You may have noticed that we carry a lot of Japanese records here at RareRecords.net. If you are unfamiliar with Japan LPs, you might wonder why we stock a lot of Japanese records and not, say, a comparable number of French or German records. That’s a reasonable question, so we will explain why, as a collector, you may find it worth your while to add some Japanese records to your collection.
There was a time when the phrase, “made in Japan” was synonymous with poor quality. Shortly after World War II, Japan’s manufacturing industry was primarily concerned with making inexpensive, low-quality merchandise. That changed by the early 1960s, when the country began to try to change their image, much as South Korea and China have been doing in the past two decades. By the mid-1960s, Japan was known for producing high-quality cameras and stereo equipment, among other things.
With the increase in quality of stereo equipment, Japanese records also improved in quality, using better materials for their covers, and high-quality, dead-quiet virgin vinyl for their pressings, along with strong attention to mastering. By the early 1980s, Japanese records were being exported all over the world to be sold to quality-conscious audiophiles.
Why Collectors Seek Out Japanese Records
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There are several things that make Japanese records appealing to both record collectors and audiophiles:
Red vinyl. Besides good sound and quality printing, Japanese records also offered some other things of interest to the collector. Toshiba, one of the primary record manufacturing companies in Japan, pressed a lot of their records on red, “Everclean” vinyl from 1958 through 1974.
While not intended to be collectors’ items, these red vinyl pressings are more sought out by collectors than their black vinyl counterparts. The Everclean vinyl was designed to be less prone to collecting static electricity and dust than the more common black vinyl.
Production of red vinyl Japanese records was seemingly random; there was no way of knowing if a particular title by a given artist would come out on black vinyl, red vinyl, or both. As a rule, if an album was pressed on both black and red vinyl, the red vinyl pressing will command a significantly higher price, even if the red vinyl pressings are more common than the black ones.
Different covers. Often, particularly in the 1960s, Japanese records were released with different covers from their U.S. counterparts. This was often a temporary measure, and these alternate covers rarely stayed in print for long.
One example would the the 1969 release of Smash Hits, by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The original Japanese pressing featured a colorful photo of the entire band, taken through a fish eye lens. U.S. pressings (and later Japan issues) featured multiple images of Hendrix alone. The original cover is quite rare today.
They are relatively rare. Most Japanese records contain music of a local nature; English-language albums have been, especially in the 1960s, a relatively small part of the overall industry.
As a result, most Japanese records of English-language music were pressed in small runs; sometimes as small as a few hundred copies. Rather than keeping titles in print, the records would be repressed if demand warranted it.
Often, these repressings would have a different cover, catalog number, and obi. It isn’t unusual to find that some popular Japanese records have been released at least a half a dozen times, with each pressing being different in some way from all of the others.
Good sound quality. There are many factors that determine how a record will sound, including the quality of the master tapes used, how the record was mastered, and what kind of vinyl was used to press the records. Japanese records are often revered for their high quality sound.
American record companies that pressed records in the millions in the 1970s and early 1980s often used inexpensive or recycled vinyl to press their records, resulting in poor sound or excessive surface noise.
Most Japanese records were pressed using high quality “virgin” vinyl that was manufactured exclusively for pressing records. These records are often extraordinarily quiet and have little or no surface noise, allowing the listener a better listening experience.
For many years, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, an American company known for their high-quality audiophile pressings, contracted the pressing of their records to JVC in Japan, as JVC had invented an exceptionally durable and quiet vinyl compound known as “Super Vinyl” that was unavailable anywhere else.
The obi. While most Japanese records feature local music, a lot of music fans there like foreign music, as well. The language barrier in Japan presented a problem – should foreign album covers be changed for Japanese records? The solution was the obi, which means “belt” or “sash”. The obi is a strip of paper, usually about two inches wide, that wraps vertically around the album cover, containing information about the artist and album in Japanese.
As these strips of paper were fragile and easily torn, they are often missing when the albums are found today, especially since consumers in the 1950s and 1960s attached little significance to them.
Finding Japanese records made prior to 1970 that still have the obi intact can be quite difficult, and for some albums, nearly impossible. The inclusion of the obi can dramatically affect the price of some Japanese records, sometimes increasing the price by a factor of ten.
While usually found in a wraparound strip, there are other versions of the obi that have occasionally been used. In the early 1960s, a short-lived hankake obi, or “half obi” was used. These were small strips of paper that simply folded over the top of the cover. These were problematic for retailers, as they tended to easily fall off of the record.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few record companies, most notably Columbia, used a larger, foldover obi that ran across the top of the cover. These are generally known as a “cap” obi, and are often missing, as the only thing that held them to the cover was the album’s original shrink wrap.
Some labels used a sticker instead of an obi in the 1970s and 1980s. These stickers were attached to the shrinkwrap itself and are often missing when these albums turn up for sale today.
Some collectors revere Japanese records for their high manufacturing quality and sound, and couldn’t care less about whether the obi is present or not. Other collectors attach a great deal of significance to the obi, regarding it as an essential part of the album. That’s a matter of personal preference, though a copy of an album with an obi will always command a higher price than a copy of the same album without one.
Japanese Records Summary
Japanese records offer great sound, visual interest, and general interest as something unusual in record collecting. No matter what artist you collect, chances are there are some Japanese records by that artist that you will find to be a welcome addition to your record collection.