2nd hand electronics sales will NOT soon be illegal in Japan

Update HERE- finally some good news!

Akihabara News, Engadget, and probably a number of other blogs have posted a completely misinformed and alarmist claim that Japanese law will soon make it illegal to sell used electronics. First the alarmist claim, and then the explanation of why it is about 80-90% incorrect.

The second hand marker flourishes over here, and most people take good care of their equipment, so used goods are usually in a very good condition and are sold easily to be replaced by new goods. It’s easy to strike a good deal when buying these second hand goods. But that’s exactly the big problem for manufacturers, because this grey market is not generating them any profit, and they would like to get rid of this phenomenon.
[...]
So from April 1st 2006, ALL electronic products sold in Japan before 2001 will be prohibited from the 2nd hand market! This means that for example a PC like the Vaio U1 (PCG-U1) will be soon not vailable on the Japanese market anymore, since it was sold in April 2002… and you still have about a month to get a Vaio C1! It also seems that a 5 yeas old product (made after 2001) will Face the same problem in the futur.

Gosh, terrifying isn’t it? Reading it I practically wet my pants and burst into tears simultaneously at the prospect of never again being able to pass up the chance of buying a 20 year old vintage game console. (Note: I just play them on emulators anyway.)

But notice something very important: Engadget is merely repeating what Akihabara News said, and Akihabara News doesn’t quote any source at all. So why don’t we try actually looking at a real news source, and see what they say. As it so happans, the English langauge Asahi website has a very thorough article on this topic.

There are a couple of major points that contradict what the Akihabara News post said.

Well, exports are exempt. Some retailers are hoping to find overseas buyers, or set up branch offices abroad. Leases are exempt, too, meaning retailers can simply lease their products for fixed terms.

[One company] plans to lease its used products, an action not restricted under the law.

The firm will charge customers in advance for a fixed time period, and the customer will be able to return the item at any time. When the lease expires, the firm will simply give the appliance away—another action exempt from the PSE rule.


So foreign sales will not be restricted at all. This is no surprise, considering how common sales of used Japanese vehicles are overseas. For example, in the Philippines all of the buses seem to be bought used from Japan. The very first bus I rode as I stepped out of the airport had a plate mounted above the windshield saying that it had been a Kyoto city bus that was refurbished by the Keihan Bus Company in around 1980. Second, companies can use what seems to amount to fake leases to get around the sales restrictions.

But there is more to it. Domestic non-lease sales are not being flat-out banned anyway, they are simply requiring an inspection. So what is the inspection?

By law, a retailer can become a “manufacturer,” authorized to conduct safety inspections and affix PSE labels, simply by registering with the ministry.

Registered “manufacturers” may attach PSE labels after confirming three very simple things: the product looks fine, works properly when turned on, and does not leak electricity at 1,000 volts.


So any retailer of any size will be able to perform the inspections themselves. This is starting to sound less like ban on second hand sales designed to encourage the consumption of new goods than it is a fairly reasonable attempt at consumer protection.

But there’s something else. Notice the final part of the test, seeing how the device operates at 1000 volts. This law seems not to be aimed at electronics per-se, so much as electrical appliances. I think there’s a strong chance that it doesn’t apply at all to computers (including game systems) due to the nature of the safety tests. Notice they check if it functions safely at 1000 volts, well the electronics of a computer generally run on 12 volts, and any more than that will fry it, so the test clearly can’t apply!

No, instead what they would be testing are devices that include such things as heating coils or motors, that draw large amounts of power and can be a serious fire risk. In the case of a computer or game system, the power supply would certainly require testing, but I think that the primary device will suffer no restrictions whatsoever.

In short, it will be rather more troublesome for retailers to sell used electronics, and there may be less small stores doing so. On the other hand, larger stores with the economy of scale to set up a small certification department will be able to carry on with their business, and used electrical applicances will now come with a certification that they work and don’t catch on fire when you plug them in, which will probably make it easier for consumers to return defective merchandise. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see someone set up a new business, designed simply to test and certify used electronics for the hundreds or thousands of smaller stores that don’t have the ability to do it themselves.

What we will NOT see is the dismal scenario that Akihabara News incorrectly imagined when they first heard about this law.

UPDATE: This site includes very precise details about what the law regulates, in both Japanese and English. It would seem that I was completely correct. Computers are NOT on the list of regulated items, but power cords and transformers/power adapters ARE. In a very interesting turn, it specifies that television recievers are to be regulated, but says nothing about the CRT tube itself (including computer monitors). This is a rather strange turn, since a tv reciever is just another radio reciever-a very low power device, whereas the actual CRT is a very high power device that can deliver a fatal charge or start a fire if tampered with incorrectly.

