Category share in a typical music store in Japan

First of all, I’m always sorry for my bad English.

I just wish that that my passion will drive you more to the diverse music. I’m living in Tokyo. I regularly visit a music store about 3 days a week. I’m always trying to excavate an Asian, Nordic and European artist’s out-of-print albums. The discovery of my desired item gives me an excitement because it’s a rare experience in Japan.

Desperate to discover a Chinese CD

A miraculous excavation of Nicholas Tse "Century Prophecy" in Japan, 16 April 2017.

Chinese artist’s CD are especially rare though Japan is in Asia. Actually, the biggest music store in Japan is US based Tower Records or UK based HMV. They doesn’t have the stock of Chinese import CD.

An average music store deals the domestic edition only. They don’t prepare the import CD because it’s not selling. The most Japanese can handle only Japanese.

"Japanese version" of Chinese albums are very few and mostly expired within a year from the market. The release of Chinese albums in Japan is not always every year. Almost albums are never released.

I always feel that Japanese music market is weird.

A priori, Japan lacks a lot of famous Chinese artists, for example, Eason Chan, Hebe Tien and Yu Quan‘s CD are not released. Instead, we have a phenomenon called Big in Japan for the white artists. This is the notable deviation from the world.

Special sellers

We have a few special sellers for Chinese music. They are mainly wholesaling CD to the other stores. A normal customer like me can use them, but they know what they sell. An out-of-print CD is surprisingly expensive even it’s used.

How about the online?

Of course, anyone can purchase Chinese CD through the Internet, however the number of the competitor on the online shop is incomparable than its in the real shop. Even Chinese vist Amazon Japan to purchase a Chinese CD because they can’t find it in China. So, many CDs are already sold or got the absurd price due to the broken equivalence between Supply and Demand. At the same time, you should think about the shipping fee.

Malicious amateur resellers

Moreover, we should be careful about the malicious resellers. They are nor music listener nor professional. They pick a rare album with the cheapest price and resell it with over ten times the price. They are always waiting for the opening of the secondhand shop, and looting the precious things from the true fans. We don’t have a law to prohibit such a shameless act.


So, when you want to buy a Chinese CD on the spot, the most effective solution is visiting a secondhand shop in hoping someone sold his belongings. You must choose a shop in a town where many Chinese may be living. Naturally, it’s not everywhere. Now you could see how "desperate" to discover a desired Chinese CD in Japan. In addition, the circulation of the used CD doesn’t bring the income to the artists.

Chinese CD production

We have another cause that makes Chinese CD rare. Fundamentally, Chinese market doesn’t prepare as many copies as Japanese or Korean market because of the piracy. Even people who love music may unconsciously pick a pirate CD because it’s difficult to distinguish without the knowledge. Generally, a pirate disc includes more songs in exchange for the sound quality, and is cheaper than an official disc.

To the best of my knowledge, Hong Kong had been ordering CD production to Japanese and Korean manufacturers because they didn’t have enough factories before the late 90s. Their CD production cost was higher than its in Japan and Korea. So, if the official disc doesn’t sell well, the loss will be large. They produce CD, but the piracy follows soon and the loss will be made. So, they had to strictly control the surplus production.

That’s why, the 80-90s Chinese CD is nowadays rare. Some popular albums were re-issued in the 00s by request of the new listeners, but I’m not sure that this movement happens again because the illegally uploaded music through YouTube variants is always distributed. When someone wants an official CD, but it’s already sold out. Then, he picks a pirate version. This vicious cycle seems never ending.

Category share in a typical music store

A typical music store has this sort of layout. The categories are widely divided by the inshore and the offshore music. Inshore is defined as J-POP or Japanese speakers. Offshore contains English speakers only. I don’t know who spread this weird layout, but it became the tradition, unfortunately.

Typical layout of a Japanese music store
Typical layout of a Japanese music store

Inshore Music

Generally, J-POP which is called "Inshore Music" including Korean artists who are releasing the albums in Japanese such as TVXQ or Girls’ Generation is occupying 50% space. I prefer the pure import K-POP, but it’s not in an average store.

In the trash can

$1 CD Trash Can
$1 CD Trash Can

J-POP is considered as the embarrassing thing by the heavy listeners in Japan. Several Japanese artists claim that Japanese themselves are discriminating J-POP. But, I don’t often see the people standing in front of J-POP corner.

J-POP album is often a "product" for several months. People buy the album, and they resell it in the next month in the reason that they switched their faith to another.

From my point of view, J-POP seems ignoring the quality, but concentrating to the mass production. The most important is the "Instantaneous wind speed". In the secondhand shop, you can always see the $1 CD trash can filled up with J-POP or US Pop & Rock.

In fact, we already had the hesitate to reveal listening to J-POP in the late 80s. We loved certain artists, but mostly considered J-POP as a poor man’s US billboard music. So, a boy who knows where to buy the import CD never came back to J-POP.

The listeners are unconsciously restricted the choice to English

The second most category is Pop & Rock in English which is called "Offshore Music". African, Arabian, Asian, European, Indian or whatever non-English artists are all mixed within another category called "World Music". Even Mylène Farmer , Laura Pausini and Duncan Dhu is in this category. Thus, "Offshore" only means Anglosphere in Japanese music market.

You’ll rarely pick an album of a non-English artist by chance from the offshore corner. It’s quasi impossible except the case that a clerk wrongs the category. It’s not fair. However, there is a confusion that the quantity equals to the quality. Alternatively, a nerd rejects a thing only in the reason that they are commercial and popular. Both are nonsensical to me.

Anyway, the average listeners don’t care what if it’s English or not because their only choice is the translated "Japanese version". Generally, the definition of World Music is Folk music of each country. Japanese often makes his own interpretations that no one can follow.

Such like a food, everyday eating Sushi or Hamburger doesn’t give me a satisfaction. I’m greed. I like discovering diverse culture based music. It gives me a fresh feeling and a dream to travel the world.

World Music

World Music, thus non-English artist’s share is generally about 15% in an average music store. The small music shop doesn’t have this category. And it’s further divided by the countries. So, Asian is surely less than 5%. Hong Konger, Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese, Korean and Thai, everything is mixed into this micro category. I go to World Music corner which is always situated in the nook. Then, nothing found.

Trying to get back the past

It’s true that CD is going to be a specific format for the heavy listeners. The current listeners prefer purchasing MP3 or subscribing a monthly streaming service due to the convenience and to save the room or the storage space. It’s rational.

Nevertheless, I still love possessing the package which includes a beautiful booklet, sometimes a gorgeous outer box and the extra stuff. When I discover an out-of-print CD in a secondhand shop, I feel that I can get back a piece of my lost desires. It’s maybe a sort of revenge to myself.