Tutorial: Second Hand Studio – Shopping In Japan

Why Buy Gear In Japan?

I live in regional Australia, about 2000km from the nearest capital city. Thanks to the internet, although shipping can be an issue, the prices for new equipment have pretty much equalised. Plus we have a great music shop in town who’ll order pretty much anything in for you.

As for second hand gear, there’s not a broad music technology user base turning over equipment in my area, so the only option left is to go online. Which brings up the shipping issue again, but also just purchasing can be a gamble – can you trust the seller? Is ‘very good condition’ really very good? I like to get ‘hands on’ with stuff before I pay good money for it.

Second hand gear in Japan is usually in very good condition which makes it a great source of kit when you’re on a budget.

Current studio setup – soon to be expanded!

I suspect the high quality is, in part, because houses and apartments are small, and people know that they will eventually have to part with something to make room for the latest and greatest kit, so they look after it with consideration of retaining the highest resale value. Plus, if you have desires for certain flavours of Japanese keyboards as I do (I will find that perfect JP8080 one day!), it’s hardly surprising that you’ll find a high concentration of them in the Japanese market.

In-Store Prices Beat Online Auction Sites

I’m lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Japan every year visiting family. For the last two years I’ve come back with some new studio additions – a Korg MicroX and an Alesis Micron. For both keyboards I paid less than I would have on eBay or Gumtree.

This week I purchased a Korg X5DR, the sound module version of the Korg X5. It came with original manual and power adaptor and I paid ¥7800, which equates to about AUD$91. eBay shows one for double that amount, plus shipping.

I also purchased a Korg MS2000R, which I’ve been wanting for a while. Original manual and power supply for ¥24 800 or AUD$290. Again eBay has the same MS2000R for higher prices, plus shipping.

Because I’ve been loading up on synth hardware, I bought an eMagic AMT8 MIDI interface which I’m really excited about because in addition to USB it also comes with the old Apple Serial Bus connector so I can potentially use it with MasterTracks Pro on my Mac SE30. ¥5800 with manual, driver discs, cables & power supply, which is about AUD$70. eBay prices are double that plus shipping.

I bought the MS2000R and AMT8 whilst visiting Tokyo last week, and paid the store about ¥2000 to have them packaged and shipped to Osaka where I’m staying with family. They arrived packaged incredibly securely in 3 layers of thick bubble wrap and stiff paper wadding rendering them immobile in the box, actually much better packaging than items I’ve purchased online, so I’m going to leave them like that to bring back to Australia.

Tax Free Shopping

A curious artefact of retail in Japan, the prices will usually feature two numbers – a larger number which is the price, and a smaller number which is the actual price you’ll pay, including the 8% sales tax. I’ve heard the reason for this being that, when the government introduced the compulsory sales tax in the 1990s, retailers decided they needed to make it clear to consumers that they weren’t increasing their prices – the government was.

Don’t be swayed by the large number – the smaller red text to the left is the tax-inclusive price.

Because I’m here on a tourist landing visa, and I purchased from second hand retailers that let you do so, I purchased the above items duty free. There’s also the option at some retailers to pay by credit card and receive an ADDITIONAL 5% off the pre-tax price. You’ll need to check with your card issuer or the store, but usually Visa, AMEX and Mastercard have deals.

I do need to point out that Duty Free is the case at major chain store retailers like Yodobashi (who don’t do second hand instruments), Sofmap & Bic Camera, as the bulk of their business for overseas customers is selling massive volumes of rice cookers and bottom-washing toilet seats. Specialist retailers like Five G, implant4, Mark’s Music and the like don’t usually offer it as it’s an additional business overhead they don’t need. And again, if you’re paying half the price in-person that you’d pay online, why worry about that 8% sales tax? You’re still getting a killer deal.

Where To Buy?

