Over the last 10 years, vinyl records have come back from the pop-culture Doldrums. Since their re-emergence, we have begun to see countless old-school record stores and vinyl LP market stalls spring forth all over the world. In Japan however, the record form of music media never really died, not in the same way that it did elsewhere. The Japanese have always adhered to the principles of preserving vintage electronics, as a nation they are pretty much unparalleled in this regard.
Take Tower Records for example, a Californian record company that rose to fame in the 1960s. In 1981 they opened their first store in Japan, and the business has continued to thrive here since. Tower Records officially went into liquidation in 2006, though the Japanese branch had serendipitously separated from their parent company just four years earlier. Of course, the company has metamorphosed over the years (with a thriving CD trade in particular), but the fact that they still do such lucrative business in Japan, while similar companies around the world are filing for bankruptcy, is proof of the nation's nostalgic allegiances.
The positive upshot for record fans, is that there are still tons (and tons) of places to get your hands on vinyl in Tokyo. A common question on the lips of visiting record-lovers tends to be, "Where should I buy records?" Well, the options are literally in the hundreds, so we decided to get the opinions of 3 local DJ's—who span a variety of musical tastes—to help you on your way.
1. Ben Pearson - New_Brut
Ben Pearson is an expat from Darlington now in his eighth year as a Tokyoite. A man who indulges in his fair share of artistic pursuits, not least of which is DJing at indie rock nights in downtown Tokyo. Over a few rounds "nama futatsu" in Ebisu, he divulged some inside scoops.
Ben is lover of all kinds of music and plays everything from rock n roll to 80's disco. According to New_Brut Ben it’s difficult to put an average price on records in Tokyo, "It depends on the genre, artist, rarity, and several other factors", he admitted to me, "but some places will have deals on certain records that could cost as little as ¥500".
Where to Buy Records in Tokyo?
"First you gotta go to Tower Records in Shibuya," he told me. It's a hulking beast of a store with a vast selection of records, but more than that too. "Aside from the CD's and records it has an awesome selection of music magazines," he added, "and stick the magazines you want to read in a yellow basket." You can either purchase these, or simply read them for free over a cup of coffee at the in-house café.
"Next go to Disc Union, also in Shibuya, near the police box in Udagawacho" he explained, "they've got some amazing compilation CD's that are as cheap as anything you'll find in the store. Plus, the second-floor vinyl section has plenty of stock too." Whether you're looking for J-pop, punk, metal, jazz, soul or classical, Disc Union might just have what you're after.
"Are all of your favorites in Shibuya?" I asked.
He replied with "Oh you gotta go to RECOFAN, yea also in Shibuya. It's big. Huge. Vast." Occupying the 4th floor of the BEAM Building, RECOFAN is another beast of a record store. Although they do lean heavily into Japanese artists, variety still seems to be the spice of life here. "Also, there's a music shop below" he continued. Want to check out some artisanal, hand-crafted instruments while you're at? Looks like you're in the right place.
Ben's last Shibuya haunt is Manhattan Records, which has more of an inference on "new-age music like hip-hop and dance". This is somewhat of a rarity in the vinyl world.
He veers away from the beaten path of Shibuya with the last of his recommendations, "Last one is Disc Union in Shimokitazawa, it's even bigger than Shibuya's, in fact, it may be the flagship store." It is. "It's an artsy district too, so generally it's just a good place to rummage around."
Shimokitazawa is a funky downtown neighborhood, where nostalgia operates as a common theme among the myriad stores crammed into its vast network of narrow pedestrianized lanes. So if retro is your thing (and whose isn't?), you should be spoilt for choice down here.
2. Johnny - DJ NNY
DJ NNY is possibly better known as Johnny, the host of the unique Got Faded Japan podcast, where he and fellow expats chew the fat over their respective poisons of choice, while sharing insights about Tokyo's local news and quirky, underground subcultures.
Where to Buy Records in Tokyo?
