Let’s talk about iTunes Japan

Music has never been cheaper. Or easier to buy. With iTunes, Amazon MP3 and many other online music stores offering songs for less than a dollar/euro, completely DRM-free, it has become easier than ever to amass a huge music collection. You prefer streaming music? Then services like Rdio or Spotify offer what seems to be every song in the world for free or at a very low price. There’s always a catch though. Even though we’ve come a long way, there are still some problems. Regional restrictions often limit what you can find on online music stores. Several niches and genres of music present their own challenges when it comes to actually being able to purchase them online. One of these is J-pop.

The chicks may be quite pretty, but they also cost a pretty penny.

When it comes to J-pop there are quite a few artists (like Gackt, Morning Musume or fripSide) that have made the effort to offer their catalogue in all or most of the regional iTunes stores. There are however large quantities of tracks you’ll only be able to find in the Japanese iTunes store. While at first, switching to the Japanese store in iTunes seems as easy as clicking the round country button at the bottom of the application, things are in fact quite a bit more complicated. You need a Japanese credit card and a Japanese place of residence before you can make any kind of purchase. Luckily, as with any system, there are loopholes.

There will always be loopholes.

One of these is buying a Japanese iTunes card from a service like J-List. The online retailer has a handy guide on how to sign up to the Japanese iTunes store and if you can’t bear to wait, they even offer the option of scanning the code on the card and mailing it to you. J-List charges a premium for the service, but it’s still quite a bit less expensive than buying physical CD’s from an online retailer like CDJapan and Yesasia and paying exorbitant shipping costs depending on the purchase.

Best of all, you’ll actually support your favorite artists. No doubt many will look at this loophole, turn up their noses and just decide to pirate the tracks they desire to listen to. In a way the desire to do so is understandable. Regional restrictions on digital goods are quite counterproductive. One store with proper localisation for different languages should really suffice. Piracy however is almost never a good idea, no matter how you seek to justify it. Extenuating circumstances aside, in the end, artists should be payed for their work.

There’s a wealth of great music just waiting for you.

The gift card loophole is particulary relevant these days as with the release of iTunes Match and the various cloud services Apple has rolled out, the Japanese iTunes store has been brought up to par with the rest of the world and now offers music DRM-free (some labels excepted) after holding out for four years. There’s plenty of other artists to pick from, assuring that those iTunes cards will get used up sooner than later.

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and enjoy.