I recently caught up with long-term Japan resident, music collector, cricket fan and all-around good Scotsman Iain Lambert for a chat about his quarterly event, One Box Record Fair.
1. What is the OBRF and how did it get started?
IL: The One Box Record Fair (一箱レコード市) is a small-scale event for invited sellers to buy, sell and trade records in all genres with each other and with the public. Each seller is limited to one box of records (about 60 LPs) in order to ensure that people have to think about what they bring and to keep things up close and personal. Dissatisfaction with the big record shows in Tokyo and a desire to meet fellow vinyl lovers prompted us to start this event, and so far it’s been quite successful, with a roughly 50/50 balance between local and overseas sellers. At the last one we had a Russian selling hardcore punk, an English guy with Library LPs, an Australian with soul and funk, a Scotsman with everything from hard rock to South Pacific field recordings, and plenty of Japanese vinyl: everything from 1960s kayokyoku and soundtracks to local hiphop and punk.
The idea came from the One Box Book Fairs run in the Yanesen area of Tokyo. The organisers kindly let us copy the name and the idea, and we just adapted it to vinyl. The difference is that we have food and drink available at the venue during the day, and people who take part are encouraged to DJ later on at the after-fair party, which usually goes on well after the last train has gone. The first two One Box Record Fairs took place at Onigiri Station in Kichijoji. From the third event on we moved to a new venue, Bar Dynamo in Koenji, also on the Chuo line. Both the fair itself and the after party are open to the public, and full details can be found on our website. The next fair will be on November 24th from 5pm to late.
2. Why does Japan draw so many record collectors from around the globe?
IL: I think there is an aura about digging for vinyl here that maybe comes from the childhoods of collectors of a certain age. When I was first getting into music as a teenager the real exotic grails were Japanese presses of LPs with the “obi” strip (a paper band that fits around the sleeve of an imported LP giving information in Japanese and sometimes advertising promotional offers). Lots of foreign collectors covet these, and if you add the fact that there are often quite interesting sleeve variations (see the Picture Sleeve 45s site for some examples), or the reputation Japanese pressings have for higher quality, then it’s easy to see how people could get into the idea of digging for records here.
Another reason could be down to the level of enthusiasm in Japan for what to many people would appear to be very minor musical scenes. It never fails to amaze me that when I tell people where I’m from they can name bands that I thought no one would know outside the town they played in twenty or thirty years ago. One of my wife’s colleagues has records by bands that were active in the city where I went to university that I’d never even heard of.
3. Is this just a Tokyo phenomenon or can you find great shops all round the country?
IL: Not at all, although obviously Japan’s capital city has a head start. It’s undeniable that the numbers of shops with physical (as opposed to online) presence has dropped and, sad to say, probably will continue to do so in the future, but there are still plenty of great spots to hit in the bigger cities – Osaka in particular has a wealth of places in Umeda and Shinsaibashi. Even some smaller towns still have old “mom and pop” style stores, though as the owners get older these are becoming few and far between. The first stop for anyone interested in finding out what there is should be the Record & CD Map (レコード＋CDマップ) book. Even though it’s in Japanese, it covers the whole country and it’s not too hard to figure out where everything is from the maps. You can buy copies in the bigger stores or order it through Amazon.
4. What are your picks for best record digging in Tokyo?
IL: Ha! That’s for me to know and you to find out! Seriously though, apart from Shibuya and Shinjuku there are plenty of other areas that have clusters of shops where you could easily spend the whole day and still not have covered everything. Walk from Ochanomizu station down to Jimboucho and you’ll find plenty of places that are particularly good for Jazz, then there are clusters of stores in Shimokitazawa and Koenji, to name but a few areas. As for individual shops, I can definitely recommend El Sur Records in Shibuya for international sounds, and Gojupo Ippo at the end of the North Exit shopping Street in Koenji is a new place that always has a great selection. If you’re short of time, even just hitting the big Disk Unions in Shibuya and Shinjuku should leave you with a smile on your face and a lighter wallet. Oh, and of course there’s our One Box Record Fair, where you can always pick up a bargain!