Digging in Japan: Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo’s best record stores (part two)
Back in July 2018, I had somewhat of a pilgrimage to Tokyo and spent an entire week visiting record stores, resulting in the first feature here on ASIP covering ten of my favorite record stores.
Five years later, I was lucky enough to visit Japan once more, this time with a best friend who also loves music. Our visit was sandwiched between two DJ shows I played in Tokyo and Osaka, allowing me the option to also explore Kyoto and Osaka stores more. What follows, are some of my favorite stores from the trip, that are in addition to those covered in the first post linked below.
Read: Digging in Japan: Ten of Tokyo’s best record stores
Plenty has happened in the five years since I went to Japan last, most notably, a global pandemic… Whether directly related or not, two of my favorite stores had since closed. Technique in Shibuya shut its doors in 2022, almost certainly as a result of Japan’s strict restrictions surrounding the pandemic. The techno-forward store was a mecca for any electronic DJ and is sorely missed. In addition, cult-favorite Disc Shop Zero shut down due to the unfortunate death of E-Jima san. The owner of the store passed away without passing the reigns, and now Japan is without one more very special record store.
This trip included repeat visits to Lighthouse Records, Face Records, Next Records (all Shibuya), Jet Set, City Country City, and Disk Union ( all Shimokitazawa), all of which were covered in the previous article so won’t be called out again here. All of these shops appeared relatively unchanged this time around and are all still highly recommended visits.
So, on to the new shelves…
Kankyō Records (Tokyo)
One thing that’s evident since 2018, is the increased proliferation of ambient music in physical form, especially the popularity of Kankyō Ongaku, or “environmental music” – a Japanese genre of music that was established in the 1980s as a reaction to the rapid urbanization and economic development of the time, and now seemingly having a resurgence. Unrelated to any of the reissues, but obviously inspired by the term and genre, Kankyō Records stocks many styles of ambient and experimental music, and goes deep. The store, located in what seems like a quiet student neighborhood, was hidden just off the main road on the ground floor of an apartment building. Stepping through the doors, the shop is small, with an entrance to remove your shoes and a pristine white interior – somewhat of a stark contrast to the busy record stores found elsewhere in Japan. A small crate of second-hand records meet you as you step in and remove your shoes, then a single wall of new vinyl, a wall of tapes, and CDs, all meticulously evenly spaced and presented.
Kankyō no doubt focuses on highlighting some of the many smaller tape labels in the scene – many of which come from Japan – but you can also find American labels such as Constellation Tatsu taking up a lot of that lovely white real estate along with a wide selection of ambient music on vinyl, precisely curated.
Brilliant stickers too.
Average cost: $$$ (many imports)
Specialty: Ambient, Drone, Experimental (Vinyl, Cassettes and CDs)
Ella Records Warehouse (Tokyo- Shimokitizawa)
We saw a fellow tourist in Disk Union Shimokitazawa and gave the digger nod, and an hour or two later, found ourselves in a chance meeting outside of a coffee shop. Noticing us again, he stopped and asked if we had got anything great, and we got talking. I can’t remember his name, but he was a DJ from Montreal back in the day and ended up recommending Ella Warehouse, which was just 5 minutes up the road. I had saved Ella Records previously on my list, but this seemed to be a new location near the station and a ‘warehouse’ if it wasn’t already obvious. Four floors up, the entrance is (surprise surprise, unassuming and easily missed, and took us two trips up the stairs to finally try the big heavy metal door) but when you enter, the space is noticeably more spacious than the typical store characteristic in Japan and reminded me of a store you might find in the UK.
Two people cleaned and filed records without even glancing up, and with crates at two levels (yes, the knee busters were out in force), it was clear we had our work cut out. Looking at the other customers, it was clearly a DJ-forward shop, and the collection went on to reflect it. Split in two, with house and techno on one side and hip-hop the other. There was plenty of 00s dance music to be found, including the more commercial stuff (including big trance and house hitters) so it was definitely more of a quantity-over-quality vibe. I ended up picking up and listening to about five records, but none really shouted at me to grab them right there and then, and so I left empty-handed. Don’t take that as a negative though – definitely a store worth visiting and going by the huge backstock shelves, it likely switches things up more often than other stores, so timing is everything.
Average cost: $$ (all used but generically priced in levels)
Specialty: House, Techno, Trance, Hip-hop.
If Technique was a techno lover’s mecca in Japan, Meditations in Kyoto is quickly becoming the ambient lover’s mecca. Away from the Temples and small streets that make Kyoto so endearing, Meditations floats upon the second floor of yet another unassuming building a bit further north of the tourist hustle of downtown.
