Record Store Review: HMV Record Shop In Shibuya
Tokyo’s original HMV, which opened in 1990 and closed in 2010, was more than just a record store. It was a scene spot where many up-and-coming Japanese bands were able to foster local popularity and grow into somewhat international stars. In fact, an entire genre of music, Shibuya-Kei, the jazz/pop hybrid made famous by acts like Cibo Matto and Pizzacato Five, became popular largely because of HMV’s heavy promotion.
But HMV’s Tokyo location was built during the tail-end of a bubble economy. And while its first few years were a hotbed of activity, everything I have read about it suggests that it spent the second half of its existence in a slow decline before finally shutting its doors four years ago.
But that was then! While international record sales are still on fire thanks to the digital revolution, if the insane abundance of record stores in Tokyo are any indication, Japanese people still love buying music on a physical format. And now that the vinyl and cassette tape resurgences are finally hitting Japan in full force, it seems that record stores are just doing better and better here.
So HMV is back! With an all new location, and new name (HMV Record Shop) and I went to check it out.
I have no familiarity with any HMV, either in Japan or America, so I can’t tell you how different this store is from other stores in the chain. I can say though that this store is very different than nearly any other chain store I’ve been in, mainly because it really feels like a small, independent record store run by people who really love their music, especially on vinyl.
Even with the vinyl boom of recent years, many of the record stores I’ve visited in Japan seem to treat LPs as an afterthought. Despite the fact that they usually take up the majority of the floor space, they’re still not given front and center attention, and are instead pushed to the back of the store, with CDs still getting the prime retail real estate.
That’s not the case at HMV. You want in the front door and BOOM, vinyl everywhere, with CDs relegated to the back wall. The first floor focuses on rock/pop, with a good majority of it being western releases. Everything is very well organized, but there is some idiosyncrasy to the organizational choices.
All of the western releases are filed into one of three categories – 60’s Rock, UK Rock and 80’s Rock. Now if you’re reading that and thinking “they need more categories than that!” you’re right! As it stands now, “60’s Rock” really means “60 – 70s Rock,” “80s Rock” should be read as “80s to 201os rock” and “UK Rock” is apparently code for “most popular UK artists that didn’t fit in the other sections.”
Yeah, it’s a little confusing. But it’s not that confusing. And the staff is super helpful if you need any assistance at all. The Japanese vinyl seems to be a bit more sanely organized, but to be honest I don’t know, as I have not yet mastered the Japanese alphabet(s).
Soul/hip-hop and dance music are upstairs, and you’ll have to do a bit more crate digging if you want to find what you’re looking for there. The new stuff is easy to sort through and find (just like the new stuff on the first floor) but the used stacks are a bit of a mess. I love a nice crate digging adventure as much as the next record geek, but at these prices (which are high for America but standard for Japan) I expect a bit more order. Sure as hell can’t beat the selection though. In just two minutes of random browsing I found a rare Donna Summer single, some Giorgio Moroder and weird Moby release.
Both floors also have a nice catalog of CDs, but that’s really not my thing so I didn’t give them much of a passing over. Ditto for the 45s, but I was pretty impressed that they gave them an entire room. Crazy stuff in there.
Probably the best thing about this store is something that’s hard to get across in pictures and words. You see, Tokyo is a crowded place, and even the biggest and best record stores are usually cramped affairs with tight aisles and jam-packed crates that make browsing at times very annoying. But HMV’s floor plan is incredibly spread out. I never have to squeeze past anyone to get to a record I want, and the crates are easy to sort through without having to take a handful out first. Yes, I realize these sound like minor things to heap praise and exaltation upon, but you really don’t know how rare both of those things are in this city. It’s just so much more comfortable here. It makes the oddities of their sorting choices much more tolerable.
And it’s just a nice, fun place to be! The staff is super-friendly and nice. They play great music, and it’s a very relaxed, low-pressure environment that encourages long shopping sessions and sonic exploration thanks to their well-maintained listening stations.
This isn’t the best record store in Tokyo (I’ll get there with my reviews someday) but as of right now it’s certainly the one I like going to the most. With its fair prices and comfortable environment, its the kind of place I can lose myself in for hours. Can’t wait to go back again.
HMV Record Shop is located at Noa Shibuya 1-2F, 36-2 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, across from the Tokyo Hands and near the Book-off and Recofan. Check out their website for more information.