Creators Land (Akihabara, Tokyo / Nipponbashi, Osaka)

Akihabara Creators Land on Google Maps
Nanba Creators Land on Google Maps

Originally MIDILand in the 1990s, Creators Land is a department of Sofmap which is part of the BIC Camera chain of department stores. There’s one in Akihabara in Tokyo, and one in Nipponbashi in Osaka, both easily accessible. They are the destination for any second hand music technology traded in to any Sofmap or Bic Camera store in their respective regions.

Creators Land Akihabara has the bigger range of the two stores, I think primarily due to the density of the Tokyo metropolitan region. Bigger population, more musicians, more hardware.

Creators Land Nanba usually doesn’t have the same volume of stock as the one in Akihabara, but you do find some gems. I think primarily because they are sourcing their kit from people who aren’t taking it to a specialist music technology shop to sell.

Their website is worth a look. They usually announce specials or new arrivals on their Twitter. They also have a list of most of the stuff they have on the shelf at any one time. Akihabara is the first list, followed by Nanba. They’ll give the price, condition and inclusions but not always a photo. Remember that the price is always ex-tax – you’ll need to add 8% unless you are purchasing duty-free. If you don’t do Japanese, use a browser plugin like Rikaichan to help translate the page, or copy/paste the condition details into Google Translate.

Five G Music Technology (Harajuku, Tokyo)

Five G Music Technology on Google Maps

If you’re not a 17 year girl in search of fashion (or a creepy dude in search of 17 year old girls), this is the only reason to visit Harajuku since the Evangelion store packed up and moved to Ikebukero.

Five G are serious about synths. Explore their website. I love and loathe going in store since they specialise in vintage beasts as well as modern synths. I would never have touched an original ARP Odyssey or Sequential Prophet without Five G. They also have a good English section on their website, and they refurbish before reselling.

Just be aware that they (to my knowledge as of Dec 2018) do not do Duty Free, and currently they are closed every Tuesday – check their homepage for details.

implant4 Synthesizer Shop (Nishitenmangu, Osaka)

implant4 on Google Maps

Worth checking out their website – they are a bit of a hipper take than Five G as they also have a gallery space in their store. implant4 are also involved in curating electronic music nights. Check their website for their current list and if you’re instore, grab one of their sweet synthesizer t-shirts – all original designs.

Mark’s Music (Nagahoribashi, Osaka)

Mark’s Music on Google Maps

Check out their website to see their stock – they get a diverse range of second-hand gear in, and on top of that their prices are quite reasonable. I have also routinely gone in-store to find floor stock that wasn’t listed on the site yet, which indicates that items might turn over faster than they can list them on site.

Final Considerations

Japanese power runs at 100v, but in Australia we run at 240v. Check the power supplies of any gear you are thinking of buying or that you do buy – sometimes the power supply simple needs a plug adaptor, but sometimes you need an entirely new power supply.

Korg are one example I can think of, where the centre pin of the power supply is set to negative, whilst the sleeve is positive- in reverse to most off-the-shelf adaptors out there. Luckily there are loads of options in store and online for power adaptors and you can still get genuine manufacturer replacements through a local or online music shop. Just remember to always do your homework – there’s no point in getting a great deal on a piece of kit and then frying it because you didn’t read the power supply specifications properly.

In getting my purchase home safely, I always have success with bubble wrap around the item, putting the item in the middle of a suitcase surrounded by clothes and soft items. If I’ve determined that the power supply won’t work in Australia, I leave it in Japan which helps with weight. If the manuals are in Japanese and you can’t read Japanese you might also consider leaving those behind and relying on a PDF version. Of course, check that there IS a PDF version first.

I also checked a keyboard which came with a hard carry case – extra bubble wrap in the case, followed by extra wrap around the case, followed by a few beer cartons and a roll of masking tape made for a successful trip under the plane.

And of course, if you can manage it, you might just be able to take them on the plane as carry-on baggage.

Conclusion

I always enjoy synth shopping in Japan and have been really pleased with the bargains I’ve found. I hope this has been useful information for you and helps you find that special bit of kit for your collection.

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