Subscription-based online streaming services such as Spotify are quickly gaining ground in Japan. However, many serious music listeners find it hard to resist the charm and character of analogue records. While vinyl has enjoyed a boom in recent years, it never really went away in Tokyo, which has long had a reputation for its excellent record store scene.
One current trend is to make shopping for vinyl a social occasion, which quite naturally brings booze into the equation. And since drinking and digging for choice cuts are best combined at a record store that also functions as a bar, we’ve lined up five of the best of these hybrids for your convenience.
RECOMMENDED: Best record stores in Tokyo
You’ll need to climb up to the fourth floor of a nondescript Shimokitazawa building to find it, but this café and record shop, owned by musician Keiichi Sokabe, is worth seeking out. Stepping through the door, you’re welcomed by shelf after shelf packed with great music, from rock, acid folk and rare groove to house and ambient. Every record comes with a small hand-written note describing it, and you’re free to listen to any recording before buying. After a bout of shopping, sit down by the bar for a bottle of beer or a cocktail, plus a serving of CCC’s famous pasta.
There aren’t many good reasons to get off the Keio line at sleepy Tsutsujigaoka Station, but this shrine to second-hand records and craft beer is one of them. Boasting a selection that covers jazz, world music, classic rock and most genres in between, Garageville has vinyl for every taste and generation. This dedication to diversity is also reflected in the beer lineup: you can choose from about 20 kinds of craft brews from Europe and Asia, in addition to several rarities from minor Japanese breweries. And we’d be remiss not to mention the shop’s super-comfy sofas, which are perfect for relaxing on while taking in smooth tunes with a beer in hand.
Living up to its name, Small World has room for only five people at a time, but makes up for its modest size with an eclectic selection of both records and craft beer. Located between Sangenjaya and Shimokitazawa, the shop specialises in carefully curated underground sounds, all the way from avant-garde electronic music to indie rock. When you find a disc you’d like to listen to, ask the staff to play it while you grab a seat by the counter, settle in and decide what to order off the beer menu, which lists several excellent Japanese brews.
The man behind semi-legendary and now sorely missed NYC record shop Weekend Records, Makoto Nagatomo made a triumphant return to Tokyo and Shimokitazawa by opening this second-hand vinyl store and bar in 2017. Its shelves are mainly stacked with disco, funk, house and other dance records, but you can also spot rock, folk and even classical albums, all available at reasonable prices. Most drinks go for ¥500-600 at the five-seat bar, which also stocks a few rare bottles of gin and whisky. To avoid a shock, make sure to ask the staff for prices before trying one of these.
Ask any music-loving Tokyoite in the know for record store recommendations and they are bound to mention Big Love. Tucked away on the third floor of an apartment building a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Harajuku, this much-loved shop specialises in indie records mainly from the US and Europe. The selection is frequently updated, giving you access to all the latest releases in both vinyl and cassette formats, while the wood-heavy, charmingly down-to-earth décor and homely atmosphere invites you to linger. Japanese Shiga Kogen craft beer is served at the in-store bar.
More great music spots in Tokyo
These live gig venues will keep you rocking, punking and discoing
Whether you're into techno, house or jazz, there are plenty of DJ bars and event spaces to get a drink and maybe dance a little in Shibuya – every day of the week
Looking for a proper night out? Here are Tokyo's best music venues and clubs by genre, as selected by our editors and the city's music experts