Japan is a collector’s dream. Whether its toys, comics, or video games, there are stores filled with everything you want. What’s more, CD’s never really went out of fashion in Japan so there’s still large music stores such as Shibuya’s Tower Records which has seven levels divided by genres and themes.
I spoke with two record collectors about their hobby and what makes Japanese records and CD’s stand out from the rest.
I first spoke with Dave from djshadowreconstructed.com , a collector from the UK whose passion is DJ Shadow. So how did Dave get hooked?
“I guess I’ve always been a bit of a collector. I started to buy a lot of CD’s and things in my teenage years, and then my actual DJ Shadow collection probably [wasn’t started] until 2006…What started it was, I was getting more and more into Shadow and I was looking to try and track down every track its physical form, whether it be on vinyl or CD. So that started me on the road to buying multiple versions of things like a different copy of Endtroducing for example for the In / Flux bonus track.”
The bonus track appeared on the Japanese edition of DJ Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing from 1996, and at the time it was one of the few places to hear it on CD. This helped make the Japanese edition of the album highly sought after by collectors.
I next spoke to Brian from Australia who also goes by the name AstroBboy. With a nickname like that it will come as no surprise that Brian collects Hip Hop and Astro Boy merchandise. Or at least he did, because as he told me he no longer collects. So what happened?
“When it comes to records, I guess it started when I was 15 or 16. I was really into the Beastie Boys and a second hand CD/record store near my school had a copy of She’s On It. That single wasn’t released on Licensed To Ill so I needed that song to complete my collection at the time. So when I purchased this single it was just for that one song, and I was pretty happy…but then after collecting 500 Beastie Boys records it got a bit out of control. [Later] I was moving a lot and as you can imagine records weigh a lot. It was also getting to a point where it was more about collecting than the music, so I sold off the collection.”
What Is Special About Japanese Releases On Vinyl
While CDs and records are pressed all over the world, Japanese pressings are sought after by collectors for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there may be different artwork or bonus tracks, but an added curiosity is the obi strip. The obi is a piece of paper which is wrapped around one side of a CD or record packaging and they often contain information on them such as price, translated titles, and advertisements for other releases. The obi is uncommon outside of Japan leading to people sometimes throwing them away, which means collectors will often pay more for an item with an obi than without. Especially if they’re a completist.
Japanese Exclusive Songs and Albums
Part of the fun of collecting is finding interesting items, and Japan is full of them. While the unique artwork and obi strips can be cool, for me the main attraction is the bonus tracks, and Brian told me about one I had never heard.
In 2005 Beastie Boys released a compilation titled Solid Gold Hits which featured a remix of their song Right Right Now Now exclusive to Japan. The remix is titled RRNN: Straight Outta Shibuya and features a rap in Japanese by Takagi Kan. Kan is part of the Major Force group who released several Hip Hop records in Japan during the 1980’s and 1990’s. We previously wrote about his song Last Orgy, and how his TV show with Hiroshi Fujiwara inspired BAPE’s Nigo.
But Straight Outta Shibuya wasn’t the first time Takagi Kan collaborated with the Beastie Boys, as he actually contributed Japanese linear notes to some Japanese editions of Beastie Boys albums, including Licensed To Ill in 1986. Straight Outta Shibuya was later collected on a special digital deluxe edition of Beastie Boys To The 5 Boroughs album meaning more people have the opportunity to hear it now.
While “exclusive to Japan” may have once meant you were unlikely to find something outside of Japan at all, these days thanks to the internet and websites such as eBay or Discogs, you can get just about anything delivered to your door. So what exclusive items should I look out for? Dave gave some suggestions for a potential collector:
“There’s a few Mo’ Wax compilations which feature DJ Shadow, like Build & Destroy, Mo’ Groove, Ape Shall Never Kill Ape box set. Mostly the [interesting DJ Shadow] Japan stuff is promotional variations with unique artwork or track listings.”
I also asked Brian about Beastie Boys items and he told me about some “cute” 3” mini CDs. While CDs are generally 5”, in the 1980’s and 1990’s some bands released songs on 3” CDs, including the Beastie Boys’ Japan exclusive Get It Together single. Then in 2005 the band played with size again when they released a copy of their Licensed To Ill album on CD, but in a 12” packaging, replicating a vinyl release. Again, this was exclusive to Japan.
