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Hanging Out at Big Love, Tokyo’s Best Record Store

Nestled in a quiet residential backstreet of Harajuku, Big Love is quickly becoming the go-to record store in Tokyo.

by Ingrid Kesa
05 April 2016, 3:00am

Images: Ingrid Kesa

Big Love is quickly becoming the go-to record store in Tokyo, gaining a cult following with tourists—especially Australians. Nestled in a quiet residential backstreet of Harajuku, Big Love is appropriately named considering it’s run by husband and wife duo Masashi Naka and Haruka Hirata. Specialising in independent and imported music, every vinyl, cassette, CD and zine in the store is picked by Naka and Haruka because they love it, and it means something to them or each other. It’s a very sweet and genuine sentiment. There’s also a small bar in the store selling beer and drip coffee, and the more recent addition of an exhibition room. (As well as being a retail space, Big Love is also a record label).

Naka and Haruka have been keen supporters of Australian music, having especially fostered close ties with Total Control, who they’ve toured in Japan. In store, you’ll find a healthy selection of Australian music—including records by Deaf Wish, Bitch Prefect, Super Wild Horses, Fair Maiden, Blank Realm, The Stevens, Andras Fox, and a range of RIP Society releases.

We visited the store and asked Haruka about Big Love’s history and the appeal of Australian music.

Noisey: How long have you had the shop for?
Haruka Hirata: I’ve been running the store for fifteen years, but my husband has been running the label for twenty five years. He started it when he was, like, twenty or something. He used to work at a really legendary record store in Shibuya called Zest, and then he started his own record store in Shibuya, and then we moved here around 2002. The store and the label name was different; it was called Escalator Records but we changed the name to Big Love in 2008 to focus more on western bands. We had been releasing J-pop and cute kinds of music, which was trendy in those days, but we wanted to shift to more indie or underground western bands, so that’s why we changed the name to Big Love.

Do you live around here?
Yes, I was born in Nakame. It’s two stops from Shibuya, and I still live around there.

Have you ever lived overseas?
Yes, I lived in Greece when I was a kid, because of my family’s business so I was there with my family for three years. I went to an American school.

That’s why your English is so good!
Thank you!

How did you first get into Australian music? It seems like you guys support a lot of Australian bands—
–Like Total Control or DMA’s.

Yes, exactly.
That’s a very hard question because it naturally comes. I mean, we don’t try to find a band from this part of the world or that part of the world. Our most popular city right now is definitely Copenhagen, starting with Ice Age, Lust For Youth, Communions. Everything coming out of Copenhagen is what the young people are most ‘triggered’ by right now. And that happened really naturally. Like, we found Ice Age, and then it started. We also found Total Control, which was so natural because everyone’s friends; those Copenhagen people and Daniel [Stewart] from Total Control. So it’s not about what the city is…

How many records from Australian bands do you have in store?
I think we can still count [on our hands], so it’s not a lot but the funny thing is that we have a lot of customers from Melbourne.

I’m from Melbourne and see so many people around with Big Love tote bags.
I’m always so surprised that people from Australia buy a lot of records. Why is that?

There’s a really big community and interest back home around zines, independent publishing/music, and record collecting.
Oh, right. I was also wondering if there are not a lot of record stores in Australia?

I don’t think so, not compared to here. Running a business in Australia is really expensive—renting out a shop front—so it’s quite niche. Records are also expensive to buy in Australia.
So with people from Australia it’s hard for them to find the records they really want, but at our store maybe we have them?

Yes, that sounds right. Do you see more and more Australian customers coming in?
Yeah, all the time. We’re having a lot of new western customers; I think it’s about half Japanese customers, half western customers. We’re having the olympics here in 2020, so I guess a lot more customers from western countries will come in.

Do you get the feeling that when Australian customers come in they’ve already heard about your store so that’s why they want to come in and see it for themselves?
Yeah. Actually now what I’m thinking is I want to make a tote bag or sweatshirt that is like a universal language; when you see someone carrying our tote bag or wearing the sweatshirt even if you can’t speak the same language you will understand that, OK, you share the same favourite bands. And in that way you can become friends or click.

I guess that’s a form of marketing in a way and getting your name out there. Do you do any other promotional stuff like using social media?
I have Instagram and Naka has Instagram, but I didn’t want to make an official account because I wanted people to know about me and him—not about the record store—because the store is about us. It’s not about the bands. We only have our favourite things here; what we believe is the best right now. I thought people should know about our private lifestyles; us.

Have you been to Australia?
No, I haven’t yet. I travel a lot for work, but I’ve never been to Australia or New Zealand.

When you travel for work what are you doing overseas?
Well, I run Big Love but I’m also trying to support visual artists—especially Cali Thornhill DeWitt, who is from LA. He made this flag, and also our logo. He also runs a record label, so we’ve been friends for ages. At that time he wasn’t really famous like now, as a visual artist, but we wanted to have his show here and then we did an exhibition and then he started getting a lot of attention around the world. So I’ve kind of become his manager. When he has an exhibition outside of Tokyo I go there; I went to Copenhagen twice last year because he had two shows there. Also, I have a lot of friends in Copenhagen [laughs] like the Posh Isolation guys. My trip is mostly for both: for visual artists and also for Big Love. It’s not like I can always bring back records, but the best thing about it is to meet new people. Even if nothing happens at that time, I think meeting people is the most crucial part about running a business. Now it’s so easy talking to anyone—you can talk to anyone you wish—maybe you can even talk to Kanye through Twitter or something [laughs]. But now I really feel that meeting in real life makes something. So that’s why I’m traveling.

How else do you find out about new music?
As I said it naturally comes, but I think mostly it’s recommendations from friends who are in bands. For example we ask Loke [Rahbek] from Posh Isolation what are good bands right now, or something like that, or our conversation is always like that. When we’re just chilling we always start playing music, and then it’s like, “Who’s that?” I usually don’t dig on blogs or… Of course I check Pitchfork and other sites, but that’s not where I get information; it’s from friends.

So you have the exhibition space here for art shows. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
We just had Sonya Sombreuil’s exhibition. She now lives in LA. She’s really famous for her jeans, I’ll show you. She has her clothing line called Come Tees and Rihanna wore these [shows me a pair of painted jeans], so Sonya became really famous. She’s also involved in the music scene; she loves hardcore and punk. Now I’m trying to get more visual artist exhibitions here. Basically people who have a show here should be connected to the music scene because that makes sense to everyone.

Do you have any more shows planned?
It’s a small one, but I’m trying to have a flower-based exhibition. This is what Cali and Kazuki Kuraishi make together, and I want to have these tombstone bases here with hundreds of flowers [this exhibition has since taken place] . I’m still figuring out who I’d like to have shows here—I can’t say! I have a lot in mind!

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