Kyoto is known for its high density of record shops. As a congregating event of these local stores, the Kyoto Record Fair is showing new and active movement in the community since its start in 2013. I, the interviewer myself, have been a patron of various record shops in town, and Cremona is one that I visit often. It’s a shop that carries jazz records mainly, and also stocks a variety of rock, pop, and Japanese kayokyoku music at a reasonable price.
■ The Lineage of Cremona Predates World War II
Most of Kyoto’s record shops are concentrated in the Sanjo and Shijo town areas in Kyoto’s city limit, but Cremona is located a bit north from there in Imadegawa on the third floor of a quaint building. The owner Masao Terai (b. 1968) moved to this location in April, 2016 and it’s still a new shop. Among the record-lovers of Kyoto, Cremona is a well-acquainted name. The store started selling records under the same name back in Masao-san’s grandfather’s generation. (The name Cremona comes from a small town in Italy, a “holy land” where many violin makers live.)
According to Masao-san, the origin of Cremona was “Terai Chikuonki Ten” (Terai gramophone store) started by his grandfather Souichi Terai back in 1935. The store was one of Kyoto’s very few well-established places to buy SP records of classical music, but inevitably it had to close its doors when the wartime order took hold.
In 1946 shortly after the war ended, grandfather Souichi, hoping for a comeback, teamed up with another shop owner in joint-management to open the record store “Cremona” in Kyoto’s Teramachi. In 1952 the store had to close its doors reluctantly due to Souichi-san’s death from illness. The co-owner then broke off to open Tsuda Chikuonki Ten in its place.
■ The Second-Coming of Cremona
When Souichi Terai, founder of Cremona, died, his son Toshihiro-san (Masao-san’s father) was still in high school. As soon as Toshihiro-san graduated, he started working at Tsuda Chikuonki Ten to learn everything about the business. He made a living working for the record shop for a while, but once he married and the kids kept coming, he started to struggle to sustain his family. Thus in 1974, he made up his mind to go independent. He opened his record shop near the Shugakuin station of Sakyou district in Kyoto along the Kitayama Dori street. The new record shop was named “Cremona” once more. (Later renamed “Cremona Shugakuin Store.”)
In the new store, newly-released records termed all genre: jazz, rock, folk, Japanese Kayokyoku music and so on, were the main sell. There were very few stores around that sold used records, so in the mid ’80s, a new Cremona Kyogoku store was opened.
Masao-san recalls those days: “It was around the time when CDs first started coming out, and I remember talking with my father about whether the format would really popularize. In reality, it took a pretty long time before CDs actually replaced records. As far as selling used records, I think it was us and HOT LINE that were the earliest record shops to do it. We just proactively bought out inventories from others, and the Kyogoku store slowly became more of a used record shop.”
Today, the Cremona Kyogoku store is considered a trailblazer for the countless used records stores in Kyoto that followed in its path.
■ Shop owner Masao Terai’s Musical Journey
Masao Terai, who grew up with a father that ran a record shop, was surrounded by music since he was very young. It wasn’t, however, any more special than a regular musical upbringing.
“When I was little, we had records at our house and I could listen to them anytime. They took the place of toys. When I was in elementary school, I was interested in the music TV show called The Best Ten. My parents bought me a stereo system when I was in junior high, and I learned to love foreign music through my sister’s records. I also used to pull records from my father’s used records storage for his shop and listen to Billy Joel and Queen. I started saving money to buy records around the same time. I was doing poorly in school back then and my teacher threatened me, ‘If you don’t do something, you won’t make it to high school!’”[Laughs.] “So they got a college student to start tutoring me at our house, but he was always commenting on my records: ‘Masao, loan me Synchronicity by the Police so I can listen to it.’ So from then on, I started buying records just to please him.” [Laughs.]
In high school, Masao-san was into popular foreign music like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, and never bothered listening to music by genre. He was a fan of the TV program Music Tomato JAPAN that played music videos, and on the day after the show, there was a routine discussion amongst his friends: “Did you see it?” “That was really cool, huh?” Record purchases started to gobble up his allowance.
■ Inheritance and Failure Of A Record Shop Business
Masao-san started helping out at Cremona once or twice a week during college. He could faintly sense that his father was wishing he would take over the business oneday, but there was no mention of it. He says, “I didn’t enjoy music back then like I do now.” Regardless, after graduating and without looking around, he became an employee of Cremona. His father was delighted.
“It was all good through the economic bubble*, but once the bubble burst, it became increasingly hard economically. Our store manager of Cremona Kyogoku store decided to quit, and so my father started running the Kyogoku store and the Shugakuin store became my responsibility. I was only 26 or 27. The Shugakuin store was really the ‘town record shop,’ and we mainly had CDs in a wide range from foreign music to J-POP. My father was very particular, on the other hand, and mainly sold analog records at the Kyogoku store, throughout the CD era.”
Sales were on a continual decline, but work itself was filled with joy. Masao-san would get together with his store staff and study past sales data, guess how the new releases would perform, and how many they would need to order. They were very fulfilling times. But that didn’t last too long. After a few years, in 2000, Masao-san developed health issues and had to close the Shugakuin store that he was managing. This happened around the same time market CD sales started plummeting.
Masao-san rehabilitated for a year and his health eventually recovered. Instead of facing the challenges of running a record store in such times, however, he decided to become a salaryman (corporate worker). The Cremona Kyogoku store became the sole storefront, but in 2009 for reasons concerning his father Toshihiro-san’s age, they also had to close their last store. After a half-century of upholding Kyoto’s record culture, and with much grief from the community, Cremona disappeared from the map.
■ Corporate Life Beckons For Music
After leaving his record shop business to make a better living, Masao-san treaded the unfamiliar waters of being a “salaryman.” But the job didn’t really suit him. In fact, his desire for music became unbearably strong around this time in his mid-thirties, and he started to get into ambient and club music through a friend.
“At first he let me listen to Chill Out by KLF, but I didn’t think much of it.” [Laughs.] “But I totally got hooked on Protection by Massive Attack. I started buying and listening to 10~20 CDs a month and I was steeped in music when I was home. Eventually, I realized how good Chill Out was.” [Laughs.]
Around that time, Masao-san also started to feel some attraction toward jazz, the roots of club music. Amidst existential questioning of his job, his appetite for music became far greater in his salaryman days than his interest in music when he actually owned a record shop.
“Back in my salaryman days, I used to have dreams of when I was working at Cremona. I woke up in a good mood: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to work at a record shop again…’ But after having too many of those dreams, it was no longer about being in a good mood, rather, the feelings were overwhelming me. I commuted on bike in those days, and on the way to work and on my way home, thoughts of opening a record shop kept on spinning in my head.”
A record shop that once folded, and a future that promises nothing. Despite all of those concerns, his heart kept leaping ahead and he was starting to collect records to start up his business. Masao-san made the decision to reopen the record shop and quit his job eventually, but his father kept entering his thoughts: “I had the hardest time bringing it up to him. It was a questionable move to start a record shop after all of these years, and I didn’t carry the torch when my father retired... So I forced myself to tell him one day. He did not oppose. Although he did warn, “It’s going to be incredibly hard.” After that I roped my father in and prepared for reopening.
Tatsuya Shirahase is a published sociologist and fieldworker that focuses on urban issues and regional culture. He was the head of a music research club in college and his famous words are, “Digging for records over three meals.” He enjoys jazz, soul, Latin, reggae, hip-hop, house and ambient music. While he is committed to his field research, he also throws vinyl parties in Osaka and Nara.