Tokyo Soundings

Text, Photos & Maps by Jimmy Dee

Like any of the world's biggest cities, sprawling teeming Tokyo's recesses hold the unexpected and the unusual as well as the unremarkable. Finding treasures among the pachinko parlors and ramen shops in a reef of nameless streets that would be called sidewalks or bike paths in any Western city (and indeed serve those same purposes here) can be daunting, particularly for English-speakers. Not to mention that the most interesting things are usually found in areas not prepared for tourists.

Part of the appeal of underground culture is its obscurity, the difficulty in encountering and penetrating it. Nevertheless, for a non-Japanese-speaking foreigner in Tokyo, the subterranean is downright submarine. Casual involvement is difficult, if not impossible. A local guide is your best bet, but if you find yourself in this Eastern capital without a knowledgeable host, or if you just want to check things out on your own, you should find the following useful.

This article should be used in conjunction with more general maps and travel guides explaining public transportation and the like. What appears below is inevitably a subjective and spotty selection of record stores, live houses, and other places likely to be of interest to readers of Ongaku Otaku. I cannot hope or pretend to present a complete list of interesting sites. Mostly, this is just a collection of factual information not easily found elsewhere in English. Of course, places go in and out of business, move, change names, and so on, so please be prepared for surprises. Particularly things like opening hours, websites, even landmarks may differ from what you see below.

If you're interested in seeing live music, you should visit some of the clubs below (or visit the websites if possible) and ask about their schedules. Each club usually prints a schedule flyer once a month. Record stores will usually also post flyers for upcoming shows. Their staff often know of good events.

Most clubs charge a drink price at the door. This may be a fixed price or you may have to choose a drink on your way in. Drink prices typically range from 500 to 600. Average ticket prices are from 2500 to 3000. Ticket prices are usually discounted if purchased (or at least reserved) in advance. The trains in Tokyo stop running at midnight, so shows may start as early as 6:30, usually by 7:30.

Certainly if you don't speak or read Japanese at all, navigating Tokyo on your own will be difficult, but that shouldn't discourage you from getting off the beaten path. The Japanese are usually friendly toward foreigners. Most Japanese can manage at least a little English if they have to. In the shops and clubs below, you're likely to find some English speakers, but ability varies, so be prepared for pantomime and other indirect forms of communication.

The addresses below are all in Tokyo, so for simplicity I have omitted the name of the city in all cases. If you want to write to any of these addresses from outside Tokyo, you will need to include that. For instance, for Modern Music you would use: Terada Bldg. 2F, 2-45-11 Matsubara, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 156-0043 (Japan). If you are sending mail from within Tokyo, you don't need to add anything.

Select a section below for details on record stores, live houses, and other miscellaneous places. In each section, if there is a small photo shown, you can click to view a larger photo. You can also click on one of the maps listed to see a large map indicating places of interest in the area.

Sections Maps
Record Stores Shibuya Map
Live Houses and Clubs Kichijoji Map
Miscellaneous Places Koenji Map

Do you have any information on other places of interest, or any corrections? We're interested in expanding this to include other cities as well, so don't hesitate to get in touch and share any information that you have.