2022 Hunting Japan
Japan has and will always be my second home. It’s also where GP got its initial start hunting for watches traversing miles a day walking up and down the back alley’s of Shinjuku Japan. We quickly learned that tucked away between hostess bars, ramen stalls, and cat cafe’s are some of the best shops to hunt for used luxury goods, and vintage watches were no exception. Due to covid and a ban on foreign visitors we were unable to return to Japan for the past 3 years. After restrictions were recently lifted for travelers, the team was able to head back to once again hunt for great watches. Fortunately for us, it is never just work when we are in Japan. Whether it’s a short layover or a month stint, there is never an excuse not to get a great meal, find a new neighborhood coffee shop, or just snap some cool photos.
We did not intend to make a “How to” guide for finding vintage goods in Tokyo. Truth be told the best vintage watches we’ve found were in random areas not in our usual fishing holes. Rather than set our followers on a point a to b journey, we thought it best to highlight some of our favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo so that you may get a good starting point to begin your hunt.
The neighborhoods will be grouped in proximity towards one another.
- Ebisu / Nakameguro / Daikanyama
- Shinjuku / Shimokitazawa / Koenji / Nakano
- Harajuku / Omotesando / Shibuya
These areas are best to be explored in groups and can easily be traversed by subway and by foot in a day. Ebisu and its surrounding neighborhoods feels very different and distinct from most of the other neighborhoods listed. There is an air of local posh refinement. Shops are intentionally small and inviting and it seems as though every shop you walk into was something you had to discover. Perhaps it’s not the first place we would aim to visit for watches, but it certainly has a great vibe and a way to start your hunt in Tokyo.
Shinjuku and its areas west that lead towards Nagano and Koenji will be the biggest area to discover. Shunjuku holds the red light district of Tokyo where hostess bars and second hand luxury goods collide. There is a dynamic relationship between these two industries, one which we would probably need to explain in a larger article. Shimokita is a short subway ride towards the outer suburbs of Tokyo, however this once small quaint town has shifted into a hipsters vintage dive paradise. We would start here to look for vintage wares and clothing. As Shimokita has developed in popularity, cities like Koenji experienced a bit of the spillover which has lead to more and more thrift finds a bit further out from Shimokita. And finally Nakano, more specifically the Nakano Broadway Market. Getting out of the subway head towards the massive Broadway covered market. You will need to walk past a hall of shops and restaurants before getting to the main watch market which spans 3 floors. Here you will find staples like Jack Road and NJ time, all specializing in modern and vintage watches. If watches are what you are after, this place is a must go.
As with all purchases, even in Japan, you must trust the seller or know exactly what you are buying. Generally speaking, most watches that come through these shops are vetted, but that’s not to say that all these watches are correct. You will still need to be able to identify whether something is over-polished, has relumed dials, or has incorrect parts. Often times, these will be disclosed, but some times not. The general rules still apply. Know your dealer, or know the subject, and the best scenario is you know both.
Japan is a treasure trove of experiences and watch hunting in a such a rich environment can be overwhelming at times. We’ve made trips some times and never came back with a single watch and we had no regrets. The watches are icing on the cake for us and we’re always ready for a second slice.
This trip also allowed us to test new equipment from Leica San Francisco. We tested the Q2, Q2 Monochrome, as well as the SL2s for video work and occasional photos. You can drop me anywhere in the world so long as I can get good coffee and I have a decent camera as my companion and I couldn’t think of a better place than in Japan for this symbiotic relationship of photo walks fueled by caffeine. The equipment did not disappoint and often times the desire to get a good shot lead us to alleys and neighborhoods we had not frequented before. To summarize the late Bourdain, he often felt that you don’t go out searching for a great meal, rather to only put yourself in situations and environments where one is likely to occur. This maxim has always stuck close with me and is often our approach to hunting for goods both far and near… We stay close to where the action is but never solely focus on the goal of finding great watches, should one appear while we take in the city, even better.