Welcome to the first post of 2016! January of 2016 happens to be the fifth anniversary of my blog. To celebrate, I will be posting four blogs this month instead of the usual two. Be sure to check back on the 7th, 13th and 19th for the remaining celebratory posts. Thank you for reading my blog over the years...
A quick note before I get started. This post is basically complete. I tend to forget to add
I've dedicated quite a few posts to my enormous CD collection. I seriously could write exclusively about CDs and have it sustain this blog for several years. The only real hang-up I have is that I tend to prattle off unusual terms and ignore little quirks that would seem strange to non-CD collectors. My mission today is to explain to everything there is to explain...including where you can find them!
Things didn't really start off great for these codes. On CDs prior to 1989, the codes usually looked like a mess of numbers. I'll use a famous example for this one. The super-rare 8cm CD Single for Michael Jackson's Thriller was released by Sony's Epic label 21.November.1988 with the code 108P-3047. On 28.October.1989, Epic released the single for Tetsuya Komuro's amazing song Running To Horizon using the code ESDB-3008. As a little exercise, you should go over to Amazon Japan and search both 108P-3047 and ESDB-3008. I haven't even tried both, but I can guarantee only one of them will turn up a result.
Columbia 8cm Single prefixes went from 10CC (1989) to CC (1990) and eventually to CODC (1991-2002)
These codes are truly a collector's best friend. They can help you easily seek out virtually any CD you want and can help distinguish between original and digital remasters.
Japanese CDs are very forthcoming with availability information. Every CD will tell you exactly when they were released and sometimes when they will go out of print. Most of the time the CD will be considered obsolete two years after the release date, but I have seen one year in some cases.
8cm CD Singles
If there is one thing I absolutely love about collecting CDs from Japan it's the 8cm CD Single. They're easily my favorite thing to collect. The sudden rise of the CD lead to a somewhat unique issue for the replacement of the 45 vinyl single. In 1988 the 8cm was marketed as an even more compact music experience. These discs held 24 minutes of music versus a standard 12cm disc's 74 and later 80 minutes.
While several countries had a market for 8cm CD Singles (3" CDs, if you're Imperial), Japan had a very unique way of packaging said discs. In Europe and the US, these CDs were commonly packaged in cardboard sleeves or slimline CD cases (with a cover on the front and the CD exposed within the case on the backside). Most Japanese 8cm singles are packaged in a long plastic tray protected by a folded over strip of thin cardboard called a tanzaku.
If you search for information on the word tanzaku in relation to CD Singles, you'll get an misleading/incorrect translation of "snap pack" from various websites that seem to have all been spreading the same bad information. I will get to where "snap pack" fits into this in a minute, let me clear something up first. The packaging received the tanzaku nickname based on the long strip you would write a wish on during Tanabata. I have seen some sites call this packaging style "Tanzaku Sleeve / Snap Pack" which is correct, but possibly misleading. I guess the best way to break it down is the cardboard itself is the tanzaku while the plastic tray is the snap pack.
Single for TM Network's GET WILD. Note the fold lines in the tanzaku along with the excess "grid" area that snaps off. This is meant to be folded over to make a compact sleeve.
I suppose I should explain what in the world a "snap pack" is at this point. A snap pack is the nickname for the inner plastic tray of the tanzaku. The lower half can be snapped off to allow the tanzaku to be folded using creases pressed into the cardboard from the printing factory. Doing so halves the size of the packaging into a square about the size of the CD itself. This was a practice that fell out of practice by about 1992. Labels eventually stopped printing the tanzaku with creases, so they couldn't be folded over. The trays, however, remained largely unchanged over the lifespan of the tanzaku packaging. It's worth noting that about 95% of 8cm CD Singles you'll see for sale do not have the tray snapped/tanzaku folded. I suppose that's why labels stopped using creases and started creating elaborate artwork to fill the extra space. As of this writing, I only have one CD in my collection of hundreds of singles with the tanzaku folded/tray snapped. That's less than 1%!!
