This is not going to be an exhaustive post. It’s certainly not a definitive guide to how to buy records in Japan. There are other sites with better overviews of the many record stores that operate in Japan. One that Mr Hicks and I refer to is the Record Stores blog at blog.cdandlp.com which focuses on Tokyo (a lot of the links below are to pages on this site).
This post is about record shops we’ve been to. Mr Hicks likes a good record shop. I don’t mind one, but I’m less of a browser than my other half. I like to know what I’m looking for, if you take my meaning.
Although record prices in Japan are higher than they are in the UK, if you’re a fan of Japanese music, then saving space in your luggage to stock up on CDs and vinyl makes sense when you take into account how much more expensive it is to import records from Japan to the UK using online record stores.
The first record shop we went to in Japan was a branch of Tower Records up Inokashira Dori (take exit 6-2 from Shibuya station). It was an eye opener to how Japanese record stores promote music, with not just listening posts but video displays as well. These are two of the displays that I was taken with in 2009.
We’ve been to Tower Records in Hiroshima as well, where I misunderstood their special offer pricing and caused a bit of embarrassment at the till. Based on how offers work in British record stores, and not being able to understand the array of kanji explaining the offer on the stickers, I thought I was buying 3 CDs for 1500円. We pooled our purchases and blanched when the total came to more than 16,000円. It turned out that the offer was 500円 off the price of each CD when you bought 3 or more. It took the assistant on the till calling his manager, whose English was better than his (his English was still better than my Japanese), to explain to me patiently, and with an unnecessary amount of apologising, what the deal actually was. By the time we sorted it all out and they realised that we were still going to buy the albums (£120 in person with no shipping was still cheaper than ordering online and paying import duty), she was laughing and gave me a voucher that would get me 300円 off any purchase of 3000円 or over, but only in the Hiroshima branch of Tower Records. The voucher is firmly stuck into my holiday journal.
My husband also managed to find some music in the Giga store next to Hiroshima Station, but I didn’t venture up to the second floor with him. He bought something for a friend that cost him a few pounds but would have cost closer to £20 if he’d bought it online. So taking a look in megastores like Giga and Book Off can sometimes be worth it.
Records can be found in the most unexpected of places, as well. Back in 2010, as we were wandering between Kinkakuji and Ryoanji, we came across a small antique shop where my husband picked up a couple of original Gundam soundtracks for 1000円 each.
The first truly Japanese record shop we went to was Jet Set in Kyoto. The store is located on Kawaramachi Dori on the east side of Kyoto, opposite the Royal Hotel. You can have a little explore on Google maps if you put its location details into the search box. I liked this record shop very much. We have been to the Shimokitazawa branch in Tokyo as well, which is a lot smaller and harder to find. Both have listening posts and staff recommendations and do tie-ins to things like Record Store Day and international music festivals. I’ve bought some good stuff from both branches purely because I was able to listen to tracks in the store.
Round the corner from the Kyoto branch of Jet Set we found a curious vinyl shop that seemed to specialise in 80s post punk and new wave, although my husband remembers it as a Hip Hop shop. Maybe it’s like the shop in Mr Benn and caters to whatever musical genre is in your head as you walk through the door. If I hadn’t been so conscious of luggage weight limits, I could have stocked up on rare and relatively cheap New Order records! It was a pretty small shop and I didn’t feel comfortable taking photographs. The shop is called Vinyl7 and it’s located on Aneyakoji Dori at the Kawaramachi Dori end. We headed south from Jet Set, on the hunt for Art Rock No.1, but got side-tracked by the sign for Vinyl7, so Art Rock No.1 was never gained!
We tried to find Parallax records instead, which the internet reliably informed us shared a basement with Cafe Independants on Sanjo Dori and Gokomachi Dori in the 1928 Building. When we got there, however, there was no record shop to be found. Only the delightful Cafe Independants where we later returned for food.
The Shimokitazawa branch of Jet Set is a short stroll away from a branch of Yellow Pop. Again, I didn’t take any photographs because it was very cramped, even though the page on cdandlp.com says it’s spacious! It has a good range of stock, from J-Pop to Jazz to Hip Hop and beyond, and we had a good old mooch through the CDs and vinyl. I came away empty handed but Mr. Hicks picked a couple of things up that are hard to find at home.
There a loads of record stores in Shimokitazawa, which is a hip area to the west of Tokyo, but we only managed to go into Jet Set and Yellow Pop. Next time we’re in Tokyo, we’re heading that way again, but doing it right. Only record shops, and only after the best part of the day is gone, because Shimokita is a late hours kind of place, full of live music venues. Our first venture out that way was too early in the day!
Similarly, there are loads of records stores in Shibuya. I can’t remember the names of half the little independent and second hand stores we wandered around at the back of the big Tokyu Hands store, but if you find yourself on a series of steep, narrow streets and you see the graffiti in the image below (assuming it hasn’t been painted over/replaced in the time that has passed since I took the photo in 2009), you’ll know you’re in the right area! I recall going in one that specialised in reggae, another that was all about dance music and record decks, and another that was full of pre-loved jazz records.
Recofan in the BEAMS building in Shibuya is a huge store, with CDs on shelves and albums in bins and boxes across the floor. It gets cosy in there, trying to navigate your way around the aisles and find space to browse. I got a few bargains in the used section, as well as a couple of new releases, and Mr. Hicks stocked up on Japanese Techno in this shop.
Beyond Shibuya, we’ve been to a couple of record shops in Ikebukuro. Disk Union is one we’ve been to a couple of times and had success in. It’s easy to find, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the main JR station. We’ve tended to take the back stairs to the fourth floor of the building, because waiting for the lift takes forever.
Osaka’s Den Den Town has a decent array of second hand record stores. My husband picked up some hard-to-find-in-the-UK Zazen Boys CDs at one. A lot of them look anonymous, or are disguised as DVD shops, so you have to keep your eyes peeled and have the spirit of nothing ventured nothing gained. We didn’t brave Amerika Mura, where there are apparently record shops galore in the winding streets and alleyways. As Osaka and I don’t really get along, it’s unlikely that Mr. Hicks is likely to get a chance to explore this area, either!
Village Vanguard is a good bet for music. CDs are often played in the store as you shop, and there are small listening posts in surprising places. We’ve been to branches in Kyoto, Odaiba (DiverCity) and Aomori. The stores are worth visiting even if you’re not looking for music, as they are eclectic in the extreme.
We found a surprising music shop (I think it was called Record Store Pax) on the third floor of the Narita Bookstore in Aomori as well. It’s on Shinmachi Dori, just up from Hakko Dori, should you ever find yourself in Aomori.
So there we have my scattershot round up of places we have looked for and bought records in Japan.