When DJing, Johnny typically plays Drum and Bass music, which highly influences his record buying suggestions. I asked Johnny what records shop he would personally recommend. His answer was short and sweet, "Shibuya Disc Union, they specialize in everything." The vinyl section here is not only one of the densest collections in the city, but they also strive to continuously update their wares.
Shifting the question, a little I asked "Are there any places in Tokyo that you have found to be particularly lucrative when it comes to buying rare records?". He replied, rather open-endedly, "Shibuya, Shinjuku and Shimokitazawa can all be great if you're looking for rare vinyl."
Shinjuku and Shibuya are home to branches of some of the nation's biggest music store chains—Disc Union, Tower Records—as well as smaller independent chains, like the highly reputable Nat Records in Nishi Shinjuku. Shimokitazawa leans more in the direction of independent record stores that specialize in variety.
Johnny's Pro tip!
Johnny also advises, "When digging for records in Tokyo, be sure to take your time. You never know what you can find." Tokyo's record stores can be real treasure troves if you get lucky, and for the most part, they are pretty cheap treasure troves to boot!
3. Tom Eilers – TOM TOM TOKYO
Tom Eilers, aka "Tom Tom Tokyo", is a local DJ, originally from Illinois in the US, who specialises in this, that and everything else. After a life of growing up around music, he became a DJ in 2011, and has played at some of the city's most high-profile night clubs since. Though Tom plays most genres, by his own admission he's mainly "techno and house".
Where to Buy Records in Tokyo?
I asked Tom where he usually buys records in Tokyo. "Shibuya Disc Union" he said, echoing the opinions of his contemporaries, "and there are several other shops in Shibuya too. Escalator in Harajuku is a cool place for records as well, but I haven't been there for a very long time and have no idea if it's still around." You'll be glad to know that it is still around, although now it goes by the name of Big Love Records.
Big Love describes itself as an "indie record shop", specialising in vinyl, tapes and CD's in a wide variety of genres. The husband and wife owners, Naka and Haruka, hand-pick the entire in-store selection based on their own musical preferences. As a result, they are fountains of knowledge on every item placed upon the shelves. Given their admiration for Australian artists—and the fact that they serve both draught beer and craft coffee in the store—they resonate particularly well with Ozzy customers.
I asked Tom if he could share some insight on acquiring records that are typically harder to come by. Once again, a good ol' rummage around the assortment of record stores in "Shibuya, Shinjuku and Shimokitazawa" seems to be your best bet.
I wondered if Tom had also any suggestions on meeting other record collectors or enthusiasts in Tokyo. "I would highly recommend going to some of the smaller clubs and asking vinyl DJs where they get their stuff" he shared, "In particular, I recommend En-Sof in Shibuya. The sound system is fantastic for a small club and the DJs there are VERY serious about their music, even for DJs. Plus, the owner owns like nine small indie record labels."
Tom's Pro Tip!
Tom's last tips are to search Tokyo-specific online discussion groups and forums, particularly on social media. As he said, "These groups are strictly moderated to prevent trolls, and a lot of people that are extremely knowledgeable will reply".
Recommended Shop Information – Shibuya, Shinjuku, Shimokitazawa, Harajuku
Tower Records Shibuyaタワーレコード 渋谷店
- Address 1-chōme-22-14 Jinnan, Shibuya City, Tōkyō-to 150-0041
Disk Union Record Vinyl Storeディスクユニオン 渋谷中古センター
- Address Disc Union, Shibuya - Antenna 21 Bldg. B1F, 30-7 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0042
- Address Shibuya BEAM 4F, 31-2 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo, 150-0042
- Address 10-1 Kifune Building, Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0042
Disk Union Shimokitazawaディスクユニオン 下北沢店
- Address 1-40-6 Sakai Third Building 1F, Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 155-0031
- Address 7-7-33 Shinmei Building, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0023
BIG LOVE RecordsBIG LOVE Records
- Address 150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 2 Chome−31−3
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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