Early 8cm packaging was very sparse thanks to the fold lines (left). Once the folding concept was abandoned, artwork started to become more elaborate and sometimes horizontal
Unique packaing for this Two-Mix single. One tiny crack and it's useless
Content wise, 8cm singles began life as almost direct copies of their 45 vinyl counterparts. Track A c/w (coupled with) Track B. Due to the light tracklisting, these early singles were usually priced down--especially if they were only one track. Around the same time as the creases in the tanzaku disappeared, more content on most discs appeared. Depending entirely on what label was releasing the CD, Karaoke/Instrumental/Off-Vocal versions of songs began appearing on discs. Nippon Columbia, which released the bulk of Tokusatsu CD Singles, usually had two songs and Karaoke versions of both vocal songs. Most Jpop releases featured a three-track tracklist. An example would be Track A c/w Track B, Track A Karaoke or for a label like avex, who printed megahits Track A, Track A Extended Mix, Track A Karaoke. It varied over time and the two-track format never entirely went away. The more generous labels definitely offered more incentive to collect 8cm CD Singles.
Solbrain (1991) vs. Exceedraft (1992) singles. Note the addition of Karaoke to Exceedraft
As the Karaoke boom of the 90s began to wane, 8cm singles started to fall out of fashion. Beginning in 1999 some labels began to package 8cm CDs in 12cm slimline cases (Euro style!). As the tanzaku sleeves slowly morphed into the slimline jewel cases, the 8cm CD was finally put to bed from widespread production in 2003.
Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger Shudaika. 8cm disc in a 12cm slimline single case
There are a few things of note before I move on.
-Yes, several companies did market adapters for 8cm discs to work in a slide-loading CD player/disc changer. Believe it or not, I don't own one. These are basically useless as even ancient CD-Rom drives had 8cm slots within the 12cm slot for discs.
-Want to know what killed off the use of 8cm CDs in Japan? Playstation 2. The same way I basically use my PS3 solely as a Blu Ray/DVD/Netflix/Amazon machine and game system last, the PS2 was extremely popular as an all-in-one media device in Japan. The vertical layout of PS2 basically rendered 8cm discs unplayable without an adapter. It's funny how something as trivial as that...an oversight even, can kill off an entire species of media.
-Speaking of video games, the Nintendo Game Cube Game Disc is identical to an 8cm CD at a glance. Technically speaking they are different, however. A Game Disc is actually a 8cm DVD with a 1.5GB capacity versus the CD capacity of 210MB.
-Today you can still buy 8cm CD-r and DVD-rs. The format lives on!
Losing this obi would certainly be GAME OVER YEAHHH!
These actually date back to vinyl records and aren't necessarily exclusive to CDs these days (books, toys, DVDs, etc).
Personally I don't care about the obi. Whenever I open a new CD I usually lift the CD tray out of the case and hide the obi behind it so that it doesn't get lost.
It'll never get lost here...
12cm CD Singles
As the 8cm CD Single slowly faded into obscurity, the 12cm (or 5") CD took over. The switch over was pretty gradual, but as I mentioned above there was some weirdness. 8cm CDs shot out to stores in 12cm cases seems a little strange in retrospect, but I assume labels were clearing their stock of 8cm discs from their printing factories before fully commiting to going full size.
Despite the extra space afforded to 12cm discs, the singles very rarely contain any more content than their 8cm counterpart would have. Labels have been better about including Karaoke versions of all tracks rather than just some as they did in the 90s. Really, there isn't too much to be impressed with. It's strange that using the larger disc somehow makes it more utilitarian. I miss the usually great artwork printed on the tanzaku. There was personality behind an 8cm Single.
Rather than start a new category, I suppose I could also talk about EPs, or Extended Plays. They're basically Mini Albums printed on 12cm discs. These exist everywhere in the world but Japan sometimes does them a little differently. An EP in Japan is basically a Single+ as they tend to include at least some Karaoke or Instrumental tracks.
