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Record Stores of the World #12 : Tokyo, Japan

Jeb Taylor

Tokyo is said to have the most record stores of any city in the world so for many crate diggers it’s at the top of the list of places to go searching for vinyl. Arriving in the city late in the evening the Japanese capital has a very efficient and easy to use train system which makes firstly finding my hotel easy, but also bides well for exploring the various neighbourhoods of the city. My hotel is called Turn Table which is pretty fitting seeing my main purpose of this visit is to check out record stores, the check in counter has it’s own turntable with a rack of record proudly on display behind the counter.

Face Records

I’m staying in Shibuya so it makes sense to begin my record store hunt there, and it’s a pretty solid place to start. First up is Face Records, in a smallish laneway, the shop has a welcoming and easy to find entrance (something not a lot of stores in this city share, more on that later), inside while fairly small is really well stocked an decently priced. Leaning more toward soul, hip hop, reggae and the like, I quickly discover that the condition grading of second hand records in Japan is far superior to any other place I’ve been to. A couple of nineties RnB classics ticked off from my want list and I don’t need to venture too far to find the next store.

Manhattan Records

Across the small laneway is a whole building seemingly filled with small independent record stores. The first on the ground level is Next Records, with a huge selection of mainly dance music it has clearly out-grown it’s tiny little pace though as you really have to look through the non-displayed records to get to some of the gold. The building also houses a number of very small specialist stores, some of them barely marked and you almost feel you’re walking into someones lounge room as opposed to an actual shop. If you have some time they are all worth a dig through the somewhat chaotic and crowded layouts of the place. Just down the street is Manhattan Records, it is one of the best laid out and easy to find shops that I discover in Tokyo, with a focus on hip hop, rnb, and dance music, it’s a must visit on the Tokyo store list.

Tower Records

Record shopping in Japan is a little different to everywhere else and that is because the big chain type stores are extremely well stocked in second hand vinyl, in most other countries, these sort of stores mainly stock new releases and classic best sellers. Sticking with this formula somewhat is Tower Records, the once legendary US chain now only exists in Japan in a multi story behemoth of a shop, while vinyl is limited and they only stock new records, you will find stock of most new vinyl you could want.

Disk Union

Still in Shibuya and on to the second hand stores that do stock second hand vinyl and starting with Disk Union. The Japanese chain has a multi-story building here that has different floors dedicated to various genre’s, with the majority of these floors having an exceptional selection of mainly second hand vinyl. Just down the road and a store I never thought I’d be writing about in this blog is HMV, but unlike what you know of them in the UK, Japan’s HMV outlets have an amazing array of second hand vinyl, I’m suddenly ticking off a huge amount of releases from my want list! Last but definitely not least in Shibuya is Recofan, hidden away on the fouth floor of what is basically a department store building, the simple sign that said ‘cds, records, dvds’ didn’t leave me expecting much but I was totally blown away with what was inside. Thousands upon thousands of used records of every genre imagineable. There are albums here I’ve never seen on vinyl before and many others I have not seen for a long time. That rounds out the Shibuya neighbourhood, time for some ramen, a beer and a look back at all the records I picked up across the day.

City Country City

It’s a new day and it’s the middle of summer here in Tokyo so I set out to the neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa with the temperature well over thirty degrees celcius, the first stop though is the local Disk Union and the air con is thankfully cranked up. Although smaller than the shop in Shibuya it is still incredibly well stocked with second hand vinyl and my want list continues to get titles crossed off. Shimokitazawa is well worth just spending some time walking around the small streets and laneways as you’ll find plenty of great hidden vintage clothing stores, café’s and bars. Shout out to City Country City, a small little record store come café up a few levels in an old building that does a great coffee along with having some solid stock, and for some post record shopping drinks Little Soul Café is the place. Back to the record stores and Flash Disk Ranch is probably the biggest of them in the neighbourhood. Make your way up an old set of stairs and you’ll find a haven of used records across most styles, it’s pretty cramped for space but has a very much old record store feel. General Record Store was an easier to find one that was really well organised and set out, definitely check out their really great range of 7”s, and not to far away is the small but well stocked Jet Set Records.

General Record Store

Shinjuku is the next destination but first up there is stop halfway between Shibuya and Shinjuku and that is the fairly legendary Big Love Records. Hidden away in a small laneway and up a few flights of stairs, the shop that also has a small bar and coffee machine has become home to indie rock in Tokyo, as evidenced by the signed album covers on the wall of artists who have visited the shop, a who’s who of Pitchfork best new music artists almost! There are some great records in the racks and it also has a welcoming and friendly vibe just to hang out. Moving on to Shinjuku and the area is dominated by Disk Union. There are four different locations in the one little area dedicated to different genre’s. If you’re pushed for time head to the multi story main store but if you have some more digging time, there there is a great ‘rock vinyl’ Disk Union where you’ll come across some real great finds that a bunch of the other shops don’t have. The HMV here is also immense, housed on the upper floor of a department store, the used vinyl selection in here is really incredible. It’s actually hard to imagine how the smaller stores survive with these massive outlets around but shops like NAT Records have carved a niche with punk and heavier music, while Strangelove stock mainly CD’s but has some vinyl.

Big Love Records

Koenji is the final neighbourhood I check out on this Tokyo visit and it feels like a more punk rock neighbourhood with some great music venues and evidenced by the first store I visit, BASE Records. The true punk rock specialists of Tokyo, the store is hard to find as it’s basically around the back of a building and up an elevator, but once you get in there you’ll find an amazing array of all genre’s of punk and hardcore released via all sorts of labels from across the world. Not too far away is another great little hole in the wall shop called EAD. It stocks a small but quality range of second hand vinyl. Be In Records is located on the second level of a building in quite a large space that is over flowing with mainly classic second hand records but the prices are a bit on the high side. Worth a look if you are looking for something in particular, especially from the 60s or 70’s. Rounding it out, Sub Store, a space that is probably more café/venue than store but does have some records for you to check out, the ideal place hang out at the end of your day looking around Koenji.

A building of record stores in Shibuya

That was Tokyo, I’m sure there are plenty more stores to get to but that will have to wait for part two! For any crate digger it is a must visit city, the second hand stock is second to nowhere, the city once you get in the swing of it is really easy to navigate, and you can always end your day with a great feed. I picked up a bunch of records spanning all styles, some classics that were just not in my collection for some reason, others that I'd totally forgotten about until I saw them in the shop and a few from my want list. Here is a very diverse playlist of tunes from some records I found, starting with sixties pop and vaguely moving through the decades with punk, hip hop, rnb, electro pop and a bunch of other stuff in between.

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