The One about Tower Records Shibuya

1999. It was the year that I went to Shibuya and found myself captivated by Tower Records Japan. At the time, America had Tower Records stores in major cities throughout the country but Tower Records in the U.S. is no more.

Meanwhile, in Japan, in the present time…

Tower Records continues to thrive.

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Tower Records, the music store that was created by Russell Solomon back in 1960 in Sacramento, California. The music store would become a record store giant opening stores several years later in San Francisco, West Hollywood, New York City and eventually opening stores all over the world.

In 1980, Tower Records would open its first store in Sapporo and Tower Records Japan Inc. would be established in 1981.

Before iTunes, Spotify and other music websites that allow people to listen to musical tracks, Tower Records was known for its “Scan and Listen” stations as customers can walk-in, put head
phones on and listen to audio samples from CD’s from a variety of albums and artists.

But unfortunately, in 2004, Tower Records entered bankruptcy, partly due to the company’s aggressive expansion in the ‘90s, competition from other musical outlets and also Internet piracy.

The stores may have died but Tower continues to exist as an online presence.

While every store owned by Tower Records were closed down, because Tower Records Japan Inc. was independent, their stores continue to operate throughout in Japan. And their Shibuya location remains to be one of the biggest musical retail outlets in the world.

In 2005, NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile-phone operator, bought a 42% stake in Tower Records Japan for 12.8 billion yen.

While digital music purchases have become the primary source for music listeners, in Japan, while digital music is be-coming more popular in Japan, labels managed to find ways for people to keep buying.

From special DVD or Blu-ray’s included with a DVD album or single to companies including handshake tickets for idol groups. Successful for groups like AKB48 that there albums continue to sell over a million copies.

Tower Records in Shibuya, Japan has grown a lot since my first time visiting the store back in 1999. Live performances take place in front of the store. The location has more floors and a cafe. Also, the label has its own subsidiary record label called T-Pallette Records specializing in idol performers.

Also, many regional department stores are now looking for ways to attract new customers that they tapped into Tower Records to create an outlet in their store. At one department store, a Tower Anime was created which have proven successful for customers.

So, while Tower Records in the U.S. is now more of a memory for music fans, in Japan, the company continues to thrive and the Tower Records Shibuya Japan is celebrating its 20th Anniversary.

But the spirit of Tower Records continues to live on…and while not so much in the United States, the love of music through its stores continues in Japan.