are a variety of regional specialties sold in Oregon, so please enjoy shopping at online stores and let us help ship to you!

Amazon Prime Day Brings Voice First Home

Did you participate in Prime Day 2017? If you didn’t, you are in the minority (almost)! Amazon created this new shopping holiday in 2015, and this year’s sales beat last year’s by 60%. Amazon doesn’t share hard numbers, but we know that Amazon purchases went over $1,000,000,000 in 30 hours. (The extended time period is for expanded markets.)

Prime Day is centered on customers who have signed up for Amazon’s Prime service. For $99 a year customers get unlimited two-day shipping, discounts, shopping rewards, and access to services like Prime Music and Prime Video. Of course, they get access to the thousands of deals which come up only on Prime Day.

The big movers this year were the Amazon Echo, and it’s little buddy, the Amazon Dot. The Echo is one of the popular new home assistant devices that acts like a voice-activated internet and speaker. It’s hooked up to many apps so it can play music or news, answer questions, order stuff from Amazon (of course), order pizza, dim the lights… the possibilities are expanding by the day. The Dot is a kind of mini version of the Echo, and on Prime Day the price of the Dot dropped from $50 to $35. (The Echo sold at half price on Prime Day, down to $90.) Amazon doesn’t share final sales numbers, but insiders say that at points they were selling thousands of Dots per minute. Overall Amazon reported that Prime Members purchased 6000 items a minute during Prime Day.

Overall, the Dot was the best seller during Prime Day. Not surprisingly, other Amazon products also sold well, like the Echo, Fire devices and Kindle tablets. Other popular items included Sony’s PlayStation 4 and 23 And Me DNA testing kits. The Instant Pot pressure cooker was also a popular item.

One must be a Prime Member to participate in Prime Day, and on July 11 more people signed up to Prime than any other day in history. Prime members tend to shop more, making it a win-win deal for Amazon and its customers. Not surprisingly Amazon’s stock jumped on Prime Day, breaking the $1000 a share mark. (Where is the downside for Amazon?)

It seems like voice commerce may be direction online shopping is going. Not only has Amazon eliminated the need to get in your car and go somewhere to go shopping, now they are eliminating the need to log in and use a screen to shop! Also, there is competition in Voice First field with Google’s Home and Apple’s HomePod. Competition is good for consumers. Prices will fall and devices will evolve quickly. Amazon is already introducing its next spinoff: a voice first device with a screen.

We see a lot of these devices move through our warehouse at OPAS. From just eyeballing it, it looks like the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Dot are what most OPAS buyers are spending their new voice device money on.

Have you delved into the Voice First world feet first? What device or devices have you used? Are you still embarrassed to talk to a machine?

The Story of Our Founder – Part 4

Soon after my arrival in Edinburgh I spend a few days at a youth hostel in Paris. There I met another Japanese traveler who told me about his experience working at farms in Switzerland in exchange for a daily wage as well as room and board. At that time I only had a vague image of Switzerland as a place known for fine timepieces, chocolate and beautiful landscapes. The notion of delicious meals, soft feather pillows and a decent wage caught my attention, so I decided to make Switzerland my next destination. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind in Switzerland, so I rode around on the train checking out different stops until I liked what saw in the town of Yverdon-les-Bains, and decided to begin my job search there.

In Yverdon-les-Bains was a disco full of people dancing to the music, so I figured it would probably be a good place to look for work. I approached an older man who looked like a manager, and in my broken English I told him I wanted a job. The man then took me to his car and drove me to a hotel on the outskirts of town. There the man spoke to a pudgy lady, and then he left, leaving me there alone with the woman. She only spoke French, so I couldn’t understand a word she said, but she seemed to be telling me I could work there at the hotel.

After that, the lady took me to the laundry room to pick up a towel and bed sheets, and she then took me to a room inside the hotel where I could sleep at night. She showed me where the bathroom was and other parts of the hotel. Finally she gave me the key to my room.

The next day I would start in the hotel restaurant washing the pots and pans, peeling potatoes and cleaning the kitchen. I was relieved that I had woken up in Paris that morning, but by the end of the day I had secured work and a place to stay. That night I slept soundly on the feather bed in my room.

I didn’t know how long I would stay and work there, and I didn’t have any concrete plans at that moment. All I knew was that when I got some free time I wanted to get a bite to eat at the restaurant at the top of the mountain near the train station in town where I first got off.

To be continued…

Your Questions About Shipping Pt. 2

We are excited to continue our conversation with our Warehouse Manager, Steve. Today he talks to us about questions our OPAS members have about shipping. 

I want to receive some shoes. Will you send them in the shoe box because I need the box too? I also want them to be as compact as possible.

Steve: Unless the customer specifies otherwise, as a rule we don’t send the manufacturer’s boxes included with hats or shoes. We do this to get the shipping charges as low as possible. If the customer wants their shoes or hat to be sent in the manufacturer’s box, or if they have other specific requests, they just need to let us know in the notes section of their shipping request.

