Question About 通販 / "Mail Order"

When I look up this word, it appears that it’s also used for online shopping (for things that will be delivered physically). In the modern day I would imagine that this meaning is the more common one in the modern day. “Mail order” in English refers only to ordering things by post, like you might do when looking at a physical catalogue with an order form. While I believe this is more prevelant in Japan still than overseas (or in the US at least), and therefore worth having as an accepted definition, surely there should be an alternative meaning for the more common online shopping usage.

Correct me if I’m wrong about the Japanese or English usage of these terms. I figured I’d post here rather than in the WaniKani feedback subforum simply because I’m not so confident that I’m correct as to demand a change.


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Aren’t you ordering by mail when you buy something online? :thinking:

Though having both would be better.


The only times I can think of seeing mail order in English is mail order brides, which I think would fit the Japanese usage since most mail order brides nowadays are found via online. That could just be a product of me not having money in the US until things were more firmly in the digital age.

Now I live in Japan and

absolutely. There seem to be a lot of mail in things in manga and magazines too

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It’s coming by mail sure, but at least based on the English term definitions I found online, mail order refers to placing the ORDER by mail as well.

I think we still use “mail order brides” because it’s the term that was popularized during the time of mail order. It continues to be used even though the circumstances of the ordering have changed because it’s a set compound noun/phrase at this point.

EDICT defines 通販 as “online shopping; e-commerce; mail order”. The first two glosses were added in 2015, and the ‘mail order’ gloss was demoted to last place in the order in 2020. It’s quite possible that WK just took the EDICT definition from pre-2015 and haven’t updated it since.


I don’t know much about the English definition of “mail order” because I’m not a native, but the word 通販 in Japanese was already in use for ordering by mail (such as from a catalogue as you suggested) before online shopping was a thing.

That’s why インターネット通販 or more commonly ネット通販 are perfectly normal expressions in Japanese. Although with time online shopping is growing to become the only 通販 that exists (as the EDICT update pointed by @pm215 shows), originally there is a 通販 category that has インターネット通販 as one of its modalities.


Yeah, the difference seems to be that Japanese expanded the sense of the word it was using for old-style catalogue-by-post sales to cover the new internet world, whereas English has coined new phrases for that, leaving ‘mail order’ still covering largely just its old territory.


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