Ten Days in Tokyo: Records


Japan is said to be one of the last true outposts for record junkies – it’s a little unclear why, but physical media still dominates out here, and can prove a treasure trove for vinyl enthusiasts at both serious and entry-level. We tapped up James Pants and a few others for prime spots to check out – with Jazzy Sport in mind already for obvious reasons – and the recommendations that came back were thankfully tightly clustered around the Shibuya and Shinjuku areas; so, within comfortable walking distance.

When I say ‘tightly clustered’, that’s no exaggeration: the super-inflated value of Tokyo real estate means that instead of enormous centralised hubs found in other metropoles – an Amoeba or a Rough Trade East, for example – various spawn of the same parent company get slotted like Jenga pieces into narrow high-rises, all found in close proximity to one another. Common logic dictates that multiple chain outlets dotted around a capital city = the sign of a homogenous big-name retailer strangling the independent sector out of business. Hearteningly, it’s pretty much the opposite.R0000093

Disk Union is super impressive. In every store we visited the racks were full to bursting point, heaving with goodies that ensnared us for hours. Forced into scattering out due to those brutal rental costs, most Disk Union branches are dedicated solely to one, or at most two, core genres: within two minutes walk from a basement full of Peoples Potential Unlimited merch and unmarked calypso 45″s is a 5th floor chapter boasting an unfathomable number of metal and hardcore derivates (although more Alcest, less Pentagram). Each arm has a finely-honed individual identity, undiluted and pure.


The cultural difference seems deeply ingrained. Unassuming salarymen on lunch breaks were rifling through the stock at similarly stacked RECOfan with ruthless efficiency – one dropped a cool ¥7966 on a rare French pressing of Memphis Slim’s Enregistrement Public before heading back off to work. Given sky-high import prices and the fallibility of international distribution, stores lean on a significantly higher proportion of used records to make hay. Naturally, a canny eye is kept on grading system denoting condition; the margins between mint and near mint are taken extremely seriously here.


Disk Union in particular runs on a trading system that I couldn’t fully get my head around: Does it work like the transfer window? Could you offer up, say, Windjammer I II and ¥600 for a Shaka/Shabba split LP? Who is the grand arbiter to determine commercial value? It’s all a little confusing. There are “Vinyl Want List!!” leaflets in each store, scoping out 7″s from きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ(aka kawaii deity Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) and Rrose side-by-side, but the language barrier renders them pretty much impenetrable. The system is evidently working though: a fluid circulation system that keeps these stores in comparably good health.

I scoped out Tower Records Tokyo for a spot of contrast. Effectively the last remaining relic of a bygone era, it occupies a gargantuan space just off Shibuya’s infamous crossing – by no means a tucked-away sidestreet location, and unlikely to come cheap. It was fairly deserted, and all felt a little sterile – basically an outsized shrine to the 90s boom times. Still, to see the Awesome Tapes gem below (a Boiler Room office favourite, fyi) displayed prominently in a whole floor dedicated to New Age, avant-garde and jazz, housed in the largest flagship record store in Tokyo…it augurs well for the future.

– by Gabriel Szatan


Gabriel Szatan

Gabriel Szatan

Gabriel is one of the show programmer/hosts, and BR's Editor-in-Chief – somehow.

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