In December of 2017 my wife and I visited Tokyo for nine days and we had a very good time there. One of the perks of Tokyo is the number of record shops there. These are not only plentiful, but also of astounding quality. Funny thing is that the smaller independent shops seem to be of lesser quality than the main chain stores!
What follows is a subjective overview of the stores I visited in the 9 days we were there. It is impossible (and not good for the marriage) to try to visit all the stores. One store I missed was called Oldies But Goodies which was way out east in the city. They sell loads of Jamaican vinyl so I would have liked to have gone there. Alas, for another time.
Looking at the list of shops I did manage to visit it seems ridiculously short. The largest guide to Tokyo record shops on the web has dozens of them neatly organized by area. Unfortunately the guy who wrote it does not like soul, jazz, reggae or latin so most of his comments are irrelevant to our type of vinyl collector.
Still, it is an impressive document which I urge you to read if you plan to visit Tokyo anytime soon.
This leaves me to focus on the shops I did manage to visit and where I bought around 65 albums plus a few stray 45s.
That is one thing that is striking about these shops: they are 95% albums and only around 5% 45s. This is great for an LP collector like me, but I imagine 45 fiends will feel somewhat short changed.
Let me start with the shop that I found to be the best for all types of black music. Surprisingly enough this is the HMV shop. Now I don’t know if this has anything to do with the UK high street emporium, but it does have the exact same logo so who knows.
Where the UK HMV’s are general purpose, CD-driven mainstream affairs dedicated to new releases, the HMV in Tokyo is heavy, no make that HEAVY on the used vinyl. The branch I visited had all things rock on the ground floor and on the second floor was the most amazing collection of all black music genres with row after row of vintage albums all neatly organized in subgenres.
On the wall there were scores of ultra rare LPs casually exhibited as if it was completely normal and to be expected.
There had been a sale of rare soul records a few weeks earlier and the remaining stock from that sale was placed in a number of bins.
The well known “items” on the walls and in the bins were pretty expensive, as an example the modern soul album from Pulse on Olde World was for sale at 600 Euros. But the lesser known records were reasonably priced and it was great to see so many of these obscurities for sale. One serious item I bought was the Marvin Holmes & Justice LP “Summer of ‘73” which I already had on reissue vinyl but I could not leave it there as it is such a great deep LP.
It was also great to see the quality of the Latin and Reggae sections. I spent well over two hours on that second floor and had to drag myself away. Apparently the black music buyer from Disk Union now works for HMV and it shows! What a store!
Disk Union is of course the most famous of Japanese record stores. It is a chain with multiple shops in Tokyo and specializes each floor to have only one genre per store. We went to the Latin/Reggae store, the Soul/Rare Groove store and the Psych/Folk store. The latter was intended to yield my number one want of the moment, Sheila Grahams LP on Canadian CBC records. Unfortunately they did not have it, although they did have it in the past. Bugger.
The Soul/Rare Groove store was amazing of course, with a neat gospel bin tucked away on the floor somewhere so I could get a lot of bargains from that one bin.
There was a very good selection of soul records there, but overall it was not quite of the same level as the HMV shop. The Latin/Reggae shop was amazing, with loads of original vintage Rocksteady and early seventies Reggae albums in excellent condition. The good exchange rate of the Yen to the Euro made the prices relatively cheap so I got a lot of goodies there.
Another recommended shop was Recofan. When I got there I was slightly disappointed. There were a lot of records there, arranged by alphabet but the selection of soul was heavily oriented towards 80s and 90s soul, not my favourite eras. Nevertheless there were bargains to be had, because the shop has lower prices than the others and I can see that if you come there on a regular basis you will find amazing stuff for sure. Main things I bought there were some 80s and 90s reggae albums.
Coco Isle Music Market
Now one of the nicest shops I went to is the Reggae/Caribbean/Hawaiian specialist shop Coco Isle Music Market. It is a small shop on the 4th floor of an office building but the quality of what is on offer is amazing. Many very rare original JA press albums from rocksteady artists and vocal trios made me spend too much money there. The owner was a very nice guy too so we made a picture of us together in the shop. A customer who was there recognized us from the Joe Bataan gigs we saw over the weekend so that was nice too.
Near Coco Isle was the small Hi Fi shop which is very specialized towards Jazz, Musicals, and what we call Easy Tune music. They did have some soul and because the prices were so low it was a nice visit to a nice shop.
Now this was a disappointment. Face Records was recommended in the articles I had read online before going to Tokyo but overall there was nothing much there. Common records, overpriced, and no real collectors vibe overall. In and out in 15 minutes and no records bought...
Flash Disk Ranch
Located in a trendy area of Tokyo this is also a lesser shop, but the vibe there was nice, with good music played over the stereo and some interesting obscurities for sale. Came away with a few minor bits but spent an enjoyable half hour there.
To conclude yes the shops in Tokyo are incredible but strangely enough this is mainly true for the main megastore chains like HMV and Disk Union. The smaller shops are just like your regular Amsterdam vinyl shop, with nice records but no overwhelming choices. HMV and Disk Union however are incredible shops for advanced collectors because they have so many rare original records, especially LPs. I could easily buy hundreds of records there if budgets would allow...