My guide to watch shopping in Tokyo’s ‘alternative shopping paradise’, Nakano Broadway.
If you only have half a day to shop for used watches in Tokyo, Nakano should be at the top of your list. While in the other major districts the shops are fairly spread out, in Nakano they are all concentrated in the otaku cornucopia of Nakano Broadway. Officially billed as ‘Tokyo’s alternative shopping paradise’ on its English language promotional materials, it is one of the strangest and most interesting shopping malls you could ever visit.
Nakano is easily accessible from Shinjuku station (4 minutes) and Tokyo station (18 minutes) on the JR Chuo Line. To get to Nakano Broadway, take the north exit from Nakano station and walk a few hundred metres up the covered shopping street (shotengai).
The watch shopper in a hurry should proceed to take the elevator close to the entrance of Nakano Broadway, directly to 3F, which is where the watch-action is located. 1F and 2F consist of a bewildering array of specialty stores, with a strong focus on Japanese pop culture – think manga, anime, figurines and schoolgirl-idol ephemera of all sorts. Heaven if you are into those sorts of things.
I’m not, but nor do I judge. We who are obsessed with unnecessary and obsolete little wrist-machines, which tell time worse, and at much greater expense, than the omnipresent digital devices in our pockets, are in no position to disapprove of the diversions that quicken the pulses of others.
But I digress. To return to the point, here is a rundown of the best shops up on 3F, with a floor map to help orient you. Opening hours vary by store, but are typically 12pm to around 8pm.
JackRoad/BettyRoad – 10/10
Your first port of call, and the undisputed highlight of Nakano Broadway, must be the ‘Road’ shop – ‘JackRoad’ for gents and ‘BettyRoad’ for ladies. They have a website in Japanese, plus a sprinkling of English (eigo) here. This shop, which has been in business since 1987, has one of the most consistently interesting inventories of any watch shop in Tokyo. It covers all bases, having a wide selection of new, modern used and vintage watches. All prices are inclusive of tax, so travelers with a passport can deduct 8%. Highly recommended. Start here then work counter-clockwise around 3F to the other shops in this article.
Compared to the scruffier vintage offerings at Ueno, the vintage watches at JackRoad (occupying three jam-packed upright cabinets, plus one flat cabinet for the real haute de gamme stuff) are well presented and have mostly been recently serviced by the shop.
Among the highlights were a gorgeous, off-white enamel dial Patek Phillipe Ref 3428 from 1961 (albeit a little too expensive at over 6 million yen, or about $55k USD) …
… and a Breguet Type XX with a dial that was more tropical than Havana.
I also liked the lurid seventies glamour of this yellow gold, bark-dialed, ’79 Rolex Day-Date, perfect for any Miami gentlemen’s club of its era.
More democratically-priced, but no less groovy, was this unusual, monogram-dialed seventies offering from Jaeger-LeCoultre (Ref 9107). The choice of the cravat-wearing, international man of mystery.
Changing pace completely, how about this slab of early eighties industrial futurism, from Porsche Design (by IWC).
Peeping out from behind the iron curtain is this attractive gold-filled piece from Glashütte.
The modern selection offered by JackRoad is quite varied and has breadth, if inherently a little less interesting than the colourful vintage pieces. The first modern piece to catch my eye was a watch I have been looking at adding to the collection, the Grand Seiko SBGM GMT (in another dial/hands variation, a favourite of Hodinkee’s Jack Forster).
Someone already had their eye on this Leman ‘Big Date’ from Blancpain. Beat me to it – a very attractive overall package, reasonable in proportion and price.
On to the higher-end stuff at JackRoad. First up, Patek Phillipe. Why buy one Ref 5026 Calatrava, when you can have four, each in a different metal/dial combination (from left to right, J, R, G and P). At around $55k USD, the per-watch price is actually not too bad.
Or the unique Ref 5489G, which is asymmetrical along the x-axis, rather than the y-axis.
Finishing at the very high end, how about the F.P. Journe Tourbillon Historique (Reference T30), in sterling silver, half-hunter case, with a movement replicating Monsieur Journe’s first (pocket)watch. See Hodinkee’s write-up here.
Or a Vacheron Constantin Perpetual Calendar Minute Repeater, in platinum of course. A piece of complicated Geneva classicism.
I had also wanted to highlight a gorgeous pour le merite fusee and chain tourbillon from A. Lange & Söhne, but I couldn’t get the photos to come out right in the shop lighting.
Changing ‘Roads’ to BettyRoad, the first thing I noticed was a boxed vintage Rolex ‘Chameleon’ on display. If anyone claims that watches designed for user-interchangeable straps are anything new, here is the evidence that Rolex was doing it back in the fifties. It is a shame that the watch is truly minuscule (16.5mm), too small even for my wife, who is a watch-size traditionalist.
My wife is on the hunt for that rarest of birds – a complicated modern ladies watch (she wants dual time and/or a calendar). BettyRoad could not avail her on our last visit, however she did try on this chic white gold Patek (in 28mm). Perfectly nice, with a substantial bracelet, but my wife is looking for something spectacular, and this didn’t excite her.
