one of the longest running and most consistent posts on Soul Safari is undoubtedly ‘Diggin’ in Japan’. Some are written by myself, other posts are first hand experiences by my friend and dedicated collector MP Flapp. All visits are documented with lots of tips on how to travel to Japan, how to get around within the cities, where to find the best places to eat, to chill and spend your cash…. no detail is spared!
The latest in the series is Mp Flapp’s report of his journey through the land of the rising sun and the many record stores in Japan, updated version 2018.
On the Vinyl trail in Tokyo, update December 2018
Part One: Forever Changes (Tokyo)
I believe the last time I put pen to paper with respect the hunt for musty vinyl in Japan was back in 2015. As you might expect a lot has changed on the Japanese vinyl trail since then… This trip was a particularly a good one as the adventure started in Amsterdam in a late night café with this blogs author Eddy De Clercq and Japanese DJ Jun following a fantastic party playing records in the adult kindergarten as part of the Wonderland event at the Paradiso on 14th December 2018. One of those events where the conversation naturally arrives as record shops both past and present… the places where unexpected treasures are found or the proprietor is always good at highlighting recommendations based on what you’ve selected to listen to or buy…
It would have been a missed opportunity (you never know what you might find) if the next morning DJ Jun and I hadn’t taken a quick tour of a subset of Amsterdam’s record shops before our respective flights… his back to South Africa and mine to Japan via Vienna and Frankfurt…
FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS I USED TO ARRIVE AT TOKYO’S NARITA AIRPORT WHICH IS SITUATED ABOUT 90 MINS OUTSIDE THE CITY…
after an epic overnight flight or en-route home with cases full of records it’s a bit of a long journey to and from the airport to the city centre. On the last couple of trips I’ve opted to fly to Haneda instead as the airport is within 20 min of the city centre by metro. It also has the advantage of being about 30/40 Euros by taxi from many central hotel locations. Flights to Haneda are about the same price as Narita Airport from Europe; at times they can be cheaper. A number of flights to Haneda from Europe arrive around lunchtime as opposed to 8 am meaning it’s possible to check-in to the hotel on arrival. In addition, with Haneda being so close to the city centre, there is no need to exchange your JR travel voucher for a Japan Rail Pass on arrival. Arriving at Narita it makes sense to obtain the JR travel pass to save buying a ticket for the train from the airport to the city centre.
This trip is a few days less than previous years. The loose agenda is to spend a day and a half in Tokyo, travel down to Osaka, go on to Fukuoka before return to Osaka for a few more days then back to Tokyo for a day before catching the flight home.
On arrival, bags dropped at the hotel there is just under half a day left to go digging. From the hotel it’s possibly to go in a sort of short circle by metro and take in two locations (Shinjuku and Ochanomizu) both with a high concentration of stores before returning to the hotel.
In Shinjuku there are two clusters of stores either side of main train station. Short on time the focus is on the south-east side of the station and the pocket of Disk Union stores… with more time a trip to Dub Store on the other side of the station is more than recommended. My interest in Japanese music has changed quite a bit over the last few years… first port of call these days is the Disk Union Japanese Pop (Kayoukyoku) basement store… always loaded with great 45s and given it’s end of the year, the premium 60s/70s stock is out… often records that very rarely appear on-line are on display… not always cheap, but in person you can check the condition and quality. Depending on how busy the store is you can give batches of five to seven records a listen to ensure they are as expected…
A couple of floors above the Japanese Pop store is the Disk Union soundtrack store… again always worth a visit… not that I’m big on CDs, but there are some Japanese soundtrack music from the 60s/70s that was never released at the time and only issued on CD at a later date… always worth having a look just in case… with the advent of relatively cheap one-off lathe cut 45s there’s not harm in buying the CD and cutting a couple of the tracks (edited or not) to a one copy 45…
A few hundred meters up the street from the first location is the main Disk Union store in the area. The store is split over eight floors, covers near ever genre imaginable from almost every corner of the planet. I usually do the basement location first as it covers Japanese releases both old and new. There is a small crossover in stock with the Japanese Pop store, but in general the selection in unique to this location. From here it’s up to seventh floor of punk then down through the New Wave/Avant-Garde on the sixth floor to the Latin, Brazilian, African and Reggae on the fifth floor before finishing up in the Progressive Rock selection on the fourth floor.
There are another three Disks Union stores in the area worth visiting depending on your taste: the Dance store covering everything from Soul to Techno, the Rock Store split over two floors covering rock in its many forms and the General Store which is completely across the board. To do all of these stores on a half day you kind of need to be going through the racks fairly quickly and selectively. It’s fairly easy to get side tracked and spend a lot of time waiting to hear records. The listening policy is enforced quite strictly when the stores are busy. At weekends or early evening it’s easy to end up in a queue of six or seven people and lose 30/40 minutes waiting. The best approach is make a note of titles that are unknown, try and check them on-line or keep the listening to early morning visits, soon after the store has opened.
