In Tokyo, record stores play music up loud. In a city that can be hard to navigate, that’s a blessing. You know when you’re getting close. Amongst the neon lights and crowded streets, record stores are one of two things: they are either hidden away in unmarked buildings, up stairs you worry you shouldn’t be climbing, down tiny side streets; or, the opposite, they take up whole streets, their music blaring from blocks away. Either way, if you’re a collector, Tokyo is the mecca.
Artwork by Lori Camarata for Lindsay
Location: Japan, 〒160-0023 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome−10−17
Specialising in: Jazz
Impressions: Run by Ikeda-san and his son, this is a haven for jazz lovers. Easy to miss, the store is only noticeable by a tiny neon sign in the window of the first floor. Inside is a wood-panelled tiny shop with a traditional Japanese sliding entranceway, playing Sacha Distel on huge 70s speakers. Through the entrance you find yourself in a small cramped space filled with extremely rare collectables including a section dedicated to Japanese jazz, alongside immaculate copies of every classic American jazz record imaginable.
Picks: John Coltrane Japanese-only live LP, McCoy Tyner Trident LPs
HMV Record Shop 渋谷
Location: Japan, Tokyo, Shibuya, Udagawacho, 3 6-2
Specialising in: Jazz, UK and Japanese rock
Impressions: At first, you’d be forgiven for believing this store might be affiliated with the HMV chain CD stores in the U.K., but on upon closer inspection, as you hear a sound effects record played at full volume, it’s clear it’s nothing like it. The store is mostly second hand, with half records and half CDs. It has a great Japanese rock section with rare reissues and amazing album artwork. Upstairs is a jazz section with some soul and latin. There is a sale section of U.K. C86 and indie pop 7-inches and LPs like Soup Dragons, Flatmates and Primal Scream.
Picks: Albert Ayler Village Vanguard and Love Cry, Speed Glue & Shinki Self-titled, Pooh-Sticks Orgasm
Location: Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku, Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome-7-33
Specialising in: Punk, classic rock
Impressions: Two record stores in one small first-floor room—one side specialising in 70’s power pop and punk from the U.K. and U.S., the other side dedicated to classic rock with a great section of bootlegs of artists like Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. This may just be the only store not blasting music at full blast, with quiet vocals of folky singer-songwriters on rotation.
Pick: Neil Young live in Nagoya bootleg
Location: Ikeburo, Shibuya and Shinjuku
Specialising in: Everything
Impressions: Disk Union is a nationwide chain. Its sheer scale means it’s impossible to ignore as you walk down the streets of Tokyo. Despite its size, the quality is not compromised. It’s three stores in Ikeburo, Shibuya and Shinjuku are multi-story, with each floor devoted to its own genre. In Shinjuku, it runs down an entire street with its multi-level stores. There are two jazz stores, one focuses on CDs, one on used vinyl. There is a punk and metal store, including a considerable Japanese section; a progressive rock store, with a very expensive collection of Vertigo Records; and a world music store, with a surprisingly cheap Latin section.
Picks: Jorge Ben Big Ben, a huge pile of Blue Note, Impulse LPs
Location: Japan, 〒166-0003 Tōkyō-to, Suginami-ku, Kōenjiminami, 4 Chome−23–5 ACPビル
Specialising in: Brazilian, bossa nova
Impressions: This very tiny, hyper-specific store has a penchant for 60s—80s Brazilian records. The day I visited, the owner opened up 20 minutes late, which seems to be fairly typical in Tokyo. Dusty boxes covered in Portuguese writing were rescued from the back, from which records were pulled out to play. These were records you’ve probably never heard of, and probably will never see again. The owner had an encyclopedic knowledge.
Picks: Olivia, Ronnie Von, Novos Baianos
Location: Japan, 〒166-0003 Tōkyō-to, Suginami-ku, Kōenjiminami, 4 Chome−23−5 ACPビル
Specialising in: Punk, power pop, international
Impressions: In the same unassuming building as BE IN Record, but on level three, was another record store with a name in Kanji. It’s a tiny store filled with obscure cult punk and power pop. The selection was crossed international borders, with sections from Japan, the UK, Scandinavia and the USA. In the corners of the room lie boxes of demo tapes and racks of t-shirts of Japanese punk bands.
Picks: Beat Crusaders, Golden Bomber
BE IN Record
Location: Japan, 〒166-0003 Tōkyō-to, Suginami-ku, Kōenjiminami, 4 Chome−24−8
Specialising in: Classic rock
Impressions: It felt a little like a museum. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it was a record store that wasn’t playing any music. Tightly-packed racks were filled with only perfect, new-looking original copies of classic records: Blonde On Blonde, Kind of Blue, Sticky Fingers, that kind of thing. A good deal for what they were worth, but out of any casual collector’s price range.
Pick: A sealed mono copy of Sgt. Peppers (one for investors).