Friday, 16 November 2018

Column: We Went To Japan, I Bought Records

You may or may not be aware that at the beginning of October Emma and I got on a plane and went to Japan for two weeks. It was a once in a lifetime trip where we visited Tokyo, Hakone, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. Whilst travelling around we learnt how to play Taiko drums, visited various parks, shrines, temples and museums, hung out with some deer and some monkeys and went to watch Kyoto Sanga FC play football, among many other things. Another big part of the trip was me dragging us around the various cities on the hunt for record shops. With thanks to Emma doing a little research beforehand and The Vinyl Guide series on YouTube, we discovered Japan to be one of the best places we've ever been to for record hunting. This is a short column talking about my experiences (spoiler alert: it ended up not being very short).

We started off our Japan adventure in Tokyo – the capital of Japan. Wandering around the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, the first record shop we found was a massive multi-storied Tower Records located inside one of Japan's many shopping malls. One thing I learned about Japan was that the Japanese folk love a shopping mall. We didn't pick anything up here but I loved how they had many different listening stations for the various different charts, including a Japanese punk section that I spent a fair amount of time with, checking out different bands. We also found UK band Eat Defeat's EP Time And Tide which created a great photo opportunity for Emma. Tower Records was a good start for our record shopping. It reminded me of HMV in that it had a lot of selection but didn't really have too much of a selection of underground artists.

Up next was what is potentially my favourite thing about Japan – other than Crunky chocolate, Mos Burger and all bakery products – Disk Union. Disk Union is a massive chain store in Japan with shops selling new and second hand vinyl everywhere. Just in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo they have five different shops within quite a short walking distance of each other. Very helpfully they also provide a map (in English) of directions to each store as well as what's in each store. Naturally we were most interested in the punk section which was located on the seventh floor of the biggest Disk Union in the area. Before that though we made our way to the second hand store and had a little dig. Here I found my first record of the entire trip and probably the best bargain I'll ever find in my life – Mustard Plug's Pray For Mojo for the equivalent of £3. Amazing! After this I was in the absolute best mood as we made our way to the floor that is solely dedicated to punk rock. I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed when we first entered the floor – it was a lot smaller than I had expected and full of Japanese bands I'd never heard of (which in truth does make sense). Soon enough we found some classics though. There was so much good stuff that we had to leave some records behind but we did take home with The Guts – Let It Go, Green Day – Warning, Less Than Jake – Losers, Kings And Things We Don't Understand, Screeching Weasel – Bark Like A Dog, Descendents – Enjoy and Dropkick Murphys – Live On St Patrick's Day. A very good haul if you ask me! Later on that day, Emma took me to Shibuya to see the busiest intersection in the world and to help participate in making it so busy. It did make me think, would the crossing be so busy if people weren't crossing for the sake of crossing? Anyway, I digress. Whilst in Shibuya we visited another Disk Union which had a load more great stuff. I however showed some restraint and just picked up Do Or Die by Dropkick Murphys. Their first and only album with former lead singer Mike McColgan on vocals.

After a few days in Tokyo, we headed to Hakone to experience a slightly more rural and traditional Japan. Between visiting various sites in the area, including an open air museum and a cable car ride in an attempt to see Mount Fuji (that failed because it was mega cloudy), we had a lovely time using our own hot spring bath and shabu-shabu dinners (a hot pot you prepare yourself) where I almost poisoned myself – Chef Colin strikes again! – but we did no record shopping. We were actually doing touristy holiday type stuff on a holiday of all things!

Following two days in Hakone doing holiday stuff, we jumped aboard the bullet train and headed towards Hiroshima, home of Dumb Records and Misery Records. We arrived quite late in the day because of some high winds delaying the train (it was typhoon season). But something we discovered in Japan was that their shops open much later than they would here in the UK which is very useful when you travel on wind delayed bullet trains. We'd already researched these record shops beforehand and I was looking forward to checking them out. Emma had found Dumb Records on Google (other search engines are apparently available) and said they specialised in Ramonescore pop punk bands. When we arrived at the store we discovered that it's part record store and part cafĂ©/bar – and it certainly does specialise in Ramonescore pop punk records. I was amazed by the amount of European bands that were stocked in Dumb Records as well as many from America. We settled on picking up a re-issue of The Queers’ classic album Punk Rock Confidential. Whilst paying, the owner of the shop noticed I was wearing my Ramones Museum hoodie from Berlin and said he had wanted to go there. This was a cool little shop owned by a lovely man. He even gave us some free stickers. After leaving Dumb Records we made the quick walk to Misery Records. Something I noticed about a lot of shops we visited in Japan is that they are often in tower blocks. I kind of feel like this might make it difficult to find them if you're just out wandering the streets and not specifically looking for them. I feel like we may have walked past a few hidden gems while we were hunting for others. Misery Records was probably my favourite of all the stores we visited. Not because of the selection they had, though I did come away with a varied selection (Against All Authority – The Restoration Of Order & Chaos, Anti-Flag – Mobilize, Left Alone – Lonely Starts & Broken Hearts, The McRackins – Mickey And Mallory) but because of how welcoming the store's owners (husband and wife) were. We spent about fifteen minutes in there talking about where we were from, where we'd been, how we had heard about the shop and what we were going to do in Hiroshima. He even assumed we were in a band that was currently touring Japan – I assume plenty of actual touring bands pop into the shop. There was also a funny moment where I almost made myself look really stupid. He was asking us if we were interested in the A-Bomb and for a second I did wonder if he was talking about a hardcore band. Before leaving the store he insisted on getting a photo of us with him. Also, if you ever find yourself in Hiroshima, I really recommend you visit a little Mexican restaurant named Otis, the food is delicious with lots of veggie options and the place is just really wonderful.

