How To Find an Affordable J.K. Waite Deck

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted a copy of the J.K. Waite tarot ever since I was a dorky high school kid getting her first real tarot reading. My favorite reader used this deck, and I was instantly smitten with its rich colors and unique tweaks to Rider Waite Smith imagery. But back then, I only knew it as the Japanese “Tarot Book and Cards” deck, and that made it really difficult to track down. When I finally learned enough information about the deck to find it without combing through every single tarot listing on eBay, I was floored by what the vendors were asking. Two hundred and twenty-five dollars (and more!) is too darn much money to spend on a stack of paper, particularly one that’s not even 50 years old.

How could you not be smitten with this ultra-1970s deck?

I still wanted that stack of paper though, so I occasionally tracked the various listings I’d find. Over time, I noticed that the same handful of people were the ones selling the J.K. Waite decks. At first I thought that these listings were not selling and the vendor was just renewing an expired auction. But then I noticed that a deck would sell and that the vendor would list a different deck a few weeks later. It occurred to me thenprobably belatedlythat these vendors were probably buying these decks from Japanese auction sites where they would certainly be more common (and therefore way less than $200+) and were just re-selling them on US and European sites to maximize their profit.

So the primary trick to tracking down a cost-effective J.K. Waite deck isn’t to obsessively track eBay auctions or Facebook tarot swaps, but to go directly to Japanese auction sites. This can be a tricky hurdle as you might try to look for an eBay Japan and come up empty handed (eBay Japan folded in 2004). That doesn’t mean that the Japanese don’t use auction sites, though! They just use different ones. Some of the largest Japanese vending websites are Rakuten and Mercari, but the closest (and most popular) eBay-like site is Yahoo Auctions.

I can’t be the only person who finds this overwhelming, can I?

Navigating Japanese auction sites can really be intimidating. I think most English speakers can fake our way through most of the Indo-European languages, what with the similar alphabets and all the cognates and common roots the words share. There is none of that familiarity with Japanese, though, and functional illiteracy is terrifying. Throw on top of that a currency where everything looks like it costs thousands of dollars, and these sites can induce a panic attack. But if you take a breath, you’ll realize that you know what a search bar looks like and what listings look like. And if you are really worried, you can always have Google Translate translate the page. (Not sure how to do that? Copy the Yahoo Auctions url. Go to Google translate and set the language in the first box to Japanese and paste the url in the text box below. Set the “translate” language to English, and a hyperlink to a translated Yahoo Auctions page will pop up. Click on it, and you can navigate the site in halfway decent English.)  It certainly won’t be perfect, but it will get you surprisingly far.

You also don’t need to know Japanese to search for items. Again, Google Translate will get you surprisingly far. In the case of tarot, however, it is even easier. “Tarot” is not a Japanese word, which means that it has to be written out phonetically in katakana. It’s just as easy to type “tarot” as it is to write the katakana, so many Japanese sellers just use the English word. Therefore, if you simply enter “tarot” into the search bar, you’ll likely come up with at least 3000 results. Entering タロット (“tarot” in katakana) will get you a virtually identical selection.

If you are familiar with pictures of the J.K. Waite deck, you can take an hour and quickly scan through all the thumbnail images to see if you can find a listing. That may found tedious—and it is—but in the case of the J.K. Waite deck, scanning through the images might be the best way to actually find a copy. Unlike searching for, say, a 1972 Sunburned Magician US Games Rider Tarot deck on eBay…you don’t exactly have a lot of deck specific keywords for the J.K. Waite. Part of this problem is because the deck doesn’t have a true official name, but the other part is that the only title it has—Tarot Deck and Book⁠—are words so generic they are bound to be part of nearly every tarot listing. Searching by the author’s name⁠—Alexandria Mokusei-ou⁠—is similarly broad because he is a prolific author and deck creator, and therefore you will still find dozens of different books and decks and hundreds of listings if you search his name. In the end, there are not really any strong key words that will directly lead you the handful of listings for the J.K. Waite. On the bright side, the lack of easy keywords means you have a good chance of finding a copy that is being sold for very little. If you do want to try to narrow the search, however, these are some of the more useful terms:

tarot book and cards
(the ostensible title of the deck)
タロット 本とカード
tarot introduction and fortune telling
(the subtitle on the accompanying red book)
Alexandria Mokusei-ou (Jupiter King)
(the deck creator)
Alexandria Mokusei-ou’s name
on the green box cover
Seigan (Seikan) Nakajima
(the deck illustrator)
Seigan (Seikan)靖侃
Tairiku Shobou
(the deck publisher)

Over the last six months or so, J.K. Waite decks have usually sold on Yahoo Auctions for somewhere between 2800 and 6000 yen (about $25 to $55 USD). There are certainly bargains to be had, though. I won my own J.K. Waite for 1500 yen ($14.80 at the time). It was a pristine 4th printing still in its original shrink wrap, so excellent cards can be found for under the average price range. If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of trying to find a deck on auction, you can also check out Amazon Japan’s listing for the deck. The decks are almost always more expensive on Amazon than they are at auction—generally 8000 to 17000 yen (about $75 to $160 USD)—but they will still end up being less in the end than buying a deck in the US or Europe.