As you’d expect from such a name, it was a calm space, but also has a very active webstore by my experience, meaning the owner was busy packing records as we dug in – the sound of tape being ripped slightly jarring against the beautiful music and smell of incense. But, I was here at work (aka to dig) not to meditate…
The standing racks featured just about every adjacent genre to ambient music and within them an amazing selection of well-curated, new releases, some of which are hard for me to even find in US stores. Plenty of Music From Memory, Astral Industries, Imp Rec, and a surprisingly big Boomkat-related distro selection (think Sferic, 3XL etc) – impressive ambient labels of today that are hard to find outside of Europe. Under the racks, was a selection of Japanese and world music but second-hand records were few and far between. Ironically, I think I got my least ‘ambient’ records in this store and finally picked up the Death Is Not The End London Pirate Radio editions. With new records, it’s always hard to stretch your ears into unknown territories without taking a $plunge, and I had only really just got started on the trip…
After Meditations, there was another record store just around the corner from Meditations, which we sat patiently (in a nearby bar that the owner kindly kept open for us) waiting for the store to open, only to find they were shut for the week. It came recommended by a local friend, so may be worth stopping by the link above if you already hit Meditations.
Average cost: $$$ (mostly new, and many imports)
Specialty: Ambient, Experimental, Drone/Noise, Japanese + World
Jazzy Sport (Kyoto)
I didn’t end up going to Shimokitazawa’s Jazzy Sport this time around (we tried, but it was shut despite Google saying it was open) so I made sure to visit the Kyoto outpost instead. It was also very close to my hotel, so no excuse. Up on the 4th floor above a beautiful district on the east side of the river, this spot is more of a DJ and merch store than a record store, but it gave an overall pristine and luxury vibe with new records, crossing funk, jazz, world music and plenty of local label support too so worthy of a call out here. The picture just about captures the amount of vinyl on offer, albeit with a few more crates underneath. I debated a compilation featuring all local Kyoto artists that they played for me on the system, but it didn’t hit the spot. Worth a step inside, if even for the cool merch and view from the top floor.
Average cost: $$$ (mostly new)
Specialty: Funk, Jazz, World, electronic.
With the second DJ gig of my travels in Osaka being on the day before we left, it meant I only got to dig here for one afternoon, but we went pretty hard and hit gold.
Newtone is an electronic music fan’s haven. Well stocked (sometimes too much – you know, when you can’t even flick through) Newtone has philosophically replaced Technique as the DJ’s mecca in Japan and is a one-stop shop for any new release. With bottom shelves organized by distributors, you get a sense (if you know that world atleast) of how many distro’s this store is buying from, and it’s pretty much all of the biggies. Meaning, there’s no shortage of UK, US and EU records available here – a big deal if you’re local to Japan or visiting from Australia (or even the US like me). The prices reflect it, given the imports, but there are definitely some bargains to be had, and given you’d be paying expensive shipping yourself if you normally buy from the UK or EU, it works out just as good if not better. Also, one of the few stores that actually had a rack with new arrivals/recommendations – typical of a classic DJ-focused record store. However, listening wasn’t really an option given so many were new and sealed, so people were visiting the computer to grab audio clips.
Give yourself a couple of hours to truly rummage around in this one and get your headphones at the ready…
I was happy to also find a copy of Striê & Scanner’s ASIP LP in here too.
Average cost: $$$ (mostly new)
Specialty: Techno, Minimal, House, Ambient + more
I’ve long heard about Raregroove, and it was a must-visit for my short trip this time around. Often known for stocking some of the best Japanese Pop and Ambient, Jazz, World Music, and of course rare groove, it didn’t disappoint. If you’re more of a purist in that sense and going to Japan for the OG or regional presses then this is your spot. It’s world-renowned as one of the best record stores for a reason and if I had time to come back, I would have snapped up quite a few pieces in hindsight, but little did I know my time was about to run short.
Situated in a building shared with about five other record stores, once you’re finished in here, it’s the equivalent of walking into a new office down the hallway to find a whole new set of crates, but unfortunately for me, they were mostly hip-hop focused.
Hope to chat to you again soon, Norio!
Average cost: $$
Specialty: Japanese Pop, Ambient, Nuwave, House, Groove, Jazz etc
Revelation Time (Osaka)
Perhaps my most successful dig happened to be the last store in Osaka at Revelation Time. This was, after now visiting quite a few stores over the years, perhaps a reflection of the quintessential Japanese record store you can come to expect.
Unassuming building, hidden away on the 4th floor.
One small room
Focused on records, not decor or merch.
Owner behind a desk, cleaning the records and simultaneously DJing.
Second-hand crates well curated and featuring notes / great tagging.
The entire center aisle was full of records I have never seen in the flesh before and the best thing was they made the genre and keywords very clear on the small writeups, which made it much easier to take a chance on a record and listen to it. A record that is simply categorized as “Trance” in many other stores, is less attractive than a record that says “Banging Belgium Trance Classic from 1995”… I’m in… and the wallet shared the pain. I ended up finding a few classic digs, but also some early IDM LPs that I’ve longed for, including Bola and u-ziq, Sensorama and an amazing rare ambient 12” by Haruomi Hosono (member of Yellow Magic Orchestra among many other influential projects).
Average cost: $$
Specialty: Ambient, IDM, Techno, House, Japanese Pop etc.
At this point, we were done, tapped out, and off to DJ in Osaka at an amazing party with Muzan Editions at Bar Wols. Ironically though given the weight being pulled behind me, without any turntables at the venue!
But as with all trips to Japan, I left with a crate full of special music for future listening, and unforgettable memories, longing to be back already.
Face Records Tokyo
Next Records Tokyo
Read the first feature from 2018, which includes ten more record stores in Tokyo, here.