So, you want to know where to buy a camera in Tokyo? This might help.
I get a lot of people asking me where to go shopping for a camera in Tokyo, and although it is my business to buy for people, I also want people to come and see Tokyo for themselves. So if you are in Tokyo, or coming to Tokyo this should help you find something. This will be in 3 parts, here is the first.
Tokyo, a metropolis of 13 million people, has often been described as a Mecca for shopping, and this is most certainly true if you are looking for a camera. Whilst there are the big mega stores like Bic and Yodobashi, I am not interested in telling you about them. What I am here to tell you about are the smaller stores, the specialist places and the places that will make your jaw drop.
Now, I am not going to tell you about every store in Tokyo, as that would not only take far too long, but it would also give away some of my secrets. I am going to tell you the most accessible places for a visitor and for people that (presumably) don’t have a lot of experience speaking Japanese.
Originally when I started writing this piece I was going to add pictures of the stores, but that would also make this far too long, so you are going to have to enjoy links and descriptions instead.
This is a subject that is close to my heart and something that I want to express to you all before you go shopping in Japan. The Japanese society is heavily governed by an unspoken set of rules, and one of the big ones is manners. In Japan manners are very important and they will make a difference in the way you are treated by shop staff.
In many countries the customer is king, but in Japanese camera shops you are merely someone who is interested in their fine wares, and if you don’t show them respect then will not show any to you. It can be quite an old fashioned atmosphere which may seem daunting, but it is worth taking you time as you will find things here that you cannot see anywhere else.
The rules that I have set for myself are quite simple and they may help you too:
Greeting A pleasant “Konnichiwa” goes a long way, even if you get no reply. Always say hello and goodbye.
Touchy feely Want to look at something? Then ask politely. Don’t point and grunt, apes do that. And don’t just grab at things, that is going to make people mad.
Quiet please Be quiet in the shop. Which means switch your phone to silent mode, don’t talk on the phone, don’t jabber to your mates, do take your headphones off. Watch the other customers, they will give you an indication of how the store expects you to behave.
No drinks You wouldn’t believe how many people I have seen roll into a camera shop with a cup of coffee in one hand. It is a camera shop, they don’t want a stumbling oaf making a mess of their lovely counters and cameras. Same goes for food obviously.
Don’t ask Don’t ask for discounts. A lot of these camera stores are small and they are trying to make a living, asking for money off is not really fair on them. If you have never been to a store before and you ask for a discount you are being rude to them. If you go a few times and show your manners they will offer you one without you having to ask. Be patient and be polite. The big stores will not give you one, no matter what.
Tokyo is a big place, so rather than tell you all of the places, I am going to break it up into the areas and the train lines that you can take to get there. This will make it a lot easier for everyone. This first piece is going to be about Shinjuku and surrounding areas. We will cover the others in other articles.
Shinjuku is the biggie, this is the place that all of the dealers come to and is the place that I would class as a base of operations. If you are looking for something special then you wouldn’t go far wrong by shopping here for a day, though you may need more than a day.
Shinjuku Station is massive and it is easy to get lost. The best thing you can do is look for the west exit (西口), this will take you to the main camera area. Here you will find the massive Yodobashi store in all of its glory. Now this is worth seeing if you have not before as it is huge and goes on forever, but don’t get caught up in there otherwise you may never leave.
I have put together a little map of the Shinjuku area. It is going to be updated with more camera shops until I consider it a complete piece of work. You can click here to see it, as google is dicking me around and will not let me embed it in the site.
Right around the corner You have several shops. MAP camera being the one that everyone knows. But there is also Kitamura, Lemon, Chuuko Box, and New Camera.
This place has become one of the driving forces in used cameras over the last few years, and they have a wide selection. They also have a large selection of their own goods. One of the good things about MAP is their selection, it is extremely impressive. But, they do not discount, ever. They also are pretty difficult when it comes to the trade-ins, often offering way below market or even offering nothing and telling you it is junk (when it isn’t).