I received an email telling me I ordered something that is considered “Dangerous Goods”. Why was I able to order it from an online store if it’s considered “dangerous”?

S: Within the U.S. items considered to be “Dangerous Goods” are sent only on the ground, by train or truck, so there is no problem. But when we want to send internationally it has to go by air, so things like air pressure inside the plane have to be considered. There are all kinds of hazardous materials, but in general we are able to ship things like hairspray, fingernail polish, or perfume and cologne in a special box box with proper labels. Because Dangerous Goods need to be sent separately in a different box, the customer will need to pay for two separate shipments. The services you can use and the Dangerous Goods charges vary between different carriers. Whether or not we can send certain goods depends on the country, so please check your country’s restrictions before you order.

Can I send lithium batteries by themselves without any restrictions?

S: The rules for shipping loose lithium batteries (including portable power banks) are always changing. As of right now, IATA/ISAO has designated loose lithium batteries as Dangerous Goods, and so when we attempt to ship them we have to write them up as such. Because of this change, there are additional handling charges. There are also some locations we can’t ship lithium batteries to. If you aren’t sure, contact OPAS before you make an order for lithium batteries.

Can you send me a shipping estimate before I purchase an item?

S: The shipping charge can vary dramatically depending on the dimensions and weight of the items you are sending. For home delivery the charge is determined by which is greater, the actual weight or the dimensional weight. We can only make an accurate estimate after your order has been packed and measured. When choosing your shipping method you can choose “Please send me an estimate.” Also since more of our users send internationally than domestically, the way we package the orders is different. Often it is too risky to send glass and other fragile items simply in the packaging they came in. Also, it’s not unusual for items received from online auctions and private sellers to arrive with no cushioning. At OPAS we take care to keep the packages we send as small and lightweight as possible, but there are times when we have to to use extra packaging in order to keep an item from getting damaged in transit, which can cause shipping costs to go up. Please understand that when you ship something fragile, it may affect the final shipping cost.

I told you I wanted several orders shipped in one package, but you split them into two boxes. Why?

S: It’s a mistake to think that sending a single box is always cheaper. For example, if you wanted to send a baseball bat and a basketball together, it would require a box that is as long as the bat, and as wide as the ball. This box would be full of a lot of wasted space that you would be forced to pay for because you will most likely be charged for the dimensional weight. This is why we sometimes split an order into two or more boxes, in order to reduce the shipping cost.

I ordered something to OPAS and, but then I was told it is a restricted item in my country and I can’t ship it there. What items are restricted from import?

S: No one is allowed to import goods (plant and animal) that violate the Washington Convention (CITES). Outside of that, the restrictions on what you can import vary country to country. There are also restrictions on some items depending on the carrier. Click here for the OPAS Restricted Commodities from US page, but keep in mind this list isn’t comprehensive, so if you aren’t sure and have a question, please contact us at service@opas.com with links to the items you are wondering about.

Your Questions About Shipping Pt. 1

We recently sat down with our OPAS Warehouse Manager, Steve. He is in charge of your orders from the moment they come through our doors until they are consolidated and securely packaged and ready to be sent to you. Steve shared with us some of the common questions that our customers ask about receiving and shipping.

What happens from the time my package arrives to when it leaves?

Steve: First, each item that comes in is registered into our system. Where it came from, the tracking number and the weight are recorded and it is labeled with a unique number. All the packages are stored together by the member’s ID number until we get a shipping request to send them out. The ID numbers of the items to be shipped together are printed out on what we call a “pick ticket”. The items are then consolidated, usually into a single package. Then we measure and weigh it to calculate the shipping charges. When customers want a shipping estimate or are paying by PayPal, we wait to get payment approval, and finally we print out the shipping label and send it on its way.

I can’t find some of my items in my OPAS account. Were are they?

S: First of all, the tracking numbers of all packages are scanned and marked as “delivered” by most delivery services (like UPS and FedEx) when they arrive at our warehouse. However, packages delivered by the US Postal Service are scanned and marked as “delivered” before they are loaded onto the Post Office delivery trucks. The actual time we receive the packages from the post office may be several hours after it shows up as “delivered” in the system. In other words, you may track it as being delivered hours before it even arrives at OPAS. Recently we have had issues where some packages are marked “delivered” to us actually days before they reach OPAS. This is a serious issue and we are in contact with our local post office to resolve this issue. Please feel free to contact us if you are seeing a USPS package tracked as delivered, but not appearing in our system. But chances are this is what has happened and hopefully we won’t be seeing this anymore soon.

We get a lot of inquires asking about packages that should have arrived on Saturday. We are not open on the weekends, so we wouldn’t have seen them yet. Our carriers know when this and bring us all the weekend deliveries on Monday. Also, Amazon contracts out many of their deliveries to private contractors who promise to make deliveries on the weekend. Our customers sometimes get an email telling them that a delivery attempt was made, but that no one was there to accept the package. In this case there is nothing the OPAS customer needs to do. We will receive your package the following Monday. So make sure you don’t pay extra for weekend delivery!