The next stop on our tour of Japan was a trip down to Nagasaki for a few days of sightseeing and stuff. Our stay in Nagasaki also coincided with a yearly festival that I'm not really sure was (Emma says it is called Nagasaki Kunchi Festival) but it involved lots of chanting and carrying around festival floats/mini shrines. It was really quite the spectacle. This festival also meant there were loads of food stalls around the Nagasaki harbour. We sampled some chocolate covered bananas – two each in fact because for some reason the nice lady gave us four for the price of two. They were delicious. Whilst in Nagasaki, we also found a great record store named Sonny Boy. This shop was full of crates of second hand records from every conceivable genre. The punk and ska stuff (the good stuff) was found at the back of the store mixed in with all sorts of modern rock bits that you don't generally see anywhere. It was like a little treasure trove of the stuff you didn't know you wanted but once you saw it you had to have it. I searched through each crate and found Catch 22 – Alone In A Crowd, Slow Gherkin – Double Happiness and Potshot – Rock 'N' Roll (we couldn't not get a Japanese band's record). But it was Emma who found the record I was most excited to buy. Above the 12 inches were a selection of 7 inches. I don't usually like to buy 7 inches because I rarely listen to them but when Emma pointed out Jump On Demand by, a band that changed my life, [Spunge] was sitting on the shelf, I had to have it. I didn't even know it existed and it made me very excited. Sonny Boy was a great shop with loads of great finds in it, a bit like Nagasaki itself which Emma and I both decided was our favourite place we visited.

The final destination on our adventure in Japan was Kyoto. Another fantastic place located near to lots of other brilliant tourist destinations – we hung out with deer (Nara) and monkeys (Arashiyama), saw plenty of temples and shrines and took a walk round Himeji Castle. Unfortunately the record shopping in Kyoto wasn't great but Kyoto is not too far from Osaka which was incredible for record shopping. We arrived in Osaka fairly late in the day but, again thanks to the shops opening late, this really wasn't a problem. I'd seen on The Vinyl Guide YouTube channel that the Shinsaibashi area has a lot of record stores. When finding the first Disk Union, we accidentally went into the classical music shop before heading across the shopping precinct to the rock and punk version. There wasn't quite as big a selection here as the Disk Union in Tokyo but I did find an original pressing of The Toasters’ Pool Shark that I was very pleased with. In Disk Union the nice chap who served me gave me a map of the Osaka record stores which I thought was incredible and extremely helpful. It had a list of all the stores in the area, where they are and what they specialise in. The one that originally appealed the most was a shop called Time Bomb. Although it was a pretty big shop and seemed to have a lot in, there wasn't a whole lot in the way of punk stuff. Hidden away in the corner though there was a section for punk records. We found a load of super rare first pressings including Green Day's classic breakthrough Dookie. However we had to leave it in the shop as it cost about £200! The biggest surprise of the whole trip was from a store that I wasn't actually expecting to find anything. There are a pair of King Kong Records shops in Shinsaibashi. The first we visited was a tiny pop up shop style place next to a Tower Records. Here we found Ann Beretta – New Union, Old Glory and Planet Smashers – Attack Of The Planet Smashers and I was over the moon. Later in the evening, we found another King Kong Records in another shopping mall place that was decorated wonderfully for Halloween. Something else I learned in Japan is that they love Halloween there. It was crazy. This King Kong Records was much bigger and an absolute gold mine! Digging through the punk and "neo ska" section (I guess neo ska means third wave ska) I found Mustard Plug – Yellow #5, McRackins – In On The Yolk, Buck-O-Nine – Twenty-Eight Teeth and Nerf Herder – American Cheese. I was very excited by the Nerf Herder find. I had to leave loads behind because Emma reminded me we also needed to eat for the remainder of the holiday and I was secretly getting a little worried about the weight of my suitcase.

Overall Japan proved to be great for record shopping and is a really fantastic country full of wonderful sights and the nicest people I've ever come across. Coming from Essex and having spent sixteen years working in retail, I'm not used to be surrounded by such a polite group of people and it took a lot of getting used to. I highly recommend visiting Japan, not just for finding great punk records but to experience this beautiful culture and country.

This wasn't actually the end of my record shopping. On our last day in Kyoto we were wandering back from Kyoto Zoo through a massive shopping arcade type place and we found one last record shop we hadn't actually been in yet. I've completely forgotten the name of the shop but it was a small basement store. It didn't really look as if it had much but there was an "after 90s" section that intrigued me just because of the name. In this I found actual (not actual) gold in the form of a picture disc version of the Less Than Jake debut album Pezcore. What a find that was! There were a lot of wow moments for me on this trip. This one earned a wowee!

Go to Japan. It's cool.

This column was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew and Colin.

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