Are you planning to go to Japan? Very well, cause you’re gonna have the time of your life! And since you’re going to the home of our favorite artists, you may want to buy many CDs and items that you can’t get from your country cause of the insane overseas prices.
Beware though: getting lost in a big Japanese city like Tokyo is easy. Wandering around searching for good music shops is easy, but finding them is another matter. Here’s where Land of the Rising Sound comes in help: with several trips in Japan behind me giving me the necessary knowledge to help you, I’ve gathered all the informations you need on some of the best music shops in Tokyo and all around Japan. Wether you’d like to purchase brand new releases, second hand CDs/DVDs, or rare merchandise, I got you covered with all the kinds of places you need to visit to get the best items at the best prices. Let’s begin!
Music in Japan
Japan is one of the most beautiful and particular countries in the world: most of the times, if you love Japanese music you also love Japan, as the music market itself is the reflection of this society and culture.
The concept of downloading illegally is not much diffused as it is in western countries, and fans regularly buy their favorite artists’ releases whenever they can, which is very admirable and a great benefit for the music industry and the artists. As consequence, of course, there’s more availability of music compared to the western part of the planet, where many music shops sadly close every day. This means that if we overseas fans go to Japan for a vacation hungry for anything purchasable related to music, what we’ll find is simply a paradise.
Music is everywhere in Japan. But once you reach this wonderland, where do you have to go to buy what you need? Japanese cities, especially Tokyo, are seriously huge and getting lost in malls or buying something at a good price just to find out that a shop just near sells the same product at a cheaper price is easy. So what I’m going to analyze here are some of the most famous and, according to my experience, best places where to buy CDs and items of every genre, shops that I’ve found during the time I’ve spent in Japan.
This guide is divided in three parts: New Releases, Second Hand Deals and Merchandise, each one featuring descriptions of the best shops where to find the related items. Before getting into this guide, remember the one essential rule when buying stuff in Japan: look first, buy later. Take your time to explore all the shops you want and buy where it’s more convenient. I know it’s hard to resist, but you should never rush in buying something just because you saw it: be patient, and you’ll save money and time!
The most famous music chain in all Japan: Tower Records. Despite its American origins, Tower Records has its biggest stores in Japan, where the music market is the most alive in the world. There are around 83 stores in all Japan, but the most famous one, also considered one of the biggest music stores in the world, is the huge Tower Records Shibuya: With eight (EIGHT) giant floors full of shelves filled with any genre of music, this is the main place where to buy all the newest and most common releases: singles, albums, DVDs/Blu-Ray discs, recent magazines, and everything you need to satisfy your hunger for new Japanese music, is here. If you want to start supporting an artist in Japan, this is definitely the right place where to begin.
During release periods, outside the stores you can see huge advertisements (walls, basically) featuring promotional pictures and videos of the upcoming releases, which is a pretty impressive sight for newcomers. Depending on the artist, you can also find the famous handwritten notebooks: always during the release period of a new single or album, there is a table just near the entrance on the right where you can find many books where to write your own personal handwritten message for your favorite artist. I did this for the release of Perfume’s single “Spice” in 2011.
And if you already have all the newest releases you need, it doesn’t matter: go to Tower Records, even just to listen to a new album. It’s a duty and a unique experience to visit these shops if you came all the way from your home to Tokyo.
The most famous retail chain of all Japan and the main alternative to Tower Records, despite being a completely different type of shop. The main Tsutaya store is in the famous Shibuya crossing in front of the Shibuya JR Station, just two steps away from the Hachiko statue.
Tsutaya is the leader of the rental market in Japan, taking care of CDs, movies, videogames, and books. Their concept is different from the Tower Records philosophy: instead of giant stores in the main districts (the one located in Shibuya is an exception) Tsutaya are usually small shops that you can find pretty much everywhere: there are more than 1.000 Tsutaya stores in all Japan. They are usually located inside malls or small complexes, which makes them easier to reach and comfortable to visit due to their small dimensions and the presence of cafes where you can have a break. In these stores you can find new but also used CDs, and prices are pretty fair.
Other suggested music shops: HMV
SECOND HAND DEALS
My favorite second hand chain in Japan. With almost 900 stores in all the country, Book Off is a great place to buy used music in great conditions at very good prices. It’s the number one second-hand chain for books, but also has entire floors of Videogames, Music, DVDs, Blu-Ray Discs, Manga and so on. Every time I go to Japan I can’t help but stop at every Book Off store that I see. But why do I love it so much?
First of all, the stores are greatly organized, making every research extremely easy and fast; while other stores sometimes have a confused order of musical genres, here everything is well organized in alphabetical order to guarantee a fast and pleasant browsing. Great prices and availability of items are also a plus: I had the chance to find rare releases in mint conditions at incredibly good prices that I couldn’t find anywhere else, even online. Old Limited Editions are pretty easy to find as well, making Book Off’s shelves rich of every kind of music release. You can’t find the album or DVD you were looking for? Just try another store and you’ll may find it.
If you happen to find a Book Off on your way when wandering around Tokyo, you should definitely enter to take a look at what they have: you’ll hardly come out of the shop empty handed. The most recommended Book Off points in Tokyo are in Akihabara and Kichijoji. You will surely find something for you in these shops!
You’d better get ready for this if you’re an hardcore collector. You probably don’t know this, but under Shinjuku’s neon jungle there’s a gold mine full of rare music releases that goes by the name of Disk Union.
