Tokyo: A Music Nerd’s Paradise

I am one of the ever-dwindling number of people who still prefers buying CDs to downloading music. The CD gets imported into i-tunes and listened to on the computer or the i-pod so it’s not just because I prefer the sound quality. No, it’s much sadder than that. I have that pathetic male urge to see my CDs lined up nicely on their shelves. Yes, alphabetically. Sometimes I get almost as much joy from looking at my CDs as I do from listening to them, so MP3s just don’t cut it.

Ridiculous as that my seem, that is how I am and thus I was slightly saddened when earlier this year the HMV store in the centre of Shibuya closed its doors for a final time. This was a store that helped build the Shibuya-kei scene of the nineties – Cornelius, Kahimi Karie, Momus et al. And now it is gone. But I was far more saddened by a much smaller closure, about a year earlier – that of the tiny but wonderful Apple Crumble Records. It still exists as an online store but its physical presence, hidden in a tiny room on the 3rd floor of a building opposite Tokyu Hands is no more. Apple Crumble stocked mostly indiepop records and although it didn’t have a lot of records, nearly all of them were great. You could buy something unheard, knowing there was a good chance you’d love it.

So the tiny Apple Crumble and the mighty HMV have fallen, and the future looks bleak for record shops. It’s a dreadful shame as Tokyo must be one of the greatest cities in the world to go CD shopping.  Todd’s Wanderings is hosting this month’s Japan Blogs Matsuri and the theme is  Japan Highlights. I was thinking about this and what I enjoy most about this country – great food, great places, great nature, great people, great onsen, yes, but one of the things I really love, one of my favourite things to do, is to trawl the record shops of Tokyo with a bit of spare cash in my pocket.

Now, I should take a moment to say that although my penchant happens to be for music, I think Tokyo is probably also a paradise for nerds of other genres. While I comb the second hand record stores for rare, early Eugenius singles, the comic book nerd will have countless outlets to choose from, the ukulele fetishist can find ukulele specialist shops, and if somebody has, say, a liking for novelty hats or model railways, I feel confident that there will be a dusty store somewhere in the metropolis that would appear to have opened just for them. And that’s not to mention niche markets for people with scarily strange sexual preferences, and that’s a lot of niches!

So, anyway, back to the music. Tokyo has the most fantastic array of CD shops. Tower is still there, but also in Shibuya are such excellent stores as Disk Union, Manhattan Records, and the wonderful Recofan, to name but a few. The last of these is chock full of new and second-hand releases of almost every kind of music. There are bargain racks with pleasant surprises at 100 yen, and there is an entire corner dedicated to that lost product, the CD single. All those b-sides you can’t find anywhere from bands varying from Belle & Sebastian to Run DMC are sitting there waiting to be picked up for a few hundred yen. Down the street a little, nestled above Kirin City, is Warszawa. It is another tiny shop that I suspect stocks fewer CDs than I have in my living room, but it makes up for it with consistent quality. Even if there is nothing that takes your fancy, it’s worth a visit because it doubles up as a small cafe where you can invariably get a window seat and sip on a beer as you watch life going by in the lively Shibuya streets below.

In Shinjuku, northwest of the station, the area around the Daikanplaza building houses countless shops specializing in different genres. A sixties shop here, a punk outlet there, across the street an indie specialist with sensitive souls with thick glasses and satchels lovingly eyeing old Pastels releases. It’s fantastic. My personal favourite in Shinjuku is Vinyl Japan, but there really is something for everyone.

So next time you are in Tokyo and want some new music, before you click on i-tunes spare a thought for the struggling record shops. Tokyo is still a better city than any you will find when it comes to record shops, but it would be a shame if more went the way of Apple Crumble and the vast array of nerdy niches vanished forever.

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4 Responses to Tokyo: A Music Nerd’s Paradise

  1. craig says:

    Nice post!
    Apple Crumble was a great little shop.
    Very sad that all my favourite record stores in Shibuya have now closed – Apple Crumble, Some of Us, Maximum Joy and Zest.

  2. Pingback: Japan Highlights – Japan Blog Matsuri » Todd's Wanderings

  3. Jeffrey says:

    For me it used to be Tower Records way back in the late ’80s in Nagoya – great variety and the Japanese versions of CDs by Western pop artists were usually better packaged – lyrics and wonderful esoterica in nearly every jewel case.

    I hate downloads. The digital cognoscenti will swear up and down that the fidelity is just as good now as pre-recorded CDs, but it isn’t. Ditto for real headphones vs. buds.

    I think a whole generation is now growing up without knowing how good some music sounds.

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