The music industry in Japan, as elsewhere, is seen to be a troubled industry. Since the late 1990s, sales figures of CDs in Japan have been in steady decline, in part due to the rise of online music as the primary source for consumers. Another reason was the redirection of dispensable incomes into other youth activities, such as mobile phone bills and other costs associated with participation in a networked society. Tower Records in Shinjuku, however, is a store that seems to be holding out in the music recession. Independent of its US parent company, Tower Records Japan survived the closure of the American stores in 2006, and while CD retail stores are still struggling to have an impact in competition to online delivery (both legal and illegal) and the extensive CD and DVD rental business, Tower Records in Shinjuku as Tokyo's 'honten' (main branch) is an important retail landmark in the business of selling sound.
JPOP section of Tower Records, Shinjuku.
Tower Records, like many other music shops around Japan, plays music throughout the store, and often speakers seem to be strategically placed throughout the floor to target consumers in various sections. For example, standing in front of the K-pop (pop music from Korea) section, one hears a tape loop of Korean hits popular with Japanese audiences; as one walks towards the J-pop section, the K-pop fades into Japanese language pop music. In mainstream Japanese retail spaces, sound and visual information is always abundant: Tower Records plays multiple background music tracks and places handwritten recommendations on many shelves (see below). These 'tegaki POP' ('pop-up' ads handwritten by the local staff) are valued because they show care taken by the staff in imparting specialist information about the product. Here is a recording taken in front of the J-pop section, featuring the staff's recommendations of the week.
Photograph: Carolyn Stevens
Recording: Carolyn Stevens
Text: Carolyn Stevens