Tokyo is a city of thirteen million people, and what sometimes seems like twice as many music scenes. With fans, concerts and clubs spread throughout a vast metropolitan area, the record store acts as a home base — they are anchors for entire musical subcultures. For the uninitiated, it can be an entry point, too. As well as providing listeners with recordings, record stores are a source of information about gigs and clubs (also known as live houses in Japan), and a space to meet likeminded fans and collaborators.
Also, some record stores sponsor or host music concerts themselves. Many of them are international players in their musical genre; they produce their own records and maintain an extensive online presence in order to reach an increasingly international audience. Often friendly and wanting to share their expert knowledge, the owners and shop workers can help those new to the scene become part of a network. Though by no mean extensive, the listings below should help you on your way towards new sounds and new experiences.
Discland Jaro (Shibuya)
Run by Jaro-san, who refuses to divulge his real name, this tiny basement jazz record store has been in operation since 1973. Jaro-san takes advantage of every inch of his tiny subterranean space, and it’s easy to miss something great hiding beneath the stairs, or under a stack of magazines. Now with an active web presence, Jaro-san sells to collectors throughout Japan who rely on his constantly updating stock. This shop easily has one of the best jazz selections in the city, though it is focused on what Japanese jazz fans called modern jazz — bebop, hard-bop and cool jazz.
Also check out:
Diskunion Jazz in Shibuya and Shinjuku
Ftarri is the place for free improvisation in Tokyo. The owner, Yoshiyuki Suzuki, runs the store, hosts concerts at the store weekly, and sporadically releases music on his small record label. The store’s stock is mostly CDs of Japanese and international improvising artists, many of them difficult to find elsewhere. There are also some records, t-shirts and books. Check the website before you go; the hours change based on whether there is a concert that day.
Reggae was massively popular in Japan in the 1980s and this store is a remnant of that boom. Known internationally for their quality stock of vintage records, as well as the new releases on their record label, Dub Store Records, this store is the unofficial home of reggae in Tokyo. Come here for every possible genre and subgenre related to reggae and dancehall music. They have a great vintage stereo system, and are happy to play any record for you before you purchase.
Also check out:
Record Store Nat (Nishi-Shinjuku) www.rs-nat.ne.jp
(not to be confused with the punk record store of a similar name)
Nat Records (Nishi-Shinjuku)
Head to this Nishi-Shinjuku record shop for ‘70s and ‘80s British music with a focus on punk and hardcore, but also ska and reggae, R&B and rockabilly, and progressive rock. Nat Records also has a serious selection of Japanese punk music. The owner, Masanobu “Ita” Itagaki, has written the only discography of ‘70s and ‘80s punk recordings of note. Unfortunately it is only available in Japanese.
Taiyo Records (Kagurazaka)
This small, sunny Kagurazaka shop is filled with music from Brazil and Argentina. Mostly CD-focused, this store stocks all kinds of new indie releases that are normally impossible to find outside of Latin America, as well as classic bossa nova and Latin standards records. The stock is divided by country and then, somewhat haphazardly, by genres. Feel free to ask for help — you may need it if you are looking for something in particular. The store is run by the couple behind the indie duo Ryosuke Itoh e Shiho.
Beloved by DJs since it first opened in 1996, Technique’s active online store and second-floor Shibuya store on Center-Gai sells all kinds of dance music records. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and happy to let you listen before purchasing.
Folk and Rock:
Hi-Fi Records (Shibuya)
Visit Hi-Fi Records on Meiji-dori for an unbeatable selection of American and British rock, folk and pop records. Started in 1982, the store moved to this third-floor location in 2001. From the casual pop music listener to the hardcore folk music connoisseur, there’s something for everyone here.
Manhattan Records (Shibuya)
With an active record label arm, an online store and a popular Shibuya store, Manhattan records is the go-to place for Hip Hop, R&B, Reggae and House records.
Other record stores of note:
Diskunion (Throughout Tokyo)
This powerhouse has stores throughout the Kanto area divided by genre and deals in used and new records, used and new CDs, books and music equipment. Though all the stores have jazz music, head to Shinjuku for jazz, soul and blues, and classical music. The Shibuya store, with a younger audience, has indie music, rock and punk. Ochanomizu has a quality metal music section. What this chain lacks in intimacy, it gains in selection, price and quality.
Ella Records (Nishihara)
This record store is located on a small street in Nishihara, near Yoyogi-Uehara and Hatagaya. Unlike many of the record stores in Tokyo, whose ambience is slightly grungy, this store has a spotless wooden interior and plenty of sun. The staff stocks the store with a great combination of rock, jazz, soul and old Japanese jazz and pop. Visit here to discover everything from one-of-a-kind recordings to pop hits from a bygone era, all chosen by experts.
Flash Disk Ranch (Shimokitazawa)
Of all the stores on this list, this is where you are most likely to get a real bargain. Located in Shimokitazawa, this store has records in almost any genre. From jazz to indie music to new wave, this place rewards those willing to dig to find their treasure. While you’re in Shimokitazawa, check out Weekend Records for indie and new folk from the US. Also look out for Noah Lewis’ records, which features American music from the ‘20s through ‘60s handpicked by American expat Noah Lewis.