Record Shopping – Osaka, Japan Style

I’ve traveled a decent amount – certainly more than most, but also less than some. By my best estimate I’ve been to roughly 40 states in the US and about 22 countries, and over the course of those journeys I’ve learned a few things. Some are actually pretty obvious – a lot of businesses are closed on Sundays, especially outside the US; be aware of your surroundings; don’t draw needless attention to yourself. Other lessons had to be learned the hard way through brutal experience. Like don’t plan on going wine tasting in Portugal on Corpus Christi Day because everything will be closed (♠). Cows are actually huge and potentially life-threateningly dangerous animals. And no matter how hungry you are do not eat a ham and cheese sandwich at the Buenos Aires Airport unless you’d like to be as sick as you’ve ever been in your life. These are important things to learn, and unfortunately most of then I learned the hard way.

Today’s lesson: A lot of stuff in Japan in closed on Wednesdays.

We arrived in Osaka on Tuesday night and Wednesday was my primary day to do some record shopping, but it turned out that not one, not two, but at least three shops on my list were closed. Because Wednesday. As such my yen were redistributed amongst other shops, so don’t cry for me Argentina; I still found plenty of great music on the trip. With that in mind, here’s a recap of sorts.

First things first. It wasn’t until our second to last stop that I ran across a copy of the 2018 Osaka Record Map, and damn if this isn’t a fabulous resource. Not only do you get detailed info on 29 different (29!!) record stories in the city, but it even shows the shops that didn’t kick in some cash to get their details included. Best guess is there at least 50 record/CD stories here. Sure, most are small, and many are very genre specialized, but so what?! That’s a lot of music stores. If you can secure a copy of the map, do so. I found mine at Jackpot Records, though I’m sure it’s available elsewhere as well (you can see the map parts online on various sites including HERE). Maps, store addresses, hours… it’s all here. And one important thing to note is that Google Maps doesn’t always drop the pins in the right places – so in the immortal words of Dr. Meredith in Real Genius, “Always… no no no, never… forget to check your references.”

Tower Records
〒530-0001 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 北区梅田1丁目9-20 大阪マルビル B1F

Who else out there remembers Tower Records? Because I sure has hell do. I spent countless hours and dollars at the Bellevue, Washington location in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and while we haven’t seen them in the US for decades the chain still exists in other parts of the world. I think there are two locations in Osaka – we went to the one near Umeda train station that’s in the shadow of the Hilton Hotel. Nestled in the basement, it’s open late and is packed full of amazing CDs that you’ve probably never seen before. There’s also a small section of new vinyl, but the compact discs are the real magic here. I was stunned to see the new Dream Wife at one of the listening stations and I could have spent hours browsing all the esoteric Japanese releases of well-known artists as well as the always interesting “imports” that you can’t find in the US. We walked out with a pair of Japanese electronic releases, a two-disc MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice concert by A-Ha, and a bulky three-disc set of Metallica’s Master of Puppets – the first disc is the actual album and the other two are packed with live material from the mid to late 1980s. (♥) Can’t wait to get these home and play them. Oh, and I picked up an old school style Tower Records t-shirt for good measure! Well worth the stop if you’re still in the CD game – there’s tons of interesting stuff.

Disk Union
〒530-0001 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 北区梅田1丁目9-20 大阪マルビル B1F

A short walk from Tower is Japan’s best-known record store chain, Disk Union. Technically there are two separate Disk Union locations in Osaka, but they’re right across from one another in a small pedestrian mall so if you’re at one you’re pretty much a few dozen feet from the other. The Osaka Disk Unions have plenty of used vinyl and CDs, both Japanese versions as well as non-Japanese pressings. My biggest problem at Disk Union usually is limiting my purchases because there’s so much stuff I want in those bins. Prices aren’t cheap, to be sure, but there are still some great items to be had. I took three vinyl shots in the dark here, all on albums by Japanese artists – Rhymster’s Respect, Anarchy’s 1980 rocker ‎‎– アナーキー, and a period comp called Tokyo No Wave ’79. Plus we found a copy of X Japan’s 1993 album Art of Life on CD for something like four bucks, so we felt pretty good when we walked out the door.

