Shopping in Japan (again…)

Yes, I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Japan – my third in as many years. Apart from a load of sightseeing and general holiday’ing, just as the two previous trips (see here and here) I had a chance to do some shopping. Not the only reason for going, shopping in Japan is in my opinion an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed for any audio and electronics enthusiast 🙂

Although it is no doubt just a shadow of its former self in this respect, Tokyo’s Akihabara district (and it’s less well-known counterpart in Osaka, Nipponbashi or “Den-den”-town) are still interesting places for DIY’ers to walk around and browse. The pictures below are from a couple of the shops I’ve passed on my way and I’m sure you’ll agree it looks interesting 🙂 Finding adresses can be a bit tricky – and not everything in Japan is on the ground floor for all to see – but there are a few good resources available online on where to go, such as Pete Millet’s “Parts in Asia” page that covers Tokyo and various blog posts.

Is it cheaper than buying online? Not always to be honest, but it’s definitely much more fun! 😀

So, what can (or should) you buy in Japan then?

Well, if you are from Europe like me, most Japan-made items will be cheaper there. If you are in the US, the prices might not be all that competitive for everything but it’s still worth having a look around.

Apart from finished electronics that aren’t wall-powered (anything wall-powered is often 100V-only for the Japanese market and so not useable anywhere else), that means headphones and other gear from the likes of Stax, Audio-Technica and all the usual big-name brands like Sony, Pioneer, Denon and Onkyo. Smaller electrical items which use outboard power supplies may also work, provided you factor in the cost of replacing the PSU and of course accept that the warranty on Japanese items usually isn’t valid outside of Japan.

It also means cables and connectors from the likes of Canare, Mogami and Oyaide as well as a heap of excellent-quality tools. I’d especially recommend the Japanese “Engineer” brand where everything I’ve seen and tried seems to be excellent quality. There are several other interesting tool brands as well, but the stuff from Engineer seems to be consistently good and prices in Japan can be 30-50% lower than the EU prices I’ve seen (although the yen has climbed a fair bit against the Euro over the last year).

I also saw several places selling loose connectors of the most well-known series from Molex and JST. These can be hard to get as well, so being able to get singles just off the street might be helpful. There were a few shops with audio-grade parts like ICs, pots and capacitors and again, Japanese brands like Muse capacitors and Alps pots were generally cheaper. A bonus should be that these parts are probably less likely to be fakes than if you shop on ebay etc.

If you are into tubes, there are a few good places for both tubes and accessories such as transformers (see Pete Millets page for details). Don’t expect to find screaming bargains (although you might) and ignore at your own peril that tubes don’t necessarily travel well and transformers will tend to take a big chunk out of your airline luggage allowance 🙂

Oh, and of course regardless of whether your shopping allowance is more limited (or far greater) than mine, Japan is still a phenomenally interesting place that I highly recommend visiting if you get the chance 🙂

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