I must stress that the selection above only scratches the surface and, had I gotten out of the other side of the bed, I would have chosen different watches (my wife is much more definite in her tastes). The point is that there is something for almost any collector at JackRoad and BettyRoad. I encourage you to visit.
Goodwatch 78 (Not Rated)
A small shop dealing almost exclusively in vintage Rolex, with a couple of token Speedmasters sitting in the window too. Vintage Rolex is not my thing, so I won’t pass judgment on the selection here. There did appear to be a ‘Paul Newman’, suggesting that the shop is serious about what it does. But that’s as much as I can say.
Samurai J (7/10)
Small shop with an eclectic selection of watches, with a focus on vintage and affordable. Numerous brands I had not heard of. Seems a decent place to get a bargain, as they had a good price on a used Patek Gondolo, on full 18k yellow gold bracelet, in good condition with box and papers.
Cheese Penne Ltd (5/10)
Funny name, funny shop. Specialises in big, brash and colourful watches, from Gucci to Richard Mille. Not for me, but I can see the appeal of such things to the right collector. Small shop, so the score can’t be higher than 5. The owner seems like a fun guy.
Again, a rather small selection. There’s always a couple of decent watches, in this case a couple of decent full-set nineties Patek Calatravas. Inessential and, in my experience, often inexplicably closed.
Small shop with an above average range of modern watches. Always a couple of modern Pateks in stock, typically a couple of JLCs too. Not too exciting, but should be on the itinerary – it will take all of about 2 minutes to determine whether they have anything of interest.
The ‘Bag and Watch’ pawn store giant has two branches in Nakano Broadway, one on 3F (in the top-left corner, see the floor map above) and one down on 1F, a couple of doors down from Daikokuya’s local outpost. The 1F shop doesn’t have any signage in the roman alphabet, so have a look for this shopfront.
These shops are always worth a visit because of their keen pricing and wide selection of modern used watches (they carry very little vintage, usually just vintage Rolex). They will usually have at least one interesting watch in stock (when I visited, there was a JLC duometre chronograph). There are, however, much better branches of Ippukishi, in particular the Shinjuku location (see my guide to used watch shopping in Shinjuku here).
The other must-visit shop in Nakano Broadway. The name is in Hiragana script, not the roman alphabet, so look out for this sign.
On the left is the mainstream luxury section – IWC, Rolex, JLC, etc. On the right, through its own doorway, the haute de gamme section. In 2016, I purchased an A. Lange & Söhne ‘Langematik’ from them. On my last visit, they had a predictably excellent selection of watches, with Patek and Lange particularly well represented. For the ladies, there was a particularly rare sight – two Lange Arkades side-by-side, one in yellow gold, champagne dial, and one in white gold, blue dial. One of the models that re-launched the brand in 1994, I think it is one of the very best ladies watches ever made, with a stunning movement (noted Lange collector Peter Chong called it “simply the best to be encased in a ladies watch“), and a beautifully fitted case which shows off the movement perfectly. It is also the only ladies watch I know that is equipped with a double-aperture date display. In the yellow gold/champagne dial configuration, it is my wife’s prize possession.
One of the watches that has been on my radar for years now is the original annual calendar, the Patek Phillipe Ref 5035G. My favourite variation is the salmon dial, in white gold and, lo and behold, the very watch was sitting in Kamekichi’s Patek cabinet.
Despite Kamekichi’s excellence at the high end, two things bring it below JackRoad/BettyRoad in my opinion. First, the majority of the inventory is new, with only about 20% used. Second, there is no vintage selection and less depth in the more mainstream luxury brands.
Ginza NJ Time (5/10)
Almost exclusively new, typical selection, little to say really. Worthwhile checking out but I rarely find anything here that I am particularly interested in.
Daikokuya (1F) (8/10)
Away from the other shops on 3F, the massive pawn shop chain Daikokuya has a branch on 1F of Nakano Broadway. Just keep going straight after you enter the mall and look for this sign.
My personal favourite of the pawn shop chains, this particular branch of Daikokuya always has something interesting, and its pricing is aggressive. On my last visit I tried on this gorgeous Lange 1 ‘Daymatic’.
My wife tried on this Patek Ref 5030G. She was worried it was too big. I was pressuring her to pull the trigger as a ‘unisex’ piece. The combination of the shape, the breguet numerals, the date and the automatic movement make this one of the best ‘entry level’ Patek options. Genuinely undervalued, in my opinion. The only thing I would add is a sapphire caseback to admire the beautiful caliber 315 movement, but a solid caseback does give you a bit more gold for your money.
Thank you for bearing with me on this overview of the watch shopping on offer at Nakano Broadway. One final tip – when you are returning to Nakano station after an exhausting afternoon scouring the cabinets for the One True Watch, stop at this little shop on the plaza in front of the station, right at the entrance to the covered shopping street.
They sell delicious filled pancakes (I recommend the standard custard option, but for the more adventurous, the sweet-bean filled pancakes are also great) which are cooked to order. The perfect end to a hard day of watch tourism.