[Disclaimer: There won’t be much bootleg vinyl content in this post but I hope it will be OK.]
I must have passed through Narita airport over a dozen times in the last 14 years, so it was about time that I headed for immigration instead of the connection gates. After all, Japan is the only country I know with magazines dedicated to bootlegs. The now retired Gold Wax:
Some bootleg CD reviews are now to be found in the current beatleg magazine, which is not restricted to Beatles items, they just liked the name:
I had armed myself with Google map printouts of record stores but in the end they didn’t really help me that much as the stores would in general not turn up where I was pretty certain they had to be.
For nostalgic reasons, my first stop was Tower Records in Shibuya – so nice to know that there is at least one of these left as I loved hanging out at Tower Records in the 90’s so much, usually the San Francisco locations.
From Shibuya, it is possible to walk towards Shinjuku past Yoyogi park (just follow the giant building). I did consider taking the subway but the size of the crowd repelled me (Tokyo is an interesting mix of empty and positively jam-packed places).
In Shinjuku, my map showed me dots in the lower part to the right of the station and above the station to the left (“bootleg land”). In the end, for the lower part, out of all the dots, the disc union stores are all I could locate. You really need to be somewhat eagle-eyed to identify each store as you are surrounded by many small signs, most of which offer you no clue as to the nature of the business.
If you are thinking that it will be easy to find the correct street based on the adidas store you will be able to spot from the station entrance for sure – it’s not that easy. In fact, just getting the exit right is a bit of a challenge – this is “only” the planet’s busiest train station used by almost 4 million people a day. You can find your way around here – respect!
Back to disc union, store marked # 1 is their main store. They have a separate section spread over as many as 7 floors, with the Western Rock vinyl section being on floor # 7 of the main store. Each individual floor space is about the size of my living room (which isn’t that big). There is very little bootleg vinyl here.
Crossing over to the other side of Shinjuku station and continuing in a straight line North on the left side, there is a bootleg video place:
Continuing further along and on the other side of the street, there is Shinjuku Records (since 1970), home to Hard Rock on CD these days. Coming back to the left side of the street and down one of the inviting side streets, you will find Blind Faith – a boot CD special store, which either must be hard up for storage space or gets a lot of packages. Some new boot vinyl here as well and magazines.
It was here that I asked where the warehouse was, which I had already walked by several times and just could not find. One thing I loved about Tokyo was how friendly and patient every single person was that I asked for directions (I tried to choose well, targeting those that I felt might speak at least some basic English).
Back on the main street and just up from here in a corner building is another boot CD specialist:
Advertizing the “just in” Stones second night at Tokyo Dome DVD.
Their sign on the other side of the door.
And finally, a little further up on the street and easy to miss was the store with the most used vinyl – and a seemingly never ending flow of sometimes rare early Japanese bootleg vinyl offered on eBay (where they sell under shakeitupbaby) and via their email list -( these records put up for auction are not displayed in the store though):
They had the most space of all the stores I visited and I bought the most (non-bootleg) vinyl here. Prices were very reasonable and the records have rested in plastic sleeves from day 1, avoiding scuffs and had obviously been treated well by their previous owner(s), quite a contrast to what you sometimes find in the West. That is why we love used records from Japan.
My biggest find was a beautiful copy of a first issue George Harrison All Things Must Pass Japan box AP 9016C (supposedly the second best sounding analog version out there) on red PVC for $29/ 21 Euros! UK versions were selling for up to 10 times as much in the next row; talk about the prophet not being appreciated in its own country. So, how could I say no at such a price that probably would not even cover shipping, if sent? Curiously, when I opened it up later, one of the goodies inside was a cut-to-size CBM bootleg LP slip sheet from their Bangladesh concert release – obviously, a real hardcore collector parted ways with this one (and must have gotten next to nothing for it).
Overall, I had hoped for a bigger selection though. My goal is now to make it to one of the record fairs held organized several times a year by the Darumaya store in Ikebukuro.
One of the best things I did when preparing for this trip was to hire a guide from Tokyofreeguide.com . So, we are at the Imperial palace, which is most impressive and I see this building in the not too far distance with a golden ball on top and I’m thinking “hey, that reminds me of the Budokan but surely that’s not in this area” when my guide quips “and that over there is the Budokan.”.
Needless to say, we had to add another stop to our agenda right away. As we approach the building I never thought that it might be open – I mean how much luck can one have? But it was. A graduation ceremony for one of the universities had just ended and we could really walk up the steps and take a peek – the thought alone made me a bit weak in the knees, I have to admit.
I wonder how old that stage was and who has played on it. In hindsight, I wish I had been able to get closer to it but as the only foreigner there I didn’t want to stick out even more or embarrass my guide, who must have thought I was pretty strange. “Nobody ever wanted to go to the Budokan before” I can still hear her saying. … Some of us are just a little more music obsessed than others, I guess. All in all, I had a great time navigating this complex and fascinating culture.