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

The Story Of Our Founder, Part 3

The following happened during the time I sold handmade jewelry as a street vendor in Geneva, Switzerland. I think I was around 21 or 22 at the time. One evening I went out around closing time to the area where the high class stores selling Rolex and Omega watches were lined up. From my bag I pulled out a large, table-top sized velvet cloth and laid it down by the street. I then arranged the necklaces and other jewelry I had designed on the cloth and sat down to wait for potential customers.

After a being patient for a little while, a young girl around kindergarten age and a woman who appeared to be her mother and another women who appeared to be her grandmother came by where I was set up. The little girl didn’t appear to be Japanese, but was very cute. The lovely woman whom I thought to be her mother also didn’t appear to be Japanese. However, I could quickly tell that the kind-looking grandmother was from Japan. It was clear there was something different about these three, and as I wondered who they might be, the mother started speaking to the young child in Japanese. “Which one do you like?” “How about this one?” she asked. Then they bought two or three necklaces. After the mother asked me where I was from and a few simple questions about Japan she wished me “Good luck,” in Japanese and they continued down the street.

Right after that a Japanese woman just a little older than me ran over to where I was sitting. “Don’t you know who that was?!” she asked. “That was Dewi Fujin! She’s famous!” She then ran off, possibly to chase down the popular TV personality and socialite. If I ever have another chance to meet Dewi Fujin, I would like to ask her if she remembers buying jewelry from a Japanese hippie in Geneva so many years before.

The Story Of Our Founder, Part 2

We continue with our entertaining series of blog posts written by our president and founder Toshiyasu Abe.

Today, I’d like to share a story from my youth, when I was traveling the world.

I was only 19 years old when I visited Europe for the first time.  Just like my trip from Japan to the U.S., I traveled by ship from New York to Southampton, England, then took a train from there to London, and stayed at a youth hostel for a few nights.

founder and president OPAS Toshiyasu Abe

 

While I was in London, I remember reading that the most beautiful town in the world was called Edinburgh, in Scotland. (Very effective marketing from the Edinburgh tourism board!)  Since I had no particular plan to go anywhere, I decided to visit Edinburgh and see “the most beautiful town in the world” for myself.

By the time my train got to Edinburgh, it was almost evening. I did think the town was lovely at first glance, but as I got off the train, something rather peculiar happened; a group of strangely-dressed children approached me, evidently begging for food. I didn’t have any, so I apologized and went on my way.

I then saw several other groups of children who were begging as well, who were also dressed oddly, in my opinion.  When I stepped outside of the train station, there were even more children panhandling. I was definitely confused, I didn’t know why Edinburgh as such a beautiful town would have so many poor children begging for food, and it made me very sad.

After spending two nights in Edinburgh, I went back to London.  I did not see any children begging there.  The beautiful but poor town of Edinburgh had made a strong impression on me. From time to time I would recall the little panhandlers I saw, and shared this experience with my friends.

It wasn’t until perhaps seven or eight years has passed that I understood. I was telling one of my friends the sad story of the children in Edinburgh.  He then asked me what time of the year it was when I had visited. Although I had told the story numerous times, this was the first time someone had asked this specific question in response.

I remembered it was very cold at night; so cold that I had to sleep in layers of my sweaters and blankets to keep myself warm.  I told him it was either October or November.  “Oh, it was Halloween!”, my friend said with a laugh.  It sure was!  The “poor, strangely-dressed children” were trick-or-treating for candy, not panhandling!

I had never heard of Halloween when I lived in Japan.  Even after I moved to the U.S. and learned a bit about the holiday, I never really put the children in Edinburgh and Halloween together.  I still find it funny that for many years I had carried these children in Edinburgh as a sad memory!

Edinburgh was a beautiful town and definitely memorable, even outside the Halloween misunderstanding.  I always share this story whenever I get a chance, I feel like it is a representation of what made me want to travel, and to learn about other places and people in this great wide world.

Connecting with people from different places and connecting them to each other has been a goal of mine, which is a big part of why I chose to work and start my business in the field of international shipping and commerce.

I also had another experience in Edinburgh that sounds like something from a novel or movie, but that’s a story for another time.

The Story Of Our Founder, Part 1

OPAS’ founder and President, Toshiyasu Abe shares his story with us in this personal blogpost about his background and the story of how OPAS came about: 

I was born in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island of Japan, and raised in the city of Osaka, the second largest in Japan. I had a fairly traditional upbringing in Japan, just another young man among many, but from an early age I felt the strong desire to see more of the world than my home county. Only a few weeks after graduating from high school, I traveled to the United States by ship. It was the first of four different countries other than Japan in which I would reside, including Canada, Switzerland and Germany.

It was twenty-six years ago, in 1990 that I founded OPAS in Seattle, Washington.

Through this blog, I’d like to tell the story of OPAS. We have had some very interesting experiences in our history, I feel, and I also want to impart what wisdom I have regarding business. I’d like to share advice for those who wish to be successful in personal importing, based on my twenty-six years as the President of OPAS. I’d welcome feedback and questions from readers, so that I can write on topics you may be particularly interested in.

When I founded OPAS, there was no other business that offered this kind of forwarding service. Honestly, I don’t think many people understood my business model at first, but this may have been because they were Americans who were used to having a wide variety of shopping options and products at their disposal. Perhaps they didn’t understand the market for this kind of service, or the convenience and options it could allow for international buyers; or perhaps my explanation wasn’t quite right.

Remember, in 1990 when I founded OPAS, there was no online shopping. There wasn’t even “online” for most consumers; the earliest internet applications were used mostly by universities and for government purposes. But there was catalog shopping. It may sound humorously primitive now, but people in countries outside the US used to shop by sending order forms in the mail from these catalogs, or by phone if they spoke English. Fax machines were popular for this kind of ordering within Japan, but not as much in the US.

The fax machine was the key to beginning OPAS. I remember being astonished by the utility of a fax machine, and what I saw also was that many of these catalog stores didn’t ship to Japan. So with my fax machine and a stack of catalogs, I decided to build a bridge between the Japanese buyers and the American stores. I would place these orders in the US for my Japanese customers, and ship their products to them internationally.

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As the age of the internet began, computers became more and more popular, appearing in every household. Soon, companies like Amazon.com and Google were founded.  The way of shopping had transitioned from catalog shopping to online shopping, with a nearly unlimited amount of options for international buyers.

I never imagined how the way people shop would change so drastically in a quarter century, from 1990 to today. As I’ve watched the world of commerce become digital, I continue to wonder: how will the way people shop change in the future? It will be interesting to find out.