Next stop Ochanomizu which is a short ride on the Chuo from Shinjuku. In a couple of hours you can do about seven stores before closing time which varies between 8pm and 9pm. There are a few more record stores in the area coupled with some fantastic book stores, but that tour requires quite a bit more time to do.
The first stop is the Jazz Disk Union which is five minutes’ walk from Ochanomizu station. There is a bit more than Jazz going on here as the annex on the same floor covers a broad selection of Japanese groove, Latin and funk. However, if it’s Jazz you’re looking for this is the place to come based on volume of stock and range on offer. One of the most notable changes over the years has been the change in interest from overseas Jazz to domestic Jazz. Gone are the days when Japanese Jazz records were easy to find at sensible prices… releases on Three Blind Mice, in top condition with OBI and booklet are now near impossible to find at regular prices.
A short walk from the Jazz Disk Union is the main Disk Union store in the area… it’s a fairly broad genre crossing selection, but the real gems are in the selection of domestic releases in stock. The overseas Folk, Psych and Progressive Rock sections are worth a mention as they tend to be loaded with items you only see on-line or at record fairs in Europe. The records are suitably priced, but it is nice to see these records appear as shop stock.
My favourite 45 store, Orient is about 15mins walk from Disk Union down the hill in Kanda. It’s not the size of the store that makes the place so good, it’s the range of domestic releases from the 50s through to the 80s… it’s a curated selection that tends to be in top condition. There isn’t the ability to listen to records in store, so you need to know what you are looking for. That said it’s fairly straight forward to find clips on-line.
Walking towards Jinbocho from Orient there are four store of note: a further Disk Union, Tacto – Showa Music, Fuji Record Sya and the highlight Record Sya. Record Sya was established in 1930 and is affiliated to the Fuji Record Sya store. It’s possibly not a store for the hipster, but for those collectors looking for something a little off the radar…
One advantages of finishing the day here is that between Record Sya and Ochanomizu station there are a myriad of places to stop to eat and drink. The better Sake places tend to be Yakitori (grilled chicken) spots. However, for the vegitarians there’s a laid back Okonomiyaki restaurant in the area that is hard to beat. Okonomiyaki is a highly addictive savoury pancake like disk more associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan. Until I make it further south, this is an ideal way to finish the day… sort of a flavour of things to come.
When asked where would go record shopping with a whole day to spare?
My regular response is Shibuya and Shimokitazawa. The rational being both areas are relatively close together, have a great selection of records stores, are totally different architecturally and have more to see and do that just record shopping…
Starting is Shibuya the first port of call is the basement of the main Disk Union in the area for the Jazz, rare groove, reggae and global sounds… if possibly its best to go early on a weekday close to opening time as the store is loaded with stock, but a little tight for customer space. Aside from the mix of stock what I like about this store is the broad price range… most of the stock is sensibly priced and accessibly to anyone, but for the collector there are items you very rarely see in a shop… the type of records that appear in auctions or on the wall at record fairs… often not cheap, but priced and available… The priced factor is quite a good point. There is nothing worse as a buyer than going in to one of those stores where the records aren’t priced. Anything you bring to the counter the sales assistant has to look-up on Discogs, often quoting the highest price the record sold for… this isn’t cool in the slightest… it’s a bit like buying a beer in Berlin and the barperson suggesting it’s eleven Euros as that’s the price the last beer in Tokyo sold for… if you run a store… pick a price, put it on a sticker and stick it on the record…
A short walk from Disk Union is RecoFan on the fourth floor of Beam store. It took me a while to realise why there weren’t really rare records in store. These items appear to be made available on-line via stores Yahoo Auctions presence. Even without a selection of high end records in store the shop is good for finding common titles in great condition at sensible prices…
The next stop is the local HMV shop which is little further along the street from Disk Union. One of the strangest record stores (from a stock perspective) I’ve even been too once existed on tenth floor of the building that now houses HMV on the ground floor. Manuel of Errors stocked the broadest range of left field exotica, lounge, private press and abstract electronica from the 1950s to present. Sadly the shop closed about two years ago and to the best of my knowledge there isn’t similar store anywhere in Tokyo. The HMV store may not be quite as exotic as Manuel of Errors was, but fairly hard to beat. Split over two well sized floors you can find a mix of both new and second hand stock with the ratio of new to old being 30% new and 70% used. The blend of stock is further complemented by the mix of accessibly priced and collector’s items which again are not often cheap, but are available.
