Agony Shorthand

Monday, March 10, 2003
THE THRILL OF THE HUNT, TOKYO STYLE…..I felt like Hemingway in search of the rare whitetail buck in the wilds of Nova Scotia as I set out on foot to conquer Tokyo’s record shops yesterday. I’m still out here for my job and had a free Sunday to tackle this endeavor. Jesus H. Christ, this place is amazing. Best record stores of any city I’ve ever seen – even tops the New York Greenwich Village circuit. After a couple of comical false starts a few days ago in search of Tokyo’s fabled micro-specialty record shops, I set aside all day Sunday to this dogged pursuit. I got up early, ate a big breakfast, packed plenty of rations, and I was off. What was I searching for? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe for myself. I actually enjoy getting hideously lost in a city I know nothing about, the better to stumble upon the “real” sections of the city, and I seem to be pretty adept at it. And of course I don’t ask for directions, just like at home. I Googled a bit online the night before under (“record stores” AND “Tokyo”) and found this really informative guide, as well as this helpful article. Somehow I missed this one that I just stumbled onto right now, which might have saved me a lot of time.

Armed with my walking papers, I started Sunday morning in Shibuya, a loud, commercial-overload district with tons of neon lights and screaming jumbotron TV screens. “Just look for the big Tokyu Hands department store, go behind it and there will be dozens of specialty shops”. RIGHT. Thinking that I knew WHICH Tokyu store that article mentioned, I spent at least 2 hours wandering the streets behind it, even though about 4 blocks away was the Tokyu Hands store I really wanted. You know what’s wild about this place? Everything’s in Japanese! Can you believe that shit? In any event, I accidentally found this store called M...In France that sells only French music – not that techno/house crap, but a store full of the Gainsbourg/60s ye ye/Dutronc/Francois Hardy stuff. It was colorful and inviting, with a proprietor who put the hard sell on me for some 60s French-Canadian pop, and who was the only person besides waitpersons whom I spoke English with all day. He also finally pointed me in the right direction for the rest of the stores, which naturally had been right under my nose. I checked out about a half dozen, including a CD bootleg shop with something like 200 Zeppelin boots and maybe twice that many (seriously) from the Beatles and Stones (if you're ever up for some killer shows from the "Steel Wheels" tour, this is the place), along with a terrifying selection of “progressive” bootlegs from Gong, Camel, Yes, etc. There were also some cool 60s-70s soul and reggae vinyl shops – Sounds of Blackness and Savage come to mind, as well as an entire floor of punk at the five-floor Disc Union. I’d heard the real action was in Shinjuku, home to 50 shops in a several-block area, so I got on the subway and headed over there. Despite four hours in Shibuya, my wallet still hadn’t been lightened to the point where I’d have to lie to my wife – yet.

In Shinjuku, everything’s divided up into “chome”s – which I believe means districts. I was looking for 7 chome, as I’d been instructed. I quickly found 8 chome, and one might have thought that 7 chome would be coming up next, right? Wrong. I finally hit 3 chome and still hadn’t seen a single hipster store, and wasted an entire hour wandering. I walked back and spied a promising shop called Disc Hell – sounds pretty “alternative”, hunh? I took the elevator up to the 8th floor, and it opened directly into a store cranking the most unholy death/grind metal imaginable, at ear-shredding volume of course. Three heavily stoned Japanese heshers, who looked like exiled members of the Aum Shrinrikyo gas-attack cult, slowly glanced up from the counter before sinking back into their reveries. I pretended to look at the Extreme Noise Terror videos for a minute before taking the elevator back down. After more hideous bumbling, I finally found 7 chome, and what a friggin blast the next 3 hours were.

First, the Japanese get everything we get and then some in the US – from the most obscure pressing-of-300 seventies punk comps to hundreds of bootlegs to 45s that were released in London last week. I saw Desperate Bicycles, Mo-Dettes, and Shock 45s on the wall at the amazing Vinyl Japan, quite honestly the most esoteric, well-stocked collector-fiend record store I’ve ever been to, anywhere. There are five different Vinyl Japan stores in the same block, four if you don’t count the house/dance music store. One appears to focus almost wholly on obscure 80s UK pop like the Marine Girls, Monochrome Set, etc. (still didn’t find the Dolly Mixture CD, though). I visited Barn Homes Records, home of the 1+2 garage punk label and a bunch of rare R&B, 60s and 70s punk, and Crypt/Norton-type bands. Also checked out Tiger Hole (punk/indie), a HC punk and death metal store perplexingly called Allman (!), two full-on bootleg stores called Youth Records and Pop Beat, and a couple others I don’t remember the names of. I saw Japanese people with ‘fros, Japanese people with mohawks and leather Discharge/Exploited jackets, and even a homeless guy – just like at home! Beats working any day. That’s the scene report from Japan, where I’m coming at you live. Cut and paste this report for your next visit to Tokyo.