37 thoughts on “2nd hand electronics sales will NOT soon be illegal in Japan

  1. Akihabara News actually had me envisioning a much worse scenario. It didn’t even include the possibility of a manufacturer selling the products designed before 2001 (since they didn’t know about the PSE stamp). Think of all the electronic devices in critical public use that you’d no longer be able to find replacement parts for (i.e. airplane transponders, automotive electronics, telephony infrastructure, power grid management, etc …) The way they had worded it implied a real-life Y2K scenario once these devices eventually failed and needed repair. As much as not getting that Vaio may disappoint, it’s not nearly as alarmist as the further implications of the article.

  2. As ironic as it may sound to the uninitiated, April 1 is the first day of the Japanese fiscal year. Most laws that are passed take effect that day.

  3. I am interested in old communication equipment, such as short wave receiver and transmitters. How would one find the source for this kind of equipment? Might old American equipment be available, such as Hallicrafter?

  4. It’s very real.

    Roy: consoles that don’t use AC adapters (Sega Dreamcast etc) ARE subject to this regulation. See post for details.

  5. Ahem. Of course that leakage test isn’t going to jam 1000V into a 12V input, it’s what’s called a ‘hi-pot’ test. It’s testing the leakage through the power transformer, not the ability for things to handle 1000V when they’re designed to run on 100-230V.

  6. Pingback: asiapundit
  7. This story has been on the news quite a bit this week here in Tokyo. Seems that the thing most people are worried about is musical equipment, especially amps. I guess there are a lot of beloved vintage amps out there. At my favorite used electronics store, Hard Off (Yes, it’s a big chain here. “Hard” is for hardware, and “Off” means discounted. There’s also Book Off, and House Off (housewares)) there are big sales going on for the equipment without the special stickers. April 1st here has a totally different meaning than in the US. It’s the start of the school year, fiscal year, and church year, so it’s not surprising that a new law would go into effect then.

  8. This law is just stupid. I could understand putting stickers on things to warn people that they might have dangerous electrical leaks (vintage amps were hell for that!), but an outright ban by proxy on them, doesn’t seem right.

    They should make a list of all things that they suspect have dangerous energy leakages, and give that list to all secondhand stores, and let them fill out a test form in order to become certified to put the exemption labels on them and test them.

    Something tells me that when the Japanese people hear about this, there’s going to be a call for BLOOD! Namely, the blood of the legislators who passed this stupid law.

  9. Balak, you’re right. Akihabara News does have a link to that article, but it’s not referenced in the article and I hadn’t noticed that it was anything but part of the site’s design-if it was even there when I first noticed the post.

    The proprieter of Akihabara News seems to be a little upset that I was attacking him or something. That’s not my intention at all, I just wanted to make sure that people understood the real effect of the law a little better. There is definitely some concern, but it’s a far cry from a ban, just a restructuring of the market that will hurt the little guys.

    And no, it wasn’t Akihabara News that suggested the ban would also extend to game software, but some other blogs that based their paranoia on the original Akihabara News posting.

  10. Hey roy, its COLRON, saw Mutantfrog while reading this over at engadget and just had to be sure it was teh one and the same. Good eye and research getting the real scoop for us stuck in america americans.

  11. EE was absolutely correct when he stated that:

    “It’s what’s called a ‘hi-pot’ test. It’s testing the leakage through the power transformer, not the ability for things to handle 1000V when they’re designed to run on 100-230V.”

    Anything that has a UL, CSA, TUV, or VDE sticker on it (and plugs in the wall) has most likely already been tested for leakage with a Hi-pot test.

    Some manufacturers will even put a rubber stamp or sticker on each device as it passes the Hi-pot test. You may have seen them on equipment. They read “Hi-pot”, “Hi-pot test passed”, or something of that nature.

    All in all, a Hi-pot test is a good idea for consumer electronics and most will pass unless they are truly junk.

    The best part of this new law is that the price for Hi-pot testers will go up for about 2 to 6 months and then way down. So we’ll all be able to get a cheep Hi-pot tester because of the volume of them that Japan will be set up to produce.

    Now would be a good time to sell your old Hi-pot tester to Japan, and buy a new cheep one six months from now.

    Mike G.

  12. The date has nothing to do with it. If you know Japanese politics, then you would know that April 1st is the 1st day of the year for Japanese companies. It is when new college graduates report to their companies for their new jobs. It also happens to be the date the Japanese governement has official items pass many times as in this case.

    It is only April Fools day in the west. Not in Japan.

  13. Here’s a quick survey on the new PSE law that I found:

    http://blog.ishare1.com/press/archives/2006/02/954.html

    Too tired to translate right now, but I think they also seem to be claiming that all vintage electronics and games cannot be resold, or at least they are not making clear that external power supplies only need be changed (where applicable) to comply.

    As you say in your other story, how exactly you get a PSE sticker for second-hand goods needs to be clarified!

  14. Slightly different take on this law, but I wonder if there may not be another law hidden behind it, one not yet proposed, but in the planning? Vague enough for you? Here’s what I’m thinking:

    This law effectively :
    1. Broadens goverment oversight of product reuse and inspection greatly. Previously the most visible example of this was the car inspection and certification system.