Japan is very good about giving consumers the option to purchase the music heard in movies and TV shows that they're fans of. Whether it be Tokusatsu, Anime, Drama, even TV commercials, you can usually find CDs containing music that was worthy enough for wide release.
Music Collections usually contain short or "TV Size" versions of any theme songs used in the TV show. You'll have to seek out either the CD Single for the themes, or check out the show's corresponding Song Collection (which I'll be getting to next). The "Music" in Music Collection refers to the background music used to establish tone in the show. Anything with vocals is considered to be a song and would appear on the song collection rather than the music collection.
On top of score music from the show or movie, these CDs typically contain a version of a song where the vocals are removed and replaced with a horn, guitar, piano, etc. These are called Instrumental Versions.
Music Collections are usually pretty easily to tell apart from their Song Collection counterparts even if Japanese isn't your strong point. For one, they're usually titled as such. Alternate titles can include Original Soundtrack (or OST) as well as Ongakushuu. If the disc has an unreasonable amount of tracks ( like 42), it is definitely a music collection (song collections are typically limited to about 10 tracks).
If you are unsure of what is on the CD you are looking at, I recommend either doing further research or walking away and finding someone else who is more forthcoming with what they are selling. Few things suck worse than getting burned on a CD purchase.
To complement the music collection, a TV series will usually have it's own song collection. As the name would suggest, the CD is made up of all of the vocal songs that were available at the time of printing from a show. The type of songs included on these discs are usually full size versions of the opening and ending theme songs from the show as well as Image and Insertion songs.
An insertion song is one that was designed to be used in the series and ends up being featured during a fight or other appropriate moment. An image song is one that is basically exclusive to the CD. It is usually inspired by the story or it can be used to speak about the virtues of a character in a way that would sound awkward if it were used in the show. I would say that the biggest minefield in the anisong world would have to be Dragonball Z. Of the 20 "Hit Songs" CDs, I would say that 85% of the songs are image songs with only a small fraction of insertion songs. When it comes to Tokusatsu, a much higher percentage of songs end up being used in the shows.
There are also character songs, which are usually sung by the cast in character.
If the show is current, there will usually be multiple song collections released throughout with a complete song collection, or zenkyokushuu, released once the series has completed.
I would say that the most pedestrian thing about collecting Japanese CDs is probably CD Box Sets. Big artists around the world usually release at least one CD Box set at some point in their career. The bigger the artist/franchise, the more outlandish the set gets.
Japan is no different. There are some standard CD bricks and then there are some over-the-top sets. Some time ago I looked at a neat Ultraman Box Set with a replica timer, which I would actually consider one of the more standard sets out there since it isn't too much more than a bunch of CDs in a large cardboard sleeve.
This Sonic The Hedgehog set comes in a very easy to damage digipack set. Similar to how bargain DVD sets are packaged
When it comes to box sets covering just one specific show, they are usually very thorough in terms of CD content and information in the booklet. Even if the music on the CD might not be to your liking, the amount of effort put into some releases make them worthwhile to own.
TM Network Singles Collection and Single Collection Karaoke version boxed sets. Note the big sticker on the front of the Karaoke edition.
Japan Exclusive Track
This is one that probably drives citizens of the world outside of Japan the craziest. Releases of Western CDs in Japan typically carry at least one bonus track. It is usually a session outtake of some kind, but occasionally it will be something as simple as a live version of a song from a previous album (usually a hit song of some kind). This typically applies to artists big and small.
Despite the very similar artwork, the Japanese version of Thriller 25 has a Japan-Only song
In 2015 this isn't really a major problem as what would've been a Japan Exclusive track usually ends up on iTunes. Until mp3s took off, this was pretty maddening to a completist such as myself. Instead of buying a $13 CD locally I would feel the need to spend ¥3000 plus shipping juuust so I could get that extra track or two.
