Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tokyo '94

6-17-09 Vinyl Time – Travel (Tokyo '94)

I was encouraged to go to Japan by my friend Ken Heaton. I never went in the 80’s, because I always thought that the language barrier would make insurmountable problems. I was wrong. Fall of 1994 – Tokyo was a really neat place. I was 36 years old, and there was still some evidence of the vinyl wave around Tokyo. We were staying in Hiroo, so it was walking distance to the mighty Wave store in Roppongi. It was like an entire department store for music – something like 5 floors of stuff. There was even a corner for ‘indie vinyl’ – privately-pressed US 45’s! There were French CD’s, soundtracks – mega jazz – attractively presented CD’s on endcaps, with descriptions on tags that I could not read – but they looked great!

Taking a train to somewhere out west, on the JR Chuo line – I spotted a billboard on a train platform that had the cover of Fleetwood Mac “English Rose” – and I thought it was for a record store, making a mental note of which station it was at. We did later return to Nakano, and we found the wonderful “Rare” chain of shops, but I was told years later that the Fleetwood Mac LP cover was an advertisement for a bar!

In 1994, I hadn’t fully transformed back into vinyl man yet – it was CD time, mostly. Yes, there were records in used record stores, but my focus of the first trip was primarily on Japanese domestic compact discs. By 2000, I was definitely hunting down vinyl again, when visiting Tokyo.

In some places in ’94, there was evidence of super inexpensive vinyl that was still being ditched from the first wave of people selling off vinyl to buy CD’s. I crouched and looked at a few crates outside of a big electronics store in Akihabara – records were cheap, most of them still had their obi’s (the paper band around the cover) – but it was obvious that these bins had been looked through a LOT over a few years. Not a lot of ‘good stuff’ in there. By sharp contrast, I could go into nearby used CD stores and turn up really interesting CD’s for a low price.

There was indeed a language barrier. For some restaurant experiences, I relied on my friend Ken to order the food. But all the train station signs were in English; we had an English-language map that we used a lot. I found that if you acted like you knew what you’re doing, and where you were going – results were mostly OK.

I brought to Japan my experience of looking for records all over the western U.S., western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I felt like I’d really already seen a lot. But I definitely saw records that I’d never seen anywhere before. I walked in and out of dozens of tiny record shops in Nishi-Shinjuku, my mouth open at all the endless variations available – for a price. It was amusing to have to wander around office building hallways, looking for record stores that had an advertisement placed on a placard on the sidewalk, in front. Is that even in this building? Casa Bianca, D.M.S., Hi-Fi, H.M.V. Shibuya, Virgin Shinjuku…it all becomes a blur. Which trip did I buy the Yukihiro Takahashi neck tie? (I definitely bought it in Studio Alta in Shinjuku).

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