When I first got into vinyl collecting back in the mid 90’s, I would often hear of collectors adventures to a vinyl hunters heartland in a far flung place. Or so it seemed to my teenage mind. Tokyo. The more I heard about how good the record shopping was, the greater my desire grew to go and visit the land of the rising sun for some music related retail therapy. Mind, it only took me 20 odd years to finally make it. For those of you that have not yet been record shopping in Tokyo, May I suggest you begin looking at flights and start saving your pennies. The main district for vinyl junkies is Shibuya. There are around 20 reputable stores in the district with both quality and reasonably priced vinyl being the order of the day. There is something for everyone with a genre selection unlike anything I have seen before in my life anywhere in the world!
My first thought upon jumping off the train in Shibuya was where do I start? For first timers, it can all be quite daunting because you can easily blow your dough in the first two or three stores. And, to be honest, I could have spent thousands and still not racked up all the items that hit me in the eye. Another problem I found was which artists do I limit myself to? I’m not just a Bowie freak, but also obsessed with Morrissey, Suede, The Cure, Blur and The Beatles to name a few. For this first time visit to Tokyo, I kept it simple and just went for Bowie items. Resist those Smiths bootlegs David! Resist my son!
The first thing I noticed about local Japanese pressings was the attention to detail and quality. Being a nation of respectful citizens, a lot of care is taken to provide the best service, quality and style no matter what you are after. I noticed a great deal of books on sale with amazing artwork laid out on the covers and pages within. Being printed in Japanese gives the publications a beautiful look unlike no other. The flip side to these spectacular publications is that you are unable to read most of the books on offer but that won’t stop you from picking up a few of the more tasty treasures on show. And believe me, there are just so many to chose from.
If you think finding the more unique stores like Disc Union will be simple, think again. Many of the record stores are located in strange corners of the Shibuya district. There are the obvious major high street chains like HMV and Tower Records which you can locate without too much hassle though, the real goldmine stores are more of a challenge to locate but that kinda makes it fun. With each new location discovered, you literally find yourself lost in the racks as you lovingly sift over countless pressings of albums and other such relics you would love to own. Again, this is why I just limited this trip to purely Bowie items. One store was set over 5 floors and 2 of them were full of pristine vinyl albums, bootlegs and singles, each item carefully wrapped and presented the way Records should be.
Walking around Tokyo, I wonder if Emperor Meiji envisaged in 1869 just how amazing the city of Tokyo would turn out to be? After all, he was only 17 at the time. The city of Tokyo was formally named Edo until Emperor Meiji settled and changed the name of the city. Another interesting aspect of the country is the language which dates back to the 8th Century. I could listen to Japanese people talk for hours despite not being able to understand any of the dialect. It’s one thing I do enjoy about travel. At every turn, there is beautiful culture to behold. It would take a lot for one to grow tired of a riveting city as bold and exciting as Tokyo. And, with so many good record stores to visit, I doubt I would ever grow tired of the region.
The only disappointment about this trip was that I only had 5 days in Tokyo. In that time, I barely managed to scratch the surface of the main districts. The fashion lovers will, no doubt have a ball with all that’s on offer. Food lovers will surely eat themselves into a coma at every stop along the way. Fans of a good nightclub scene will be blown away by the enormity and range of entertainment available that caters to punters from all walks of life. But most of all, the culture junkies can happily immerse themselves in some of the most exotic historically rich adventures on offer anywhere in the world.
You can find relatively cheap flights to Tokyo from most Australian hubs with Jetstar. The flight takes around 8 hours in total depending on your departure city. So what are you waiting for?