30 October 2014

Record Shopping in Tokyo - Part 1

Record Shopping in Tokyo
I am very fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo as part of my job. My recent visit in October 2014 was my third time visiting this year and reading about how Tokyo has around 700 record stores I thought I would try and squeeze in a bit of record buying while I was there.

A friend of mine has recently been posting about his favourite guitarists and one of them is a Japanese musician called Takeshi Terauchi who plays surf guitar and is notable for fronting the bands The Bunnys and The Blue Jeans.

I don’t think his records ever got released in the west, at least I don’t think they got a proper release in the UK, although a recent compilation has been put together choice cuts from the 60s and early 70s, spreading his music to curious new ears who may not have heard about him previously. With this list fresh in my mind I thought that seeing as I would be in Tokyo and planned to do some crate digging I would search out some Takeshi Terauchi records.

Tokyo is loaded with record stores from tiny rooms packed to the rafters with stacks of records to large warehouse type spaces and internationally known chain stores such as HMV and Tower Records. Thanks to a handful of really helpful blog posts I did a bit of research on the stores before I departed for Japan and focused on ones in Shinjuku and Shibuya knowing that I would be predominantly in these areas during my short work trip.

Due to time constraints, fitting in these visits around work appointments, and the vast size of Tokyo, I didn’t get the opportunity to visit all of the ones that I wanted to, which I think my wallet is thankful for. 

As a Western shopper whose understanding of the Japanese language is very limited, there were times where I couldn’t get my heard around how the records were ordered, but when I approached staff in the stores for assistance even though not many spoke any English they were all very helpful and pointed me in the correct section of the store; some would even get the LPs out of the shelves for me to take a look at. Pro tip: I found it useful to write down the name of the artist to show the staff.

In terms of the condition of the used records, I noticed that the Japanese appear to treat their records very well and the grading in the shops was very conservative. All of the records that I bought were in VG+ to almost pushing in to mint condition territory with the sleeves almost spotless too apart from a few signs of ageing.

Everything I bought and saw in the record stores was very reasonably priced too. I didn’t pay over £9 for any of the Takeshi Terauchi records, which is remarkable really. In fact that most expensive music that I bought was a new CD by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Time Records Takadanobaba
I hadn’t actually planned to go to this store. I was on my way to a meeting when I spotted a sign advertising a store selling second hand records. Once my meeting was over I popped in on my way back to Takadanobaba JR Station. This was a relatively small store compared to the others I visited, but was still well-stocked and superbly organised. After a few minutes of trying to get my head around how the records were organised I asked the man behind the register if they had any Takeshi Terauchi and he wasn’t too sure. So he rang his boss who appeared from somewhere and then proceeded to kindly look through the records until he pulled out a copy of Takeshi Terauchi and the Bunnys Let’s Go Classics as well as a seven inch. I decided to buy the LP and was gobsmacked to find that it was only 900 yen for a record that was in impeccable condition; I couldn’t see a mark on the vinyl and the sleeve looks just as fresh as they day it was originally released in 1967. Great shop and great service.
Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys - Let's Go Classics
Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys - Let's Go Classics

Recofan Shibuya
Located in the Shibuya Beam building, this is the kind of store that I could have spent hours in going through their extensive selection of records that were displayed in boxes, racks and on shelves. The shop was of warehouse size proportions and as well having lots of used and new vinyl records they also had a massive range of DVDs and CDs for sale too. There were plenty of discounted ‘bargain bins’ dotted around the floor for a spot of rummaging.  Due to the sheer vastness of the place they are able to stock a wide variety of music and from what I noticed had a good mix of both Western and Japanese music that didn’t just focus of rock, I saw hip hop and dance music sections too. As was the case in most of the stores that I visited, the majority of the labeling and signage was in Japanese meaning it took a while to get my head around where particular records could be found and how they were ordered.  When I approached the girl pricing up records about where I could find the Takeshi Terauchi records, she didn’t speak any English, but I showed her his name and she very kindly took me the correct section.  They had the largest amount of Takeshi Terauchi records out of any of the stores I visited and I ended up buying another copy of Let’s Go Classical (that I am going to gift to the friend who turned me on to his music) as well as two copies of Takeshi Terauchi and Blue Jeans Let’s Go Eleki Bushi by mistake – the original 1966 version and a 1971 re-release with gatefold sleeve. Recofan is definitely worth a visit if you plan on going record shopping in Tokyo and if you do go make sure to give yourself a fair bit of time to do so.  Highly recommended.
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi (1966)

Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi
Takeshi Terauchi and The Blue Jeans - Let's Go Eleki-Bushi (1971)

Tower Records Shibuya
Apparently (according to Wikipedia that is) Tower Records in Shibuya is one of the biggest music retail spaces in the word. I find it remarkable that living in a country where record stores are almost becoming a thing of a by-gone age, Tokyo is still able to accommodate so many different stores from chains to small independents. It’s pleasing to see Tower Records still going over in Japan and the store in Shibuya is an impressive landmark building. Unlike the other stores that I visited Tower Records sells new releases and has 9 floors rammed with CDs, DVD, Books, Comics and all sorts of merchandise. There’s also a Tower Records Shinjuku, and alongside the at least two HMVs that I saw in Shibuya, it’s pleasing to see that Japan still has a culture and desire to both pay for music and invest in the physical product. The previous two times I have visited Tokyo I have passed this store numerous times on the way to meetings but never had the opportunity to go in, so on this visit I made sure that I remedied that. I didn’t spend too long here and headed straight to the J-Pop floor to buy a copy of the latest Kyary Pamyu Pamyu album Pika Pika Fantajin. It set me back around £13 which is a bit more than what new CDs cost here in the UK and is how much they used to cost in the 90s. I don’t really buy many CDs anymore, especially for new music as I tend to buy the vinyl, but being a fan of her music I thought it made sense to buy it and especially as I don’t think it ever got a physical release over here. It took me a while to actually find her section in the racks due to the confusing way the artists were ordered; it appeared to be that some were ordered by first time while others by last.  
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Tower Records Shibuya
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu display in Tower Records Shibuya

Disc Union Shinjuku
Disc Union is a large Japanese chain store that predominantly (I think) sells used vinyl and CDs, but I also saw some cassettes when I was there too. What is probably unthinkable for a record store in the UK, they have various stores that specialise in different genres. For example in Shinjuku alone they have individual stores for genres like Heavy Metal, Latin, Jazz, Blues. I headed to the main store in Shinjuku that was spread over 8 floors of music. I didn’t spend too long here and headed for the basement which is where the Japanese related used vinyl and CDs are located. Although a narrow building, pretty much every wall and floor space was utilised for storing and displaying the records making for some very cramped conditions down in that tiny basement room. Again, I couldn’t work out where the records I was looking for were but after asking the man behind the counter he very helpfully went to the section and pulled out the records for me to look for. Their Takeshi Terauchi selection wasn’t that great to be honest and I didn’t end up buying anything, which I felt bad about as the man was really helpful. But the shop was very busy with customers and seemed to be the type of place to go to if you are up for a good rummage to find a bargain or two.

Strangelove Records Shinjuku
I actually only stumbled across this store by accident, although I had read about it on one of the blog posts I have highlighted below. I was in the Nish-Shinjuku area just North West of Shinjuku train station looking for another record store that was in an area made up of a few low-rise older looking buildings set out on a grid type arrangement. Wandering around it seemed that this area was made up of lots of interesting looking independent establishments from cafes, shops and even a recording studio. Although I didn’t actually find the record store that I was looking for I noticed a handful of interesting looking record stores, including one that specialised in dance music and another that stocked reggae and dub, so it’s definitely an area worth investigating for a spot of crate-digging if you have some time on your hands. After giving up and deciding to head back to my hotel I spotted the sign for Strangelove Records and intrigued headed up the stairs to the store. This was a long and narrow store with shelves piled to the ceiling with what seemed to be mainly bootleg CDs and DVDs. I wasn’t looking for bootlegs particularly, so I didn’t pick anything up, but they had an interesting selection and is probably worth popping in if you wanted to buy a live recording by a rock band. Most of the DVD and CDs I pulled out to look at looked to be priced at around 3,000 yen which I thought was quite pricey compared to the price of the used vinyl, but there was a Zwan recording for the bargain price of 800 yen that I now regret not buying. 

Tokyo is a vinyl lovers paradise and if I get the opportunity to go again I will definitely be making time to visit its record stores. 

I found these blog posts and websites very useful for researching which record stores to visit before my trip to Tokyo:
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