    2. Very likely creates more income for new product manufacturers

    3. Sets up a gatekeeping system, and accustoms the consuming public to the idea of the gatekeeper, however lax that gatekeeping may be under current law.

    4. Probably removes some percentage of defective products from the used marketplace.

    5. Provides economic incentives for shipping many items difficult to recycle or properly process as waste to other countries?

    6. Saves energy?

    Seems like a big win for the government, really, at not too much cost for the consumer, if the lease loophole isn’t closed. What do you want to be that many items “given away” after their lease term is up may end up in the hands of the previous lessee? “Lease to own” becomes “Lease to receive as a present later”?
    Ahh, but I started this whole thing talking about a future law, didn’t I? I’m thinking energy. Household energy use and transportation are two of the largest, if not the two largest sources of fossil fuel consumption in Japan. How coincidental that the products central to that energy use are now both heavily regulated with a regime designed to accelerate product obsolesence and replacement. Perhaps this is one part of the goverment plan to reduce fossil fuel import and consumption significantly by 2030? With the everpresent potential for the testing standards to be changed, this law could be a very effective way to force people to buy more energy efficient stuff.
    Ahh, and I hear you say “What sense does that make? It still costs lots of energy to make the stuff, doesn’t it?” Yes, it does. But often these products are made in other countries, at overall lower energy cost (monetarily, anyway). What a deal! Make Japan more energy efficient using other countries output of Japanese designed goods, and then turn around and ship them older, less efficient stuff that they can afford on their lower salaries…. or have I been reading too much fiction lately?

  15. Yesterday March 14, 2006 the Japanese ministry in charge of the PSE law and its interpretation announced that “Vintage Electric Equipment” including guitar amps, audio, electric musical instruments, and electric powered photographic equipment etc. will be exempted from full PSE testing requirements, and will be allowed to sell after a simplified registration procedure is followed by the merchant.

    For those who can read Japanese, see news item at Yahoo Japan:
    http://dailynews.yahoo.co.jp/fc/domestic/pse_law/
    http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20060314-00000053-mai-bus_all

    Also notice that major second-hand audio retailer HiFi Do had already registered with the ministry as a re-manufacturer of used audio equipment and has set itself up to do fully compliant testing and certification, and also will equip each piece of used equipment they sell (after testing and modifying the equipment to comply with the law) with a properly registered PSE sticker.

    See http://www.hifido.co.jp/merumaga/osu_sale/060310/

    So this means the good Ryuichi Sakamoto (who campaigned against the law prohibiting sale of vintage synthesizers etc.) and his friends were successful.

    Cheers!

  16. DEAR SIR.
    THROUGH THE INTENSIVE BUSINESS RESEARCH,WE HAVE COME
    TO KNOW YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS,BEST KNOWN TO US THAT
    YOU ARE IN THE POSITION AS TO EXPORT AND SUPPLY US THE
    ABOVE MENTIONED PRODUCTS.
    WE TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY, TO INTRODUCE OUR COMPANY TO
    YOU,AS ONE OF THE LEADING IMPORTERS AND MARKETERS OF
    THE PRODUCTS,WHICH WE ARE SEEKING FOR THE POSSIBILITY
    OF TRADING TOGETHER WITH YOU,WHILE HOPING THAT,YOU
    WILL NOT HAVE ANY OBJECTION TO OUR PROPOSAL.
    MEANWHILE,TO GIVES US MORE IDEAL ON YOUR
    PRODUCTS,SUCH AS FARM TRACTORS,ELECTRONICS,CELL PHONES,LAPTOPS,DIGITAL CAMERA,ETC, SHALL WE HAVE YOUR CATALOUDGE,OR ANY OTHER THINGS,
    TO ENABLE US SELECT AND CONFIRM OUR BULK
    ORDERS,THOUGH,WE ARE FULLY PREPARE TO PROMOTE YR
    INTREST IN NIGERIA MARKET,AND ASSURED YOU OF OUR
    MAXIMMUM CO-OPERATION TO ENHANCE THE PROGRESSIVELY
    WITH THE BUSINESS WITH YOU,UNLESS OR OTHERWISE YOU
    INSERT YOUR MAXIMUM CO-OPERATION AND YOUR MUTUAL
    UNDERSTANDING WILL BE HIGHLY APPRECIATED.AND WE FIRMLY
    BELEIVED THAT THE FIRST COMMUNICATION WITH YOU WOULD
    LEAD BOTH OF US TO MUTUAL AND GOOD BUSINESS
    RELATIONSHIP.

  17. I was thinking about going to japan to buy some electronics. Does anybody know how cheao are electronics and clothing in japan compared to the US. If so can you please email me at lawarrior2003@yahoo.com with some info as well as some sites or anything that could help.
    Thanks in advance

Comments are closed.