Record Shopping - Osaka, Japan Style

I’ve traveled a decent amount - certainly more than most, but also less than some.  By my best estimate I’ve been to roughly 40 states in the US and about 22 countries, and over the course of those journeys I’ve learned a few things.  Some are actually pretty obvious - a lot of businesses are closed on Sundays, especially outside the US; be aware of your surroundings; don’t draw needless attention to yourself.  Other lessons had to be learned the hard way through brutal experience.  Like don’t plan on going wine tasting in Portugal on Corpus Christi Day because everything will be closed (♠).  Cows are actually huge and potentially life-threateningly dangerous animals.  And no matter how hungry you are do not eat a ham and cheese sandwich at the Buenos Aires Airport unless you’d like to be as sick as you’ve ever been in your life.  These are important things to learn, and unfortunately most of then I learned the hard way.

Today’s lesson:  A lot of stuff in Japan in closed on Wednesdays.

We arrived in Osaka on Tuesday night and Wednesday was my primary day to do some record shopping, but it turned out that not one, not two, but at least three shops on my list were closed.  Because Wednesday.  As such my yen were redistributed amongst other shops, so don’t cry for me Argentina; I still found plenty of great music on the trip.  With that in mind, here’s a recap of sorts.

First things first.  It wasn’t until our second to last stop that I ran across a copy of the 2018 Osaka Record Map, and damn if this isn’t a fabulous resource.  Not only do you get detailed info on 29 different (29!!) record stories in the city, but it even shows the shops that didn’t kick in some cash to get their details included.  Best guess is there at least 50 record/CD stories here.  Sure, most are small, and many are very genre specialized, but so what?!  That’s a lot of music stores.  If you can secure a copy of the map, do so.  I found mine at Jackpot Records, though I’m sure it’s available elsewhere as well (you can see the map parts online on various sites including HERE).  Maps, store addresses, hours… it’s all here.  And one important thing to note is that Google Maps doesn’t always drop the pins in the right places - so in the immortal words of Dr. Meredith in Real Genius, “Always… no no no, never… forget to check your references.”

Tower Records
〒530-0001 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 北区梅田1丁目9-20 大阪マルビル B1F

Who else out there remembers Tower Records?  Because I sure has hell do.  I spent countless hours and dollars at the Bellevue, Washington location in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and while we haven’t seen them in the US for decades the chain still exists in other parts of the world.  I think there are two locations in Osaka - we went to the one near Umeda train station that’s in the shadow of the Hilton Hotel.  Nestled in the basement, it’s open late and is packed full of amazing CDs that you’ve probably never seen before.  There’s also a small section of new vinyl, but the compact discs are the real magic here.  I was stunned to see the new Dream Wife at one of the listening stations and I could have spent hours browsing all the esoteric Japanese releases of well-known artists as well as the always interesting “imports” that you can’t find in the US.  We walked out with a pair of Japanese electronic releases, a two-disc MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice concert by A-Ha, and a bulky three-disc set of Metallica’s Master of Puppets - the first disc is the actual album and the other two are packed with live material from the mid to late 1980s. (♥)  Can’t wait to get these home and play them.  Oh, and I picked up an old school style Tower Records t-shirt for good measure!  Well worth the stop if you’re still in the CD game - there’s tons of interesting stuff.

Disk Union
〒530-0001 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 北区梅田1丁目9-20 大阪マルビル B1F

A short walk from Tower is Japan’s best-known record store chain, Disk Union.  Technically there are two separate Disk Union locations in Osaka, but they’re right across from one another in a small pedestrian mall so if you’re at one you’re pretty much a few dozen feet from the other.  The Osaka Disk Unions have plenty of used vinyl and CDs, both Japanese versions as well as non-Japanese pressings.  My biggest problem at Disk Union usually is limiting my purchases because there’s so much stuff I want in those bins.  Prices aren’t cheap, to be sure, but there are still some great items to be had.  I took three vinyl shots in the dark here, all on albums by Japanese artists - Rhymster’s Respect, Anarchy’s 1980 rocker ‎‎– アナーキー, and a period comp called Tokyo No Wave ’79.  Plus we found a copy of X Japan’s 1993 album Art of Life on CD for something like four bucks, so we felt pretty good when we walked out the door.

Pro Tip:  After you’re done shopping pop into the little tiny curry joint that is right between the two Disc Union stores.  It’s a killer spot called Joryo Curry and it’s both reasonably priced and delicious.