The last two stops in the area I visit are Face Records and El Sur Records… two independent stores that have existed for a number of years… Face Records is about five minute walk from HMV. It’s not the biggest of stores, but it is a store for the groove heads… the short fall in physical space is complemented by a well-stocked on-line presence and regular eBay auctions…
A short walk from Face Records you’ll find El Sur Records… possibly the original purveyor of global grooves… The location of the store is relatively new, possibly three years old. The original store (also in Shibuya) was in a building that was demolished as part of the rejuvenation of the area around the station… as great as the original location was this new spot might just be a little easier to find… the store is situated on the fifth floor of a free standing block, whereas the old location was on the tenth floor of a fairly non-descript 70s building located within a unit in a veritable rabbit warren of small businesses on the floor…
Before leaving Shibuya you could do no wrong by dropping in Los Barbados (about a ten minute walk from El Sur back in the direction of the station)… it’s not big… at a push the restaurant seats eight to ten people, but has a fantastic selection of Middle Eastern and African cuisine… with a décor to match the menu…
Shimokitazawa is four stations (about ten minutes) on the Keio Line from Shibuya. The Keio Line is a private line so you can’t use a JR Rail pass, but the fare is only about 150 yen. Aside from record shopping, the area is a fairly laid back part of town to spend some time in… around the station on either side of the railway are many small streets of boutique style stores, cafes, restaurants and bars… if I make it to Shimokitazawa it’s usually the last stop of the day in as much as when the shopping is over, often punctuated by more than one coffee stop, it’s the place to eat and have a few relaxed drinks before heading back to the hotel…
Of the twelve record stores in the area only one is a Disk Union, the others are independent. Possibly the best known store in the area is Flash Disk Ranch which has existed for a many years, run by husband and wife duo Masao’s and Atsuko. The stock changes frequently and the prices are sensible. The store is less about rare records and more about regular titles available as part of deals (three records for 2000 yen type offers).
Round the corner from Flash Disk Ranch is City Country City, a hybrid record store come café with a limited, but excellent pasta centric menu. Ideal spot for a coffee stop. The weight of the stock is dance based covering Soul, Funk, Rare Groove to modern electronica.
The Disk Union in the area is well worth a visit as it has an across the board selection covering almost every musical base. There are often a serious amount of rare records in store, particularly along the back wall. Almost directly across the street from Disk Union is The General Music Store. It’s not the biggest of shops, but the stock is very well curated. They often have a good selection of rare records from a broad range of genres.
Of the other record stores in the area, the highlight is possibly Ella Records situated on the other side of the railway from the aforementioned stores. This is the second Ella store. The original store is based in Hatagaya. The Hatagaya store is not the easiest store to find and a little out of the way, but well worth a visit if time permits. The more accessible branch office in Shimokitazawa is really a great asset to the area. The store is spacious and has a great range of stock from about every genre imaginable. From a price perspective there is a great variety, everything from bargain bin to serious collectors’ items. The stock changes frequently and like a number of other stores on key dates of the year the store has themed sales of harder to find items.
The accessibility to an eclectic selection stock combined with a broad price range is possibly some of the elements that make record shopping in Japan quite desirable. Visiting a physical store is way better than browsing lists any day of the week. Another factor, particularly if you are fan of Japanese music, is that until quite recently finding what you were looking for or finding what you didn’t know existed was really a chance undertaking. Google translates has opened up access to a set of fan based blogs that provide details on both artists and releases that would have potentially slipped you by based on the language barrier and the fact for many years very little Japanese music has been covered in western publications in any detail. Basically in the old days you had to know someone with local knowledge who potentially knew the music you might be interested in and could recommend releases based on your interests or records you had already bought… sort of a translator with a degree of censorship based on the intermediates knowledge. The Japanese on-line translation is not perfect by any means, but after a while reading translated blogs its’ possible to deduce the gaps in the software’s ability. The software tends to make the same mistakes in selecting language… keep in mind a few inconsistences in language is way better than the days when there was no translation available at all…
- Compared to ten years ago where finding record stores in Japan was a sort of word of mouth exchange or a chance occurrence, today most stores have sort of on-line presence which can be translated fairly easily. One of the most useful sites is https://recoya.net/japan – use Chrome and translate the catalogue to find the stores by city. The site is kept reasonably up-to-date.
- A handy phrase to type in to google maps is “レコード店” – it means “record stores” – based on where you are matches will appear on the map as green markers. Another handy one is “フリーマーケット” which translates to “flea-market” Not a perfect science, but it does turn up places you wouldn’t expect.
- Disk Union Shop map – https://diskunion.net/st/shop/
- Record Sya – https://www.recordsha.com/
- Nagomi Okonomiyaki – https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1310/A131003/13199942/
- Yakitori and 50 Shades of Sake – https://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1310/A131003/13205392/
- Face Records – https://www.facerecords.com
- El Sur Records – http://elsurrecords.com/
- Lost Barbados – http://www7b.biglobe.ne.jp/~los-barbados
- Flash Disk Ranch – https://www.facebook.com/flashdiscranch/
- City Country City – http://city-country-city.com/
- Ella Records – http://www.ella-records.com/