On Demand CDs
Believe it or not...some record labels had the gall to sell you a CD-r for slightly less than what the real version would have cost. Personally I have only dealt with this from Nippon Columbia, but I believe other labels offered a similar service.
Columbia's R-Ban service was a late 90s/early 00s experiment in ensuring customers had infinite access to CDs that would typically go out of print after two (or sometimes one) years. The idea is that you would be able to order the CD from your store (web shops such as CDJapan and Amazon Japan also carried R-Ban--why wouldn't they? They took up zero space in their warehouses), Columbia would print you up a copy on demand. The disc itself usually has the tracklist and information printed on it. The booklets were printed across a large sheet of paper and folded down rather than being an actual booklet.
So...these are official CD-rs. The sound quality is 100% the same as the printed disc, which is the only other plus outside of being able to order an out of print CD. Eventually R-Ban faded away as I suppose they realized consumers would rather seek out a used disc over a CD-r. Columbia's response was basically to create the priced-down and legitimately printed ANIMEX1200 line of reissued CDs. While they were at it, they got around to releasing material that was only available on vinyl. Not everything has ended up getting an ANIMEX1200 release, but the used market is great for filling in gaps.
Whose House? Rental House!
Something else that is largely unique to Japan--Rental CDs. To this day you can rent a CD from Japan. What does this have to do with CD Collecting? Decommissioned rentals filter out into the used CD market, There are typically easy to spot unless a seller is being disingenuous. Usually the CD will have a round seal on the booklet (or tanzaku if it's a single) with the word "RENTAL" written in English. It will usually also have various other labels that the shop slaps on to help catalog them. The obi is usually taped to the outside of the case.
I try to avoid Rental CDs when I can for obvious reasons. Something has to be VERY rare for the Rental CD to become collectible. If I don't really care about something, I usually just pay the pennies for a former rental...but for more collectible stuff I try to avoid them.
In the late 90s some shops began defacing discs, such as this Moero!! Robocon CD
Oh yeah, and Rental CDs most of the time are 100% playable with very light or no marks on the disc.
Where To Buy...
Buying CDs from Japan is shockingly easy compared to back when my collection was in it's infancy. The number one thing you'll need to shop these sites is the CD catalog code that I was speaking of earlier. For easy shopping, I will recommend shops that offer fast turn around on orders.
Amazon Japan - I order more from Amazon Japan than I do with my damn Prime account on my country's Amazon. Ordering new CDs is a breeze if you have a decent understanding of Japanese (The English Version setting of Amazon Japan only translates so much). They offer DHL Shipping on orders which usually gets CDs in my hands within 48 hours. For those with a better grasp of Japanese, you can browse their wonderfully enormous Used CD market, Punch in the code, and browsed the used CDs on the page. Vendors will usually leave a description of CD condition (Rental/Missing obi/etc). Some ship internationally but only ship SAL, so there is usually a wait if you aren't coastal in the US.
CDJapan - English friendliest site to buy CDs. They romanize basically all of the text from their Japanese Neowing sister site (probably at great effort and expense). You will pay a little bit more, but you will find pretty much any CD you need from the last five years or so. You can also order toys and other collectibles.
Playasia - This site is more popular with gamers I believe, but you can still find music pretty easily here. Maybe not quite as descriptive as CDJapan, they are pretty English friendly site with a simple ordering process.
Amiami - Yes, they sell CDs also! They carry limited stock of new CDs, so your best bet is to order a CD as you order a heavily discounted collectible from their site. You'll be saving on shipping, which is always a big plus. I'm not a fan of their payment process, as it usually adds an extra day or so to the fulfillment time, but it is convenient if you're ordering multiple items.
Those are the basics. There are others out there, but I would recommend getting started on those sites.
There you have it! That is my complete guide to CD collecting from Japan. If you have any further questions, please leave me a comment or hit me up on twitter. You can view a tiny portion of my collection here...
See ya next time!