Pro Tip: After you’re done shopping pop into the little tiny curry joint that is right between the two Disc Union stores. It’s a killer spot called Joryo Curry and it’s both reasonably priced and delicious.

Flake Records
〒550-0015 大阪府大阪市西区南堀江 1-11-9 SONO四ツ橋ビル201

Next up was the label/shop Flake Records. It’s a small third-floor location consisting almost exclusively of new releases. The selection leans indie and punk with most of the floor space given over to vinyl. I grabbed a copy of the new 10″ called e.p. by the Japanese punk band Faust as well as a record by the idol metal band BIS. Normally I’d avoid idol stuff but Baby Metal kind of made me change my mind a bit, and hey, if I like the way it sounds, then who cares, right?

There are a lot of shops in this general area – we managed to hit four and all were within a few blocks of one another, so the Shinsaibashi neighborhood is a great place to go if you’re limited in the amount of time you have for records shopping.

Time Bomb Records

We had some challenges trying to find Time Bomb thanks to The Googles. Fortunately however we rented a secure mobile wifi hotspot for the trip (which I highly recommend – roughly $5 a day) and figured out the shop’s actual location, which is in the basement of the Sun Bowl bowling alley.

Let me just say this – Time Bomb is the bomb. After stashing our umbrellas and walking down two flights of stairs we were greeted by one of the largest spaces we’ve seen for a record store in Asia, all perfectly laid out and organized. Each record was in its own plastic re-sealable bag with a label at the top that provided you with all the pertinent info. If you’re looking for rare and more expensive items, this is the shop. I tried to keep my focus, through, reminding myself of the limited space I have for mule-ing back records and that I’m on the lookout primarily for Japanese artists. I sort of bent that rule a little (OK, a lot) with the 1979 comp No Wave, but in my defense I thought it was made exclusively for the Japanese market (turns out it wasn’t). The other item I picked up was on Time Bomb’s own label, Japan-狂撃-Special’s 2007 I Love Punky Night. I could have spent hours here (they even had a small section specifically for Adrian Sherwood On-U pressings), but that would have required marriage counseling and a second mortgage, so I grabbed my bag and headed up the stairs.

If you’re a serious record collector and can only visit one shop in town, make it Time Bomb (below).

Compufunk Records
〒540-0031 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Kitahamahigashi, 1, GROW 北浜 ビル 北浜 ビル 2 号館 )2 階 29 1

After hitting three shops during the day (and finding two others closed because duh, Wednesday) we figured we were probably done record shopping. But when I told Holly there was a techo speciality store not too far from where we were having dinner, and that it doubled as a night club and a bar, she was game for one more outing. By now it was raining pretty steadily and the humidity made it feel like you were walking through warm Jello as you sweat like crazy, but hey, we may never make it back to Osaka again!

Compufunk is outstanding. The second floor space has a view of the river and city behind its long bar (see below) and there were two different DJ-quality listening stations. They owner picked out a handful of Japanese artists for me to check out while he spun some jams from his DJ setup. I snagged three records – Tokyo EP Vol. 1, last year’s stereociti disc Parabolic Motions, and the newly released Iam Fuck Dog by Eva Ryu. As an added bonus we got invited back for a party the following night.

Overall the Osaka record store scene exceeded my expectations – lots of great stuff on both vinyl and CD. If I’d had more money to spend and a way to bring more stuff home, I could have easily disappeared for days in the city’s collection of tiny shops.

(♠) As near as I can tell Corpus Christi Day is the Thursday following the 8th Sunday after Easter, so it’s not like something you can peg on a calendar with ease. But if you’re not careful you may turn a corner on a street in Porto and almost get clocked in the head by an eight-foot tall crucifix at the front of a procession. Let’s be safe out there.

(♥) And we went back a few days later to pick up some X Japan CDs. If you haven’t seen the documentary about the band called We Are X, check it out.