Disk Union is a well known chain among fans in Japan, but not much among the foreigners, who are mainly attracted by the most famous stores I analyzed earlier. There are many Disk Union stores around the most famous districts of Tokyo that are worth visiting. This chain usually divides its shops in musical genres: You may find a Disk Union entirely dedicated to Jazz Music, Rock, Punk, or focused on old formats like Vinyls and Cassettes. So, there’s a shop for pretty much all your needs and tastes.
The store I recommend to visit first is in Shinjuku, two minutes away from the East exit of the JR station: it’s really easy to reach, and you can check this map to get the precise location of the store. The main floor sells various genres of music, while the underground basement is completely dedicated to pop. This one in particular is worth visiting, and what I’ve found in front of me once I walked down the stairs was an unbelievable show: an overload of extremely rare items of several artists exposed in a shelf, in almost perfect conditions. From old and rare Limited Edition albums and singles, fan club exclusive photo books, forgotten first press DVDs and Idol vinyls, you’ll hardly ever see so many rare and beautiful things all together in your life, making Disk Union the best place to get rare music releases. And you know what’s even better? The prices are great. I can say without a shade of doubt that these are the best prices I’ve seen so far around Tokyo, even on the most recent releases, which makes Disk Union a must visit during your pilgrimage. The items are organized pretty well, even though at first some shops may look a bit confusing: In this case your best bet is to ask to the employee, that will help you find what you’re looking for in no time.
Long story short, this hidden paradise is the best place on earth if you’re an hardcore collector and want to drastically improve your collection with rare pieces of music. Your wallet will be mercilessly killed, but the grin on your face will last for a long time.
Trio is a chain specialized in second hand magazines, posters, and all kinds of merchandise related to J-pop and Idol groups. There are two main stores in Tokyo, one inside Nakano Broadway and one in Akihabara, each one divided into two branches located in the same building. It’s the ultimate store to get all the merchandise you need.
– Nakano Broadway (2nd and 3rd floor): Posters, Magazines, Cards
The store in Nakano Broadway (3rd Floor, just beside the escalator) is not that huge, but it’s usually full of good deals. I had the chance to get a LEVEL3 poster and many magazines at an excellent price (2,000 Yen for the poster, and three magazines at 500 Yen each one, mint conditions). Depending on the period of the year, you may find some interesting discounts and even some rare item, even though prices aren’t the best on this kind of product. Just to be clear, you’re here to find posters, magazines and Idol cards. The second branch of the store, located in the second floor of the same building, is focused only on particular Idol groups like Morning Musume and Momoiro Clover, so if you’re a fan of these groups you’ll probably go insane.
– Akihabara (3rd and 4th floor): Posters, Magazines, Cards, Photobooks, Fan Club and Live merchandise.
The second store in Akihabara is probably the most interesting one: located just five minutes away from the Electric Town JR exit (here’s the map), the shop is inside a building in a secondary street. Obviously, it has the same items and prices as the store in Nakano Broadway, but this shop is more focused on general merchandise, including Live goods. It’s a very popular place among fans, so everyday you’ll find something new, but if you see something interesting to buy you’d better get it immediately, cause it’s definitely not sure you will find it again the next day. T-shirts, towels, old and rare pamphlets, tour goods, Fan Club DVDs and much more prove that this is the ultimate place if you’re looking for your favorite artists’ merchandise, and prices are excellent! I’ve bought a Perfume fan club exclusive T-shirt and a towel for just 2,900 Yen. Just like in Nakano Broadway, even here in Akihabara there are two shops located in different floors (3rd and 4th), so be sure to visit both of them!
Probably the most famous chain for Manga lovers, Mandarake also has some interesting sections reserved to J-pop and Idol merchandise shown in their famous glass cabinets. There isn’t anything really special in these shops, but once in a while you may find some minor items that you may be interested in adding to your collection, and sometimes even some posters at interesting prices. Be aware though: between the goods there may be some unofficial merchandise too, so be careful!
The main stores to visit first are located in Nakano Broadway (not far from Trio) and in Shibuya, three floors underground: Here’s the map to reach it.
Is there really any need of presentations? Any Japan lover knows Akihabara, one of the most bizzare, crazy and fascinating places in all Tokyo. Akihabara is all you need when it comes to Idols, Videogames, Anime and Manga (and cute girls).
To be completely honest, besides some probably fan made cards and pictures, and the Book Off/Trio points I talked about earlier, I haven’t found many interesting music shops here, and this probably happened because I haven’t searched in any single shop of the district. Why? Because it’s impossible. Well, it’s possible, but you should take a couple of days off to search in every shop of this huge place, and if you have enough time and passion you will surely find some hidden place that’s worth visiting. My suggestion is to take a day off from your schedule and start searching in any single shop and hole of the district, leaving behind AKB48 ads, theaters, shops, sexy shops and so on (you’ll, uhm, have time for them later) and search everywhere you can. Which is gonna be a pleasure, really: don’t believe to those saying Akihabara is only for Otaku and Nerds, because it’s one of the places in Tokyo where you’ll always want to come back again and again.
Oh, and don’t forget to have a break in the amazing Gundam Café!
Search! Search as much as you can if you have time: in the giant shops, in the malls, in the little shops in some lost district outside the Yamanote line, in other cities… In Japan you can find very good shops and surprises everywhere.
If you’re planning to make a two weeks vacation in the Tokyo area (which includes Yokohama and all the bay area), you will surely have long walks that will make you feel free as you’ve never been in your life. So between a little break in a café or in a Family Mart (I love conbinis, ok?), if you find a curious shop that might have what you’re interested in, just stop there instead of passing by. Surprises are always around the corner in Japan!
Do you want to know how to buy Japanese Music from your country? Read my Support Japanese Music from Overseas guide!