EMS package

I adore labels on international packages, especially when they have an alphabet I can’t make heads or tails of.

The total cost of the deck will have at least one more component, though: shipping. Shipping from Japan can be very expensive. A small 2 pound package (pretty close to what this deck will weigh once packaging is factored in) with 2-5 business day FedEx delivery to the US East Coast can be over $90. There are, however, a lot more economical options. (In fact, I don’t think anyone defaults to FedEx.) The company EMS also offers a 2-5 business day option, and their rate for a small 2 pound package is about $27.50. Similar rates with other shipping options (such as Parcel Post Airmail or SAL) also hover around the $30 mark, but have a much longer shipping window than EMS. Seamail options can be the most affordable at around $15, but the item can take 1-3 months to arrive…and a lot of handling damage can happen during that time. In general, it’s a good idea to go with EMS, and it is easy enough to mentally add $30 to the purchase price of a deck to get a generous estimation of shipping outside Japan.

Once you have found a deck and are ready to bid on it or purchase it, you will likely find that you can’t actually buy it. I’m not sure why, but it’s really tricky for most Japanese vendors to accept payment from shoppers outside Japan. You could actually buy many Japanese decks (and other items, too) fairly painlessly from Amazon Global, but the J.K. Waite is only sold on Amazon through third party vendors, so it is not eligible to be sold through Global.

There’s pretty much two options at this point. If you have a friend living in Japan, you can politely ask them to bid on your auction, receive the package, and then mail it onto you. Or you can use a proxy buying service, which is just a company that does all of that but also lets you avoid calling in an awkward favor.

White Rabbit Express is an excellent proxy service that will allow foreigners to make purchases in Japan, and they make the process dead easy.

There are a few proxy buying services for Japan, but I think White Rabbit Express is the most user friendly of the lot. Their website is incredibly comprehensive and answers practically every question you could have, not only for their service but also on how to use it to buy from the various large vendors. They also have excellent (and timely, once you factor in a big time difference!) responses if you contact them directly.

The way White Rabbit’s proxy service works is that you give them the URLs of the things you want them to buy, and then describe the item and the price. This helps avoid mistakes from accidentally entering the wrong URL. You then pay for the item and White Rabbit’s service fees. White Rabbit’s representatives then buy it and store it in a mailbox in their warehouse for you. When all your various orders are in and you’re ready for them to mail the items to you, they pop everything in a box and ship it to you with the shipping company you choose. If you’re buying many items, this practice of combining many orders into one large package saves money as the first kilogram in international shipping is the most expensive; the weight to price ratio gets smaller beyond that. In the end, White Rabbit will give you two different charges per transaction. The first charge consists of the retail price of the item, the domestic shipping to the White Rabbit Express warehouse, and White Rabbit’s handling fees. The second charge is for the international shipping to you.

I found White Rabbit’s fees to be pretty reasonable. At the time I purchased my J.K. Waite, White Rabbit charged a $4 per shop (total order) fee and a $1 per item fee. They also charge a service free of 9.9% of your item(s) purchase price. If your total purchase price is below about $40, then you are only charged an $8 minimum total fee (which includes the shop and item fees). It’s really not that bad. If you were asking a friend to order and mail your items, you’d probably gift them that much or more as a thank you for their trouble.

There’s only two things to keep in mind when using this proxy service. The first is that if you’re bidding on an auction, you give White Rabbit your maximum price up front as they will only submit one bid (they promptly refund any difference once the auction closes, including the entire cost if you do not win). The second is that while you can place an order 24/7, White Rabbit only operates during their business hours. There’s a huge time difference between Japan and the US East Coast, too: 10 A.M. Friday morning in Tokyo is 9 P.M. Thursday in New York City. There’s no last minute bidding using a proxy service, so I would recommend only bidding on auctions that have at least 24 hours left before they end…maybe even 48 to 72 hours if you’re shopping on Friday. That should give White Rabbit’s representatives plenty of time to register your bid.

I can’t get enough of these cards.

When I went through this whole process to buy my deck, I won my auction for $14.80 USD and White Rabbit’s fees and domestic shipping within Japan totaled $12.86. I could have chosen a cheaper international shipping option, but I did want to go with EMS, and that came to $25.84. So the deck came to $53.50 all in, and it only took 5 days from the time the auction ended to when the deck arrived at my front door. Compared to the hundreds it would cost to purchase the deck in the United States, I consider my purchase a total steal.

The J.K. Waite is a fabulous deck, and the inflated pricing on English-language websites shouldn’t keep those who are interested in it from securing a copy of their own. While I wouldn’t say these decks are readily available on Japanese sites, they’re not exactly the rarest decks either. From what I’ve seen, one or two a month come up for auction. Hopefully others who are interested in this amazing deck will benefit from my experience of tracking one down. It certainly was not a quick process for me to figure out!

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