Record Shopping Tokyo Style, パート2 (Part 2)

As a vinyl junkie, obviously one of the most exciting things about traveling to a new city is the prospect of hitting up some of the local used record stores. This is even doubly true when you travel to a new country, since that means that you’re even more likely to discover entirely new-to-you bands and sounds. So of course I was stoked about our trip to Japan, and I had an enjoyable time on day one of record shopping in Tokyo. My only regret, of course, is my lack of a turntable to play my new purchases on – while they apartment we rented for the week has everything from a rice cooker to heated toilet seats, it unfortunately does not have a record player.

Disk Union, Ochanomizu, Tokyo

The other night we decided to walk down to the Ochanomizu area about a mile south of our apartment to check out the handful of Disk Union stores there. And I’m glad we did. While the hard rock/heavy metal store was small and stocked exclusively with CDs and DVDs, the areas “main store” was a great stop. The store, like most here in Tokyo, is relatively small in terms of floor space, but they filled up as much of it as the could while still leaving at least a little room to move around. It was actually pretty busy at 7:30PM as well, with maybe 40 or so people inside, most of them briskly flipping through the decent sized vinyl section. I, of course, was laser focused on the records; Holly was people watching. “There are about 40 people in this store. Exactly three of them are women… and two of them are working here,” she noted. And damn if she wasn’t right. Not a single woman shopper. Which, come to think of it, was true in the other music stores we’ve visited other than Tower Records.

As you can see, I did pretty well. Or at least I think I did – I guess I’ll know for sure when I get all this stuff home, cleaned, and on the turntable. The punk section at this Disk Union was robust, and I also stumbled across three cardboard boxes of records on a folding table in the corner of an aisle that had a wide assortment of genres, including some Swedish and Finnish punk (go figure). Like my experience the other day, for the most part I didn’t experience a lot of sticker shock with the Japanese bands or pressings, though there were plenty of American and UK punk 7″ers that were spendy, like a few hundred dollars for The Stooges’ Fun House. Prog/classic rock/punk originals seem to carry some pretty stiff premiums here in Tokyo, though admittedly I’m no expert since I’m not generally into rarity for its own sake – if I can get a later issue for a lot cheaper, I almost always will. I’m not being judgmental, mind you; just cheap. I was finding plenty of interesting stuff in the $5-15 price range, and maybe “splurged” as high as about $25. Supply and demand I guess.

From Japan I ended up with some punk by Trouble and Gloom, as well as some, some drum n bass from カストロ, and post-punk by Sōgo Ishii & Bacillus Army Project. I also went further afield with Sweden’s Totalitär, Kansan Uutiset from Finland (Scandinavian punk is probably my favorite), and even something from Brazil with Cólera. I need to give props to Disk Union as well for having arguably one of the coolest record bags for sale that I’ve seen – a super thick black vinyl (feels almost like leather) carry bag with big reinforced metal loop hand-holds. No shoulder strap, but a good looking, sturdy bag… that Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane advised she will be using as a laptop bag when we get back home.

So far so good for vinyl in Tokyo. I’m looking forward to seeing what we find in Kyoto a few days from now.

Record Shopping Tokyo Style

Life in the Vinyl Lane is spending about two weeks in Japan, and that of course means that I’ll be taking advantage of the opportunity to check out the local vinyl scene. There isn’t a ton of info out there, at least not in English, though a few other bloggers have done good jobs in covering the bases, at least for the biggest and easiest to find stores.

We’d been “warned” about many things prior to our trip to Japan, from the cost to the crowds to the difficulty in finding your way around. So far after being here for three days though I have to say it’s not as challenging as I expected. Yes, figuring out what street you’re on can be hard sometimes, and like any other city it’s crowded, especially at certain times of day. But for the most part we haven’t had a hard time navigating and everyone has been polite to a fault. As for the prices… well, we’ve spent time in places like Reykjavik and Stockholm, so there hasn’t been a lot of sticker shock here. Beer prices are usually a good gauge, and a draft will usually run you between $3.50 and $7, which is a bit spendy (depending on where you are), but not crazy.