Flake Records
〒550-0015 大阪府大阪市西区南堀江 1-11-9 SONO四ツ橋ビル201

Next up was the label/shop Flake Records.  It’s a small third-floor location consisting almost exclusively of new releases.  The selection leans indie and punk with most of the floor space given over to vinyl. I grabbed a copy of the new 10″ called e.p. by the Japanese punk band Faust as well as a record by the idol metal band BIS.  Normally I’d avoid idol stuff but Baby Metal kind of made me change my mind a bit, and hey, if I like the way it sounds, then who cares, right?

There are a lot of shops in this general area - we managed to hit four and all were within a few blocks of one another, so the Shinsaibashi neighborhood is a great place to go if you’re limited in the amount of time you have for records shopping.

Time Bomb Records
SUN-BOWL B1, 2-9-28 NISHI-SHINSAIBASHI, CHUO-KU

We had some challenges trying to find Time Bomb thanks to The Googles.  Fortunately however we rented a secure mobile wifi hotspot for the trip (which I highly recommend - roughly $5 a day) and figured out the shop’s actual location, which is in the basement of the Sun Bowl bowling alley.

Let me just say this - Time Bomb is the bomb.  After stashing our umbrellas and walking down two flights of stairs we were greeted by one of the largest spaces we’ve seen for a record store in Asia, all perfectly laid out and organized.  Each record was in its own plastic  re-sealable bag with a label at the top that provided you with all the pertinent info.  If you’re looking for rare and more expensive items, this is the shop.  I tried to keep my focus, through, reminding myself of the limited space I have for mule-ing back records and that I’m on the lookout primarily for Japanese artists.  I sort of bent that rule a little (OK, a lot) with the 1979 comp No Wave, but in my defense I thought it was made exclusively for the Japanese market (turns out it wasn’t).  The other item I picked up was on Time Bomb’s own label, Japan-狂撃-Special’s 2007 I Love Punky Night.  I could have spent hours here (they even had a small section specifically for Adrian Sherwood On-U pressings), but that would have required marriage counseling and a second mortgage, so I grabbed my bag and headed up the stairs.

If you’re a serious record collector and can only visit one shop in town, make it Time Bomb (below).

Compufunk Records
〒540-0031 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Kitahamahigashi, 1, GROW 北浜 ビル 北浜 ビル 2 号館 )2 階 29 1

After hitting three shops during the day (and finding two others closed because duh, Wednesday) we figured we were probably done record shopping.  But when I told Holly there was a techo speciality store not too far from where we were having dinner, and that it doubled as a night club and a bar, she was game for one more outing.  By now it was raining pretty steadily and the humidity made it feel like you were walking through warm Jello as you sweat like crazy, but hey, we may never make it back to Osaka again!

Compufunk is outstanding.  The second floor space has a view of the river and city behind its long bar (see below) and there were two different DJ-quality listening stations.  They owner picked out a handful of Japanese artists for me to check out while he spun some jams from his DJ setup.  I snagged three records - Tokyo EP Vol. 1, last year’s stereociti disc Parabolic Motions, and the newly released Iam Fuck Dog by Eva Ryu.  As an added bonus we got invited back for a party the following night.

Overall the Osaka record store scene exceeded my expectations - lots of great stuff on both vinyl and CD.  If I’d had more money to spend and a way to bring more stuff home, I could have easily disappeared for days in the city’s collection of tiny shops.

(♠) As near as I can tell Corpus Christi Day is the Thursday following the 8th Sunday after Easter, so it’s not like something you can peg on a calendar with ease.  But if you’re not careful you may turn a corner on a street in Porto and almost get clocked in the head by an eight-foot tall crucifix at the front of a procession. Let’s be safe out there.

(♥) And we went back a few days later to pick up some X Japan CDs.  If you haven’t seen the documentary about the band called We Are X, check it out.

Record Shopping Tokyo Style

Life in the Vinyl Lane is spending about two weeks in Japan, and that of course means that I’ll be taking advantage of the opportunity to check out the local vinyl scene.  There isn’t a ton of info out there, at least not in English, though a few other bloggers have done good jobs in covering the bases, at least for the biggest and easiest to find stores.

We’d been “warned” about many things prior to our trip to Japan, from the cost to the crowds to the difficulty in finding your way around.  So far after being here for three days though I have to say it’s not as challenging as I expected.  Yes, figuring out what street you’re on can be hard sometimes, and like any other city it’s crowded, especially at certain times of day.  But for the most part we haven’t had a hard time navigating and everyone has been polite to a fault.  As for the prices… well, we’ve spent time in places like Reykjavik and Stockholm, so there hasn’t been a lot of sticker shock here.  Beer prices are usually a good gauge, and a draft will usually run you between $3.50 and $7, which is a bit spendy (depending on where you are), but not crazy.

