It's time to dump that 1970s camera and cassette-playing boom box. You could sell them with eBay, of course, but aficionados of retro might try this alternative.
In the heart of Tokyo's Electric Town, a store named e-Box offers cabinets for rent, where collectors can display and sell their gear.
"It draws enthusiasts," says the chairman of Akihabara Radio Center, Shusuke Yamamoto. "It has sold more than I expected, with a substantial profit."
Cabinets are stacked to the ceiling, filled with random assortments of short-wave radios and long-range microphones, open-reel tape decks and closed-circuit TV sets. The items are all somewhat dated, but they comprise a browser's paradise.
Sellers rent cabinets for 2,000 yen to 7,900 yen ($25 to $100) a month. They price their items and stack them for display. The store attendant then supervises sales and takes a 15 percent commission.
One vendor is Seiichi Kitamura, 68, from Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture. He says he began visiting the shop when he retired seven years ago.
Kitamura fixes up items in his home workshop, removing dust or rust, and then consigns them for sale. He has sold items ranging from radios to watches and gramophone players.
In his first month, he expected sales of just 20,000 yen to 30,000 yen ($260 to 380).
"I filled the box and returned home," he said. "But two days later, I got a call from the shop telling me it was already empty."
He spends much time fixing up items he bought, but so far Kitamura has sold about 25 million yen ($322,000) worth of items, he said.
"The craftsmanship of Japanese manufacturers such as Sony and Panasonic is amazing, especially their design skills," he said. "But I think their skill has been declining in recent years."
The Radio Center building is adjacent to the Electric Town exit of Akihabara Station. Managed by radio equipment company Yamamoto musen, the first floor is crammed with stalls selling new two-way radios and electronic components. Around 2002, company chairman Shusuke Yamamoto decided there should be space for amateur sellers too, and for them he designated space on the second floor. Since then, e-Box has doubled in size: It now comprises about 300 display cases.
Among the vacuum tubes, binoculars and early-model cellphones sits one prized antique that is not for sale.
It is a first-generation Sony Walkman cassette player.
Sony engineers used to frequent the building to seek advice from vendors.
"One day, Sony execs visited my shop with a Walkman," Yamamoto recalls. "'Our bosses have made something weird,' they told me, 'and they told us to go to Akihabara and ask Mr. Yamamoto for his opinion.'" Sony co-founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita are widely considered to be the fathers of the Walkman.
"Oh, it sounded so good. I told them it would definitely be a hit. But the Sony guys looked confused. 'If we sell as many as 5,000 units, we would consider it a success,' they said."
Yamamoto was so sure of the Walkman that he advised the store's senior managing director to take 3,000 units. But others disagreed, and the purchasing manager ordered a mere 500 units.
The music player became an unprecedented success, and Yamamoto still had some stock when rival stores were running out. He sold the Walkmans at a premium during the Christmas shopping season, he said.
"Ahead of its release, Sony showed it to many different people," he said. "But I heard there were only three people who said the Walkman would be any good. I was one of them."
The model on display has an honored history. Morita himself came to the store one day to present it to Yamamoto as a token of gratitude.
The first-generation Walkman had two headphone jacks, marked "Guys" and "Dolls." This his-and-hers idea was aimed at couples enjoying music together. There was even a button marked "Hot Line," which enabled a user to break the music and talk to the other listener.
"Until then, whenever we wanted to listen to music, it meant a stereo set in a room," he said. The Walkman changed that.
"We could walk around, share the music and have conversations. And the sound quality was outstanding," Yamamoto said.
"I think Sony fundamentally changed our music listening habits with the Walkman."
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