The record shopping this far has been just OK. I’m pretty much only interested in buying stuff for Japanese bands and labels, stuff I can’t get at home, so that has kept me focused, but focus hasn’t been too big of a deal since most of the shops have been relatively small. There are a few I popped into that don’t make the list below, but here’s a look at the places where I actually bought stuff.

Tower Records, Shibuya, Tokyo

Who remembers spending countless hours at a Tower Records? Because this guy does. I have no idea how many CDs and DVDs (and even a few records) I bought at the one in Bellevue, Washington, or how much money I spent there. Frankly given my spending habits it’s amazing the chain went bankrupt, but it did. But fear not, music fans, because you can relive that experience in Tokyo’s Shibuya district! Well, sort of. It’s kind of like the old Tower Records but in a kind of Japanese over-the-top style. I think it’s eight floors high, but I spent all my time on the 3rd floor where the Japanese artists were to be found – J-Pop, J-Punk, and J-Indie. It was almost all CDs and DVDs of newer stuff, though there was one box of Record Store Day leftovers at the register and a couple of brand new releases were available on vinyl. I bought a couple of CDs – a comp from Kegawa no Maries and another called I Got My “Mono” Working that is a lot of rockabilly and surf style stuff, but didn’t find anything of interest in vinyl. The CD sections appear well stocked, though I have to admit I never got to the other floors.

Big Love Records, Harajuku, Tokyo

Big Love is a little bit of everything. It’s a cool little record store. And it’s a label. And it’s a little bar where you can have choose from a few different draft beers when you’re taking a break from digging. The emphasis here is on post-punk, industrial, electronic, ambient… some of the stuff on the moodier side of music. The majority of the shop (which is pretty small) is new vinyl, but there’s a smattering of used as well, along with a handful of cassettes and CDs (and let’s not forget the previously mentioned tap handles!). I tried to stick local here as well, though I did pick up some of the label’s releases of non-Japenese bands, like their relatively new Destruction Unit 7″ (“The Holy Ghost” / “The Church of Jesus Christ”) and a 12″ from Geneva Jacuzzi. Definitely worth the stop if you’re into vinyl and this type of music. Big Love is kind of hidden away in a residential neighborhood, but we didn’t have much trouble finding it. Plus it has beer to cool you off when you get there. Did I mention the beer?

Disk Union, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Disk Union is the big indie type “chain” in Japan, with a number of locations spread out over Tokyo. We chose to hit up those in the Shinjuku area, since there are supposed to be about five or six different Disk Unions within a few blocks of each other – real estate is hard to come buy in Tokyo, so getting all your product under one roof is tough. According to the info I found online there was a punk/metal specialty location in addition to the main store and the used store… but as you can see, all that awaited us at the punk/metal location was a disappointment (see left), one made all the worse for the fact that it was a warm day and we climbed five flights of stairs to get there. But fear not, we located the metal store’s new location a few blocks away. This time we were also smart enough to take the elevator, and found ourselves inside a very compact and very full little shop. The vinyl was limited to around 7-8 bins so it didn’t take me long to go through, and they had the Japanese stuff in its own section which helped. I picked up a handful of random used 1980s metal records which were more or less reasonably priced – generally running about $4-8. I’m sure I’ll get what I paid for… but it’s something different.

From there we headed over to the used store a few blocks away. The vinyl selection here was much larger, though still not particularly big – the entire shop (including the used CDs) was probably the size of an average used store at home. Things were broken out by genre with the Japanese stuff segregated, and I ended up with around a half dozen random records and one CD by time it was all done. Prices were all over the board, and while most of my stuff was still in the $5-10 range I did splurge on a double album by The Birthday that set me back about $40. Some of the “imports” were really steep, with my buddy telling me he saw records by some classic rockers in the $100+ range.

I have to confess that overall I was a bit let down – I was hoping to find more cool Japanese vinyl, but maybe I just don’t know what to look for… or where to look. That being said, I still got to spend an enjoyable half day digging, and suspect I’ll hit up a few more places over the course of the next week, so maybe there are still some gems out there waiting for me.