MAP pretty much sets the prices for the market now, so don’t be surprised if the prices are pretty steep in there. MAP has two stores, almost next to one another, check them both as they have different departments. The rangefinder section is incredible.
One of the larger chain groups in Japan. They have immense buying power and the stores are all connected through their network, so you can order a camera from Osaka and pick it up in Tokyo without any trouble. They have a grading system, but it is often inaccurate. You need to inspect their cameras very carefully. Trading in with them is a total crapshoot, but they will try to fleece you unless you are on your toes. The Shinjuku used store is on the 4th floor through a small doorway, don’t miss it.
This store in Shinjuku was opened recently off the back of the success of the Ginza store. Lemon sell cameras, but also watches, pens and model trains. They are a consignment store, which means that they are selling the cameras on behalf of their customers, so don’t be surprised if the prices are sometimes a bit insane. They do not check any of the items either, so their ratings are often wildly inaccurate. Lemon has a strict no returns policy, so it doen’t matter if it breaks as soon as you have paid, too bad.
The Shinjuku store is inside a little doorway and on the 3rd floor. Check the map to get a general idea of the location, but don’t worry, you will find it.
A tiny little store located next to a shoe shop. The entrance is concealed and hard to find, it is just a doorway. Go up the stairs to the second floor and it is there. This place has a huge selection, but again it is a consignment shop, so they don’t check the goods. They are grumpy bastards in this shop and don’t seem to ever smile. I have spend a ton of money in there and they have never even bothered to talk to me. Go here to find unusual cameras and classic medium format gear.
Chuuko Camera Box
Box is an appropriate name, this place is tiny. You need to go downstairs and you will find an Aladdin’s cave od cameras. There is a lot of junk in here and it seems to be entirely populated by old men, but there are some real gems here. A great place to visit. Be quiet and don’t let they see you take pictures, they don’t like it. There is basically only enough space in here for a couple of people, so don’t go as a group. They are friendly here, if you speak Japanese.
One of my least favourite camera shops in Tokyo. This place has been here forever and it seems to be one of the places on everyones list. They have a pretty good selection, but they are overpriced. They don’t discount and have sold me dud cameras in the past. The attitude of the staff there is horrible, they are rude and standoffish. This place is just for looking.
But this place is very much worth going to. The staff are friendly, the selection is not bad and they sometimes offer a discount. Miyama is a group of stores, with another store in Ginza. They used to have more stores, but the lack of business has meant they have had to downsize. A great store to check out. They are basically a Nikon specialist, but they do carry other items too.
Another wonderful little store, this place is not easy to find. Nestled in between restaurants and massage places, you might miss it. But do your best to find it, as there are all sorts of interesting items on their shelves. The staff are friendly and very used to foreigners. They sometimes ask for passports so you can get tax free (always nice). The selection is small, but worth seeing.
Now you are pretty much finished in Shinjuku, so you are going to need to get on a train for the next place.
Get back into Shinjuku station and get onto the JR Chuo line for Nakano. It is only one stop so if you are on the train for ages then you are on the wrong train.
When you get out of Nakano station you will want to take the North exit and head towards the KFC, as you are probably hungry….joking, but the KFC is just around the corner from the next stop….
Fujiya camera is a funny place. It is a big store and well worth a visit, but it has faded in the last few years. The selection is not what it was. The staff are helpful, but don’t bother asking for a discount. Fujiya has a bit of a legend status amonst foreigners, but in all honesty JCH doesn’t got there all that often. Downstairs you will find digital, and upstairs you will find used film cameras and a wide selection of lenses.
This one is a bit of a trek away from Fujiya. You have to walk up the alleyway until you hit the main street, but the walk is nice as it is through the back streets, which are fully of fantastic restaurants. When you find Nitto you will be surprised, it is tiny. But they have a selection that is astounding, with my favourite item being the Nikon F USS Kittyhawk edition! They can be a bit grumpy, but as long as you are polite you should have a good time.
So, that pretty much wraps up this part of the series. In the next one I am going to cover Ginza, and some other parts of Tokyo.
Do you have any suggestions? What do you want to see? Leave comments and tell me how I can make this better for you.