I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need more clothes. Well, I probably reached that point a long time ago. When I moved back to the States from China I was able to give away many of my clothes, and unloaded more during my time in New York moving from apartment to apartment. I thought I’d gotten it down to a manageable amount. But packing up to move to Japan, and aiming for only two suitcases and a carry-on, I realized I still have far too much (part of the problem may be that I own more shoes than I used to. But I didn’t want to risk having to buy any here, as my western feet are too big for Japan). So while there are a few items (like longer dresses — why are mine all just a little too short for work?) that I’d like to have, I’d like to avoid paying a lot for them. Second-hand stores have always seemed like the perfect solution. Save some clothes from the trash, find something unique, save some money. However, I am picky. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to buy before I go to the store, and then I just can’t find it. So many second hand stores have all the clothes packed so tightly together I find them impossible to navigate. Some stores just don’t have clothes that fit my tastes. Others are overpriced. What follows is my review of my failed attempt at second-hand shopping at the end of August 2012. Soon I’ll have a second post on thrift store shopping in Tokyo, in which I had more success.

Before I set out I tried to do my homework. This website listed a number of stores in neighborhoods around Harajuku. I took the train to Shibuya and then decided to walk — I think this website led me to believe there would be some in Shibuya and I thought I could just wander around and find them. Searching for more on my phone I wandered up a street that had a few places that looked like they might have second hand clothes from the outside, but inside they were very expensive, and it seemed like they might just have gotten leftover clothes from a store, or maybe these weren’t second-hand at all. It doesn’t really matter if the clothes come from a store or from an individual, but I didn’t see anything I liked and it was too expensive. So I headed on.

I walked toward Harajuku but turned right on the street that goes past the Meijijingumae subway stop. I turned left at the first main road (Meiji Dori?) that intersected the road I was on and passed the GAP and a few other large clothing stores. Tucked downstairs the first mall (perhaps YM Square Harajuku) past a little road was a really large second-hand store. I thought I’d found success. And in many ways I had.

A large second-hand store with a range in prices and sizes.

Kinji Used Clothing (no euphemisms there) was a really large store with a range in prices and sizes. Had I found something I liked I could have probably bought it for less than $10 USD. I saw a sizable young woman in there, and judging by some of the clothes I saw I think she could have found some clothes to fit her.

There was even a row of clothes that seemed aimed at Harajuku girls. I’m not sure now if this was the pajama row or that row….

pajamas or harajuku girl outfit?

They also had a lot of shoes, though I didn’t check to see if anything was big enough for a Western girl’s feet.

They had a wide selection of shoes.

I picked two dresses whose style I liked and walked up to the attendant near the changing rooms with my basket. She got the room all set for me, so I walked in. She came up seeming very upset and said something I didn’t understand. Then in English she said “Shoes.” It turns out (and those of you familiar with Japan probably know this), you have to take your shoes off before you walk into the changing area. It was a hot, rainy day, so she might have been particularly disturbed I’d get my wet feet everywhere. It put a damper on my visit there, but at least I know how to behave now.
The main reason I didn’t enjoy Kinji Used Clothing was they were playing Heavy Metal type music really loudly — think “Du Hasst” by Rammstein. Another store I visited another day was playing similar music, albeit more quietly, so maybe that’s a thing in Japan; if you shop second hand you often like heavy metal. I really don’t, and I find loud noises oppressive, so I did not love the place. Change the music, and I would definitely recommend it to everyone.

I continued my hot trudge over to Harajuku, stopping to rehydrate at a bubble tea place I found in a mall above a Claire’s. While the menu had pictures, I couldn’t read any of it, so I wasn’t sure if I would get chocolate, regular, or coffee bubble tea. I ended up with chocolate, which wasn’t bad, though very sweet. I also seemed to have arrived on the day when some singers were being interviewed by sailors. Japan, do you know how weird these things are for foreigners?

I should have expected what I found in Harajuku, but I wasn’t prepared. There are so many people there on the weekend.

I found one second hand store in a basement, but again I wasn’t sure if any of the clothes were actually second hand. Then I tried to find Thank You Mart and discovered it is impossible to find things in a country where the streets have no name. While my iphone google maps app is usually very helpful, it seemed like I would have to scale walls or go down some invisible road to get there, and after walking and down up the same street twice I gave up. I did see a store selling chocolate covered potato chips, which I considered. However in the crush of people I didn’t bother to stop. I also wasn’t sure if it would be gluten free. If it was, I’d totally try that.
To try to end my day on a better note, I went in search of an English second-hand book store. I had thought I hand found a library in the Tokyo American Club. I went there and the library is wonderful, but for the price I’d pay for membership I could just buy all the English books I’d ever want this year. And it wouldn’t be worth it for me to have access to the other things they offer at that price. When I lived in Beijing there was a lovely little BookMark library near me. I miss having access to something like that. Then there was the Bookworm, which was much more than a used English bookstore; they had a cafe and lots of events. I was hoping to find something like that, so I set off to see The Blue Parrot. I arrived on the street where I thought it would be, and walked down it, again not able to find it. It wasn’t too busy so I persisted, looking at each store front and scanning the upstairs floors, trying to see if I could find any kanji that matched any website mentioning the Blue Parrot. I thought maybe, despite being an English language book store, the sign might only be in Japanese. Then I found this website (the third picture) and walked around looking for it. Finally I realized where it was, and that it probably didn’t exist anymore. I still walked upstairs to the third floor, only to confirm that the Blue Parrot must have closed. The strange thing is I can’t find anything online saying it closed.

Compare to the other website’s picture. It’s clearly gone.

There was one last option for used English books. I took the train down to Gotanda, walked a bit, and found Good Day Books. Inside it’s a regular, slightly small, used book store. It’s no Bookworm — it just has books (and a few fliers by the door mentioning things like a book club). Perfect if you want to buy books. What I really want is a library! If anyone knows of one with decently cheap membership, let me know.

It was dark by the time I arrived but they were still open.

I bought some onigiri and good chocolate (there was a store near the station with some western grocery options) in consolation. Moral of the story; don’t walk all over the city on a hot rainy day, subject yourself to loud crowds of people, and always plan out where you want to go. If you’re in a loud busy area, you’re not just going to wander upon a cute little shop.

Next time: my visit to Shimokitazawa.