We receive deliveries from the post office and every other shipping company until the early afternoon every weekday. Any one of these deliveries can be hundreds of packages, which have to be registered one by one. So it may be a few hours between the time we receive a delivery to the time it is input into our system. Please be a little patient!

Shouldn’t scanning each package go faster than that?

S: Electronic scanners are fast, but they can’t do everything. They can’t check for any damage a package has received in transit. When a package is damaged in delivery we need to contact the customer and the shipper as quickly as possible to get it resolved. There really isn’t any way make the process go quicker. We also have to deal with misdeliveries and mistaken orders, and it helps us speed things up when we know those things are coming. This is also true with hazardous materials. We inspect each package, input its measurements, and finish by putting a registration label on it.

What if I’d like to check on a package that OPAS has already received?

S: If you’d like to see a picture of what is inside your package, please select “Scan Request” on your received package. If you would like to make sure that the items you received were correct (i.e. size, color, model, quantity, etc…) please select the inspection option when you are ready to ship.

Where do you store my packages? Can you send out my order quickly?

S: After being registered, your packages are sorted and stored together based on your customer number inside the OPAS warehouse. When you make a shipping request it generates one of the pick tickets I mentioned earlier. Everything on the pick ticket is then collected. We double check to make sure all items are there and accounted for. It is our policy to process every request within 24 hours after receiving it, but special situations and delayed payments can cause it to take more time. Customers who pay for express delivery will get preferential treatment. At especially busy periods there are times when packages have to be pushed back to the next day. If you are in a real hurry to get your items, the best thing to do is let us know this in advance. For example, if you are waiting for certain items to arrive before placing your shipping request, declare or “add” the items you are expecting in your account, and then make a shipping request with the items that are already at OPAS. In the “special requests” section let us know you want to include the items you are waiting for. Then we can get your order processed without you having to wait until you get delivery confirmation to OPAS. This is also a good way to speed up your order processing without having to pay extra express delivery fees.

We will continue our conversation with Steve next month…

What New Users are Asking

OPAS recently participated in a New Year’s event held at a Japanese shopping center in suburb of Portland. The Shogatsu Matsuri or New Year’s Festival was a three day event with several booths for selling hot food like oden and imagawayaki and things like good luck charms from a local Buddhist temple. At our booth we had a game and participants could win a variety of prizes. We also used it as an opportunity to speak to people about OPAS and answer some questions about international shopping and personal import.

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Portland has the 7th highest Japanese population in the United States, and since it was during the holidays, there were a lot of people visiting people around Portland who live in Japan. Some were native Japanese visiting American relatives, and some were Americans who live in Japan, but came home for the holidays.

Many had never heard of our company, and had never heard of a service like ours. “Our daughter [or son, or niece, or nephew] lives in Japan and is always asking us to send things!” was a statement we heard many times. With OPAS there is no need to bother relatives to send favorites from home. With your OPAS account you can order online from an American retailer, send it to your OPAS address in Portland, and then we will consolidate your orders and prepare them for international shipping. When you are ready to have them sent to you, just a couple clicks gets them on their way.

A couple people asked us about shipping cars to and from Japan. This is a much bigger proposition than importing a phone or sweater, and we usually recommend a company that specializes in importing and exporting motor vehicles. We have sent scooters overseas, however. And we see a lot of car parts go through our warehouse.

“I have a car I imported from Japan specially. However, I can’t get the parts I need in the US.” This is an issue we heard at the festival. “My mechanic doesn’t want to send the parts I need overseas, so I have to wait for someone who is coming to the US to bring them for me.” In this day and age there is no more need for people to wait weeks or months to get things sent internationally. We recommended she use OPAS and have her mechanic send the parts to our Osaka office. From there we’ll get them sent to her home in the US. This was one of the more unique situations we heard about, but I was glad we were able to help her.

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Some people asked about foods and wine. For example, you cannot ship wine using the US Postal Service because all alcoholic beverages are considered “Hazardous Materials.” However you can ship wine to Japan using Yamato Transport, but you can’t using UPS unless you are a licensed wine shipper. Even if the carrier will take it, there are some countries where alcohol is illegal. It’s not hard to guess that firearms and ammunition cannot be shipped internationally. But did you know knives can be just as difficult?

People are not surprised that spray paint cannot be shipped in the mail, but neither can most bottles of nail polish. Most people don’t need to send rubbing alcohol in the mail, because it’s cheaper to buy than send. That’s why they are surprised to find out perfume and cologne are also mostly restricted for shipping because of their alcohol content. We tell our users to check before you order whether or not an item can be sent overseas. Of course, we check as well to make sure we are not sending items that will get confiscated.

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Do you have questions about ordering and getting items shipped to you? Please feel free to ask us here or email us at service@opas.com