The record shopping this far has been just OK.  I’m pretty much only interested in buying stuff for Japanese bands and labels, stuff I can’t get at home, so that has kept me focused, but focus hasn’t been too big of a deal since most of the shops have been relatively small.  There are a few I popped into that don’t make the list below, but here’s a look at the places where I actually bought stuff.

Tower Records, Shibuya, Tokyo

Who remembers spending countless hours at a Tower Records?  Because this guy does.  I have no idea how many CDs and DVDs (and even a few records) I bought at the one in Bellevue, Washington, or how much money I spent there.  Frankly given my spending habits it’s amazing the chain went bankrupt, but it did.  But fear not, music fans, because you can relive that experience in Tokyo’s Shibuya district!  Well, sort of.  It’s kind of like the old Tower Records but in a kind of Japanese over-the-top style.  I think it’s eight floors high, but I spent all my time on the 3rd floor where the Japanese artists were to be found - J-Pop, J-Punk, and J-Indie.  It was almost all CDs and DVDs of newer stuff, though there was one box of Record Store Day leftovers at the register and a couple of brand new releases were available on vinyl.  I bought a couple of CDs - a comp from Kegawa no Maries and another called I Got My “Mono” Working that is a lot of rockabilly and surf style stuff, but didn’t find anything of interest in vinyl.  The CD sections appear well stocked, though I have to admit I never got to the other floors.

Big Love Records, Harajuku, Tokyo

Big Love is a little bit of everything.  It’s a cool little record store.  And it’s a label.  And it’s a little bar where you can have choose from a few different draft beers when you’re taking a break from digging.  The emphasis here is on post-punk, industrial, electronic, ambient… some of the stuff on the moodier side of music.  The majority of the shop (which is pretty small) is new vinyl, but there’s a smattering of used as well, along with a handful of cassettes and CDs (and let’s not forget the previously mentioned tap handles!).  I tried to stick local here as well, though I did pick up some of the label’s releases of non-Japenese bands, like their relatively new Destruction Unit 7″ (“The Holy Ghost” / “The Church of Jesus Christ”) and a 12″ from Geneva Jacuzzi.  Definitely worth the stop if you’re into vinyl and this type of music.  Big Love is kind of hidden away in a residential neighborhood, but we didn’t have much trouble finding it.  Plus it has beer to cool you off when you get there.  Did I mention the beer?

Disk Union, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Disk Union is the big indie type “chain” in Japan, with a  number of locations spread out over Tokyo.  We chose to hit up those in the Shinjuku area, since there are supposed to be about five or six different Disk Unions within a few blocks of each other - real estate is hard to come buy in Tokyo, so getting all your product under one roof is tough.  According to the info I found online there was a punk/metal specialty location in addition to the main store and the used store… but as you can see, all that awaited us at the punk/metal location was a disappointment (see left), one made all the worse for the fact that it was a warm day and we climbed five flights of stairs to get there.  But fear not, we located the metal store’s new location a few blocks away.  This time we were also smart enough to take the elevator, and found ourselves inside a very compact and very full little shop.  The vinyl was limited to around 7-8 bins so it didn’t take me long to go through, and they had the Japanese stuff in its own section which helped.  I picked up a handful of random used 1980s metal records which were more or less reasonably priced - generally running about $4-8.  I’m sure I’ll get what I paid for… but it’s something different.

From there we headed over to the used store a few blocks away.  The vinyl selection here was much larger, though still not particularly big - the entire shop (including the used CDs) was probably the size of an average used store at home.  Things were broken out by genre with the Japanese stuff segregated, and I ended up with around a half dozen random records and one CD by time it was all done.  Prices were all over the board, and while most of my stuff was still in the $5-10 range I did splurge on a double album by The Birthday that set me back about $40.  Some of the “imports” were really steep, with my buddy telling me he saw records by some classic rockers in the $100+ range.

I have to confess that overall I was a bit let down - I was hoping to find more cool Japanese vinyl, but maybe I just don’t know what to look for… or where to look.  That being said, I still got to spend an enjoyable half day digging, and suspect I’ll hit up a few more places over the course of the next week, so maybe there are still some gems out there waiting for me.