Keeping Track Of Your Collection
It’s hard to imagine ever keeping track of so many unique releases, and both Dave and Brian have found different ways to solve this by using the internet.
Brian helps run Beastiemania, a fan website dedicated to everything Beastie Boys. But the collection on Beastiemania doesn’t all belong to Brian, and it’s instead been put together by a huge list of fans from all over the world, making it the most complete and detailed Beastie Boys discography online.
Meanwhile, Dave runs an Instagram page @thedjshadowcollection, which he uses to share his collection with the world. Through his page Dave shares regular posts with updates of new or interesting items, some of which are extremely rare. This has led to him meeting other collectors from around the world, and Dave is currently collaborating with some other fans on a new DJ Shadow fan site, DJ Shadow Reconstructed.
With so many people collecting now you would almost expect there to be nothing of interest left in stores. But when I was recently in Japan, I was struck by how well stocked their record stores are. It seemed I could find anything if I was willing to spend enough time digging through crates.
Why Do People Like Japanese Vinyl
While I was impressed by all of the stock in Japanese record stores, I was even more impressed by how the CDs and records were all in such amazing condition, and often looked brand new. As a final question, I asked Dave and Brian about why they thought this was, but neither were too certain. While this aspect of collecting must remain a mystery, they both did agree that even if you’re buying something online from Japan it will always arrive with utmost care.
It seems that the reason people like Japanese records comes down to the following:
-Obi Strip and Inserts (Lyrics Sheets, Linear Notes, Poster)
-Second hand items that look brand new
-Items which are posted to you undamaged
So, while you may not be able to visit Japan right now, it is perhaps the perfect time to start saving for your next trip so you can experience firsthand Japan’s exclusive records and CDs, and fill up the gaps in your collections. Even if you collect something other than Beastie Boys or DJ Shadow, Japan will surely have what you need tucked into a crate somewhere for a few hundred yen.
While there’s record stores all over Japan, here’s some of our favourites.
Tower Records Tokyo
The Shibuya store is a massive 7 floors, and the Shinjuku store has a great vinyl only floor filled with almost anything you could want. These stores are great if you want to find some new CD’s or records, but beware of the price!
Their website gives you an idea of their stock, and provides services to ship worldwide. http://tower.jp
These stores are spread all over Tokyo. Their main Shinjuku store is 8 floors, while they also have smaller stores dedicted to Jazz, Metal, and Soul. Disc Union are the best place to find second hand records and CDs, and some even sell cassette tapes. There website has a handy map of all their stores, and there’s even an English version. https://diskunion.net/st/shop/
Marking Records Matsumoto
A beautiful store, Marking sell new records, CDs, cassette tapes, and zines. Their focus is on Alternative music so take a look at their website to get an idea of what to expect. https://shop.markingrecords.com/
Recommended by AstroBBoy, a great collection of second hand records across various genres. They also ship overseas if you buy online. https://timebomb.co.jp/en
This store sells every genre of music, as well as books, magazines, and DVDs. They have a selection of new and used records to browse, and you can also buy online with international shipping.
This is the #1 place to buy random stuff from Japan if you’re overseas. It’s similar to eBay so there’s magazines, merchandise, and book alongside CDs and records, and a lot of Japan Exclusive items are available here. It can be complicated to use if you’re not in Japan, but you can use a service like Buyee to buy things on your behalf. https://auctions.yahoo.co.jp
Similar to Yahoo Auctions, Mercari is filled with exclusive Japan Only items like records and magazines. Just like Yahoo Auctions, they use Buyee to allow international purchases.
James Gaunt is an Australian writer who published his book Making Psyence Fiction in 2020. James previously lived in Tokyo, Japan but has recently returned to Melbourne, Australia. He maintains a keen interest in Japanese music, and publishes regularly on Medium http://medium.com/@jimmyjrg
Japanese Reading Difficulty 4/12 Could be read and understood by 4th grade level student in Japan Themes Partitioning of Korea Text Type Songs In Translation
I introduce the new Japanese indie music platform Minna Kikeru, which is an amazing treasure trove of alternative music from Japan.
I translate some of the band bios and play some of the songs by tenniscoats, Yuko Ikema and My Pal Foot Foot.
A complete translation of a 1997 interview between Nigo and James Lavelle.