Let’s Go Shopping: Recycled Goods at Hard Off

Tessa the percussion student needs a little refresher on her piano skills. Which means piano lessons. Which means a piano with 88 keys. Since we already have a piano in our Washington house, I decided to search for a digital piano in a second-hand or recycle shop. And that means visiting Book Off, the 800 pound gorilla of Japanese recycle stores.

IMG_7803Book Off is popular chain of stores selling second-hand goods; stroll through any decent-sized Japanese town and you’re bound to pass a store or two. Most Book Off locations sell (surprise!) books, CDs, DVDs, and video games; slightly larger locations include clothing. Really large locations get different names to reflect their larger and more varied merchandise: Off House, Hobby Off, Liquor Off (!), and everyone’s favorite, Hard Off. I know. That’s OK, I’ll wait until you’re done laughing….

IMG_7804So last week my friend Malin and I drove down to our nearest Hard Off, which features a musical instrument department. I remember seeing keyboards there in the past, so I hoped to get lucky and find something appropriate for a decent price.

We started on the first floor, with its clothing, purses, sporting goods, and appliance departments.

Malin considered this pair of second hand underpants, but you’ll be shocked to hear that she passed on buying them.

That said she did buy this beautiful kimono-ish jacket, a steal at only 1000 yen (about $9 USD). It’s made of silk and we couldn’t find a stain, snag or any blemish at all.


Here’s a mystery to me: second-hand sweat towels. Everyone carries around little towels–washcloths, really–for dabbing sweaty faces or drying hands in paper towel-less public bathrooms. I buy them at 100 yen stores. Which means, you know, they’re worth about 100 yen new. Here’s a whole rack of used albeit washed and neatly pressed towels for 300 yen each. And who gathers up old ones to sell to the recycle shop, anyway? When mine get too gross to use on my face I use them as rags. But I digress.


Ooh, the old-school Japan “silk” jacket! I’ve been eyeing these for a while, but I took a pass on this one. At 10,000 yen (about $90 USD) it seemed a little high priced for what it is. It’s not a terribly high quality piece and pretty worn. Pass.


After some time on the first floor I headed up to the music and electronics floor. Ukuleles, cymbals, lots of guitars, looking good…..

And….what the…?!? Are those….BONGOS?!? And have they been on the shelf since June 2015? Loyal martayaki readers may recall my trip to Tokyo to buy bongos after a friend called *this very Off House location* and was told that they had no bongos for sale. I’ll take small consolation in the fact that these are grossly overpriced; a new set of this make and model would cost 4700 yen (about $45 USD), so the price of 7560 yen (about $70 USD) is at least double what it should be.

Grrr. Moving on.

Camera lenses, electronics, mobile phones, speakers, amps!

And Junk.


And finally, a keyboard. Yamaha, around 21,000 yen (about $190USD), looking good….but wait. How many keys is that? It looks like more than the 40 keys or so common on compact keyboards, but it doesn’t look quite right….


And it’s not, with only 76 keys. Who makes a 76 key keyboard? So no joy on the keyboard.

But I bought an ikebana container for 300 yen (under $3 USD)–or maybe an ashtray, as my husband speculated.


Pikachu Outbreak!

Every year in Yokohama, Pokemon fever culminates in a frenzy of activities called Pikachu Outbreak [open in Google Chrome for automatic translation from Japanese]. Pikachus on parade, Pikachus marching in shopping malls, Pikachus chasing random passersby…it’s quite the spectacle. The kids and I headed out to see the madness for ourselves.

Last week we set out for random Pikachu sightings and the Pikachu boat ride near Sakuragicho station and Minatomirai. In our group the kids seemed somewhat interested while the adults squealed with joy.


Tessa’s trying to be all cool here, but she can’t help smile a little…

After this particular photo op with a slightly menacing, raincoat-clad Pikachu, I turned to step aside and let someone else have a turn. That’s when I felt a bump and looked back to see that Pikachu was following and nudging me. I turned again and moved a little faster, thinking I got in his way. Another bump. And then I realized that the little %#@$^$# was “chasing ” me–as fast as he could in that costume, anyway. So I played along, which you can sort-of see in the next photo if you look through Cy in the black t-shirt. I never knew that “Get chased by a Pikachu” was a life goal until it was fulfilled. Check!


Note the giant grin on Caroline (and all adults), and the barely disguised boredom on Tessa’s face


Yesterday Cy and I decided to check out the Pikachu Carnival Parade. We lucked out with a pretty good curbside spot, then settled in to watch the show.

When I go to Disney I admire the logistics behind the magic, but honestly the Disney parades leave me a little cold. I look at the sheer joy on most parade goers’ faces and just don’t get it. But at the Pikachu parade, I grinned non-stop. Every time a line of Pikachus wiggled and danced around I was all SQUEEEE!!!!



Does anyone know the story of this Pikachu? He was the only one I saw in the whole parade with the different eyes and mouth, and the Google is seriously letting me down….


Sure I Know How to Play Bongos; Or, Drum Shopping in Shibuya

We’re back in Japan! The kids and I visited family and friends in Texas and Washington DC for about a month, and Mark stayed for roughly three weeks.

After Mark returned to Japan he ran into Tom, a member of the local expat rock band called Honmoku Blues Express. Tom knows that I’m a drummer and he asked Mark if I’m available to play an upcoming gig with the band…..on bongos. “Well she is a drummer….” he replied. When Mark shared the news with me I got really excited. Because when the local rock band asks you to join them there’s only one answer: Yaaaaaaas.

I reached out to my DC drum teacher Lindy for shopping and playing advice. Always positive, she cheerfully offered the following guidance: “In terms of playing, think of the low drum as the bass drum (play on 1 and 3) and the higher drum as the snare (play on 2 and 4).” Super helpful. Thanks, Lindy! My drum teacher in Japan Marcos initially responded to my news with the only reasonable answer: he doubled over in laughter. Which to be fair, most people do. After he recovered he offered his congratulations and suggested that I get a bongo stand as well.

First I tried finding bongos used. The second-hand chain of stores called Book Off includes musical instruments at some locations, and I recalled seeing bongos there in the past. But alas–phone calls to several locations found no used bongos. Another friend suggested Yahoo Auctions Japan, but I couldn’t find anything good there either. So today the kids and I hit the rails for Tokyo. Our destination: Ishibashi Music’s Shibuya West location, their drum and percussion store.

IMG_7618After a brief stop at the Hachiko statue at Shibuya crossing….

We started down narrow streets and found a hidden elevator to Ishibashi Music’s drum store on the second floor of a non-descript and not super well labeled building.


I did my research ahead of time and found a decent entry-level model at a reasonable price, Meinl’s Headliner series. “Nice choice–Meinl stuff is solid,” enthused Lindy via Facebook. The kids picked out new drumsticks, because that’s what you do when you visit a drum store. Obvs.

IMG_7652On our way home I decided to splurge on the green car of the train, which includes individual seats that recline. So much more civilized than packing into the crowded regular cars! If there’s a time to try out the green car, then it’s definitely the start of the afternoon rush heading out of Tokyo on a Friday afternoon.

The first gig is in one week, so I have my work cut out for me. Stay tuned!

My new bongos! Super excited