Tim Hecker took me to Tokyo and I found myself in vinyl paradise.
Tokyo had been on my destination list for a long time so, when I heard the news that Tim Hecker was going to be doing a gig there to kick off the tour supporting his new album, it seemed like an ideal time to plan a trip. It's unlikely he will be coming to Singapore any time soon and I do miss the opportunity to go to gigs like this. It's not uncommon for people in SE Asia to travel to another country in the region if one of their favourite bands is playing there so I bought the gig ticket and made travel arrangements.
I had heard that Tokyo has a lot of record shops - several of the record shops here in Singapore source stock from there - and what I found in the Shibuya district where I was staying supported that assertion and I ended up spending a lot of my holiday looking through records. I hadn't planned to post about the trip so I didn't take notes and pictures but I thought it might be helpful to other people planning a trip if I write a few words from memory. I will stick to the records and won't mention the gig, food, maid cafes, beer or stylish women.
Disk Union has a chain of shops across several Japanese cities and they generally come highly
recommended. This branch in Shibuya is spread over four or five genre-specific floors and they have a good mix of used Japanese and Western items. I visited the soul, funk and jazz basement and the rock 1st floor. Their stock is held on computer so, if there's something specific you want and can't find it or haven't got the time to look, they will look it up and get it for you from the store room or the racks. The first item from my wantlist was in the store room so I'm glad I decided to ask. Indeed, I found the first two items on my wantlist here so I was delighted with the start to my trip. A special mention to the staff here who spent some time looking through the racks for an apparently misfiled item for me. Unfortunately they didn't find it but they get top marks for trying. This is one of the places I will be returning to on my next visit.
Purchased: 1960s-1980s Japanese female vocalists, folk, psychedelic, funk
This one was difficult to find. The streets of Tokyo are filled with tall, thin buildings which house a different shop or restaurant on each floor and each of these buidlings has a tall, lit sign overhanging the street listing what is on each floor. Lighthouse Records doesn't feature on the sign and I had to enlist the help of two passing Jehova's Witnesses who eventually found it listed on the sign inside the lobby of the building. This is one of the smaller independent record shops and, although it specialises in House, Techno and things which are not really my thing, there are items from other genres including a Soundtrack section. They also have a good selection of the latest local releases and I was able to get some of these items from my wantlist. There are a number of self-serve listening posts which is always helpful and, if you are visiting with a uninterested partner, there is a nice big sofa on which they can park themselves.
Purchased: New release Japanese electronic/experimental, Japanese issues of 1970s soundtracks
This is a big shop selling Japanese and Western, new and used. They have a 100 yen section in which you might find some grimy but interesting items and they offer tax free shopping so take your passport with you. At the weekend, they put on sale collectible/rare items and there is usually a queue waiting for them to open shop. Their 'now playing' display worked on me as I heard a track which grabbed me and said "Buy me" and I duly bought the EP. For new Japanese releases, I found HMV to be a bit cheaper so I would start here if that is an area of interest for you.
Purchased: New release Japanese electronic/funk
This place is huge. I went there twice and left after my first visit feeling quite disappointed that they didn't stock Japanese records. On my second visit I realised I'd actually missed a whole section of the shop including the Japanese stock. They have all sorts of stuff here and you will spend hours and hours looking through everything. Price wise it varies and I get the impression they know the true value of a lot of stock but are less familiar with some areas or just don't have time to research it all. For example, I got a very nice first issue of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop pink album very cheap. When I was there they had a promotion where if you buy 5 used albums, each one is discounted by 200 yen and when some of my items only cost 450 yen in the first place, that makes it a great deal. I will be returning here on my next trip.
Purchased: Used Japanese various genres, RWS Pink
This place is away from the main drag and it was nice to walk through a quieter, more residential part of Shibuya to get to it. It's quite small but very stylish and the collection feels like it has been carefully curated, including a good selection of Asian & European Groove, Jazz and Library music. They also put out their own records and have a selection of clothing and accessories. Oh, and some stools at the counter so that your uninterested partner can sit down. If you are planning to visit, make sure you check their calendar as their opening days/hours are quite limited - http://dessinee.jp/ddblog/infomation/dessinee-calendar.html
Purchased: Japanese groove
Hi-Fi Record Store
This is a quite small but tightly packed shop. It is seemed to mostly stock used Western records from 1950s to 1970s which are scrupulously categorised. There is a bargain bin - I think the price range was 100-300 yen - with a detailed description of any fault which may be present right down to how many skips and clicks there are. When I did come across a section of new Japanese records, I was surprised but pleased to see it was primarily made up of releases from the EM Records label which specialises in unusual/experimental/electronic albums and I was able to get another two of my wantlist items. This being my last record shop visit before I went home, I was delighted.
Purchased: New release Japanese electronic/experimental
All of the above shops are in Shibuya. I did visit a few others but they were not really my thing and I have decided just to write about those where I actually bought something. Having said that, I would like to give a special mention to the Tower Records shops in Shibuya and Shinjuku. They have hardly any records so don't waste your time going there unless you are interested in CDs. For all the shops you are planning to visit, do check the opening hours
And finally, I can recommend the beer at Goodbeer Faucets and Mikeller.