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Tokyo Synth Shopping

Tokyo has a reputation for being a high-tech wonderland, and while I don’t always agree with that idea, it’s definitely not true when it comes to synthesizers. Tokyo-and Japan in general-is still in the throes of a love affair with guitars and this is reflected in musical instrument stores. Everyone loves music, but despite the fact that Roland, Korg and Yamaha are some of the top synth manufacturers in the world, most people would rather buy a guitar because it’s rock and roll.

So what’s a synth fan to do in Tokyo? There are a few stores worth checking out, and thankfully they’re all in the same area, so you could visit them all in half a day and still have time to make an unboxing video of your purchase for YouTube.

Shibuya is famous for its scramble crossing, giant Blade Runner-style video billboards, and shopping. But it’s also synth central for Tokyo. There are, of course, other synth shops in Tokyo and Japan, and I’ll mention them at the end, but the bulk of this piece will be devoted to Shibuya.

Music Land Key
Map
Most every type of product has its own district, an area with tons of shops all selling the same thing. Akihabara has electronics (and now also anime goods), Jimbocho has used books, and Shibuya has musical instruments. Among the plethora of shops selling guitars, saxophones and other “cool” instruments is Music Land Key. Head directly to the top floor for the synths. They have a decent selection of Japanese and import synths on display at not horrible prices. They have particularly reasonable prices when it comes to cables and other necessary accessories, which can be obnoxiously expensive at mall chain stores. Check out the open box corner as well. I’m still kicking myself for passing on that open box Bass Station II.

Ishibashi Music Shibuya
Map
Situated in the middle of Shibuya’s shopping area is Ishibashi Music, a sort of instrument super store. They have a good selection of new and used gear, and although they’re a little expensive it’s fun to wander among the racks and check out all the old gear. Or at least it was until they moved all the used gear onto shelves piled up high along one wall. Now to see them you have to stand back and look up. You may as well be looking at pictures.

Echigoya Music
Map
Echigoya Music is a small shop on the 9th floor of an office building diagonally across the intersection from the giant Tower Records. What it lacks in floor space it makes up for in stock. It’s positively packed with old gear, with lots of instruments and devices you won’t see elsewhere. Tokyo instrument shops can be a little intimidating but Echigoya is refreshingly laid back. And while their gear is competitively priced, they occasionally have sales that are worth checking out. Follow them on Facebook to keep track.

Five G Music Technology
Map
Ah yes, Five G. The holy land for synth fans. Any trip to Tokyo is incomplete without a pilgrimage to this museum-like shop in Harajuku (a neighborhood in Shibuya). Their stock includes new and used modular gear, the latest top-shelf synths, and of course used gear. The vibe is more like a classic car showroom than a music instrument shop, but what’s nice is you’re free to take anything for a test drive. The quiet atmosphere can be intimidating but you’re free to play everything (unless it’s so marked with a bilingual sign).  Every time I go here I see something that I’ve never seen in person before. It really is incredible. (Note that they have late hours and often don’t open until 3 in the afternoon. They also have regular closed days. Please check the website before stopping by.)

Elsewhere


Hard-Off
Site
Hard-Off is the amusingly named hardware branch of the used book store, Book Off. They’re all over the country and are worth a look if you happen to see one. It’s hard to find amazing deals because they know what things are worth and also sell online, but if you don’t mind doing a little repair work there are gems to be found in the “junk” section of the store. Tokyo shops worth visiting are the main instrument headquarters in Kichijoji, the Akihabara store, and the Oizumigakuen shop, which is the largest in Tokyo, apparently.

Shimamura Music
Site
Shimamura is the Guitar Center of Japan, a country-wide chain store that caters mostly to the local hobbyist and student. They’re often in malls and could be worth a visit if you’re traveling and need a synth fix. Although their stock tends towards more basic gear, you do sometimes see interesting things. I was surprised to see a small modular system set up at the Nagoya store, complete with hipster lost in deep, knob-twiddling concentration.

Soundhouse
Site
If you’re in Japan for awhile, or live here, and are looking for an online outlet, I can recommend Soundhouse. They have excellent prices on cables and other accessories, and their instruments  are competitively priced.

I hope this has given you an idea of what’s available in Tokyo and Japan in terms of synths. Of course, there are more places than what I’ve listed but these are the shops that I like the best. However, I do most of my buying on Yahoo Auctions, which will require its own article to cover completely.

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