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The high art of the Japanese box set

Steely Dan / The Royal Scam box set
Steely Dan's The Royal Scam box was issued in 2005 (click to enlarge)

When it comes to music box set packaging, no one does it quite like the Japanese.

For decades they have been perfecting the art of ‘vinyl replica’ CDs. That is catalogue CD reissues that come packaged as miniature versions of the original vinyl, with a card or ‘paper’ sleeve.

For the Japanese music industry, this is now something of a fine art, and although other territories around the globe have occasionally reissued albums in similar ‘vinyl replica’ form, the quality and detail in Japan can rarely – if ever – be matched. Original textured papers are reproduced, any stickers on the original vinyl are re-created, inner sleeves mirror the originals and if your 1970s vinyl came with a poster (Wings’ Venus and Mars for example) you can be sure it will be recreated perfectly.

Swing Out Sister's 2010 Japan mini-LP CD reissue

It is no surprise that EMI turned to Japan for The Beatles’ Mono Box set in 2009 for the exquisite replicas of the original mono albums.

These paper sleeve reissues are very popular in Japan, and they are normally issued in sets – often a selection of work from one artist, or sometimes all their albums. They have a niche, collector appeal throughout the world.

What is less well known is that a company called Disk Union in Japan have been producing highly desirable, very limited ‘promo’ boxes in which to house these CDs.

The Police / Japanese box set
A Regatta de Blanc box containing all five Police albums (click to enlarge)

These boxes are produced with the full cooperation of the record company – artwork is licensed, allowing for a very high quality of finished product.

Even better, these boxes are ‘free’ (hence ‘promo’ boxes) but only for those who purchase the complete set of the mini-LP CDs which can run into hundreds of pounds or dollars.

The other problem is that these cannot be ordered online. You actually have to physically go to one of the Disk Union stores in Japan in person to get hold of them. Technically, these mini-LP CDs and the boxes are not allowed to be sold outside Japan.

David Bowie / Disk Union 2007 boxes
The 2007 David Bowie reissues came with these FOUR superb boxes (click to enlarge)

Inevitably, this has lead to a brisk trade of both the boxes (sometimes empty) and the mini-LP CDs, on eBay from Japanese sellers who buy locally, and offer to the international community.

As can be seen from the photos in this post – particularly with the multi-box David Bowie set from 2007 – these boxes are superbly made, with pin-sharp reproduction of original artwork and normally with a high gloss presentation.

For more information on Japanese mini-LP CDs and these Disk Union boxes visit this superb online resource minilps.net

See the gallery below for more pictures and annotations of these Disk Union boxes.

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[…] me it offers the best value. I’m awash with Bowie CDs (Rykodiscs, Japanese mini-LP CDs (with Disk Union boxes), various noughties reissues..) but apart from a handful of average condition RCA LPs and […]

Tim

I’ve got the mini replicas from both Toshiba-EMI and Sony, and sent away for the slip cases for each, also free. These slipped me by, however! They look great! I wonder if they will ever turn up again?

[…] a look at the Japanese mini-LP CD (vinyl replica) reissues from 2008. If you read the post about Japanese box sets in the summer, you will be aware that Japanese retailer Disk Union offer these sets with […]

DLG

Wow, those Police and Steely Dan collector sets are amazing.

I’ve only ever bought one such set from Japan – Daryl Hall’s Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine box. It has his first 3 solo albums on Blu-Spec CD. Pretty cool stuff – but I got it primarily for the extended mixes on the Three Hearts disc, which had never been issued on CD before, such as Dreamtime, Foolish Pride, etc. It’s very similar in dimensions and style to the Police Regatta box pictured in the article.

Man, I wish these sorts of deluxe sets were made available / cheaper in the US. And that they’d do a set like this for Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night!

Lemon

Ed, I think the mini-LP format is most attractive to those who grew up with the real full-size 12 inch vinyl. I know those replicas give me a certain bit of excitement that I can feel in the loins.

Edward Lawrence

I actually much prefer jewel cases…I don’t see the attraction of mini LPs….how can you identify the albums when you store them on a shelf, for example?….digipacks with a spine, now that’s ok….

Lazlo Nibble

I suspect they pay this level of attention to detail because it’s profitable. No industry motivated by respect for its customers would come up with a scam as nakedly cynical as SHM-CD.

The Mystery Parade

The Japanese-made box set for the recent This Mortal Coil remasters is absolutely gorgeous, similar to the Steely Dan box in format.

Shekespeare

Japanese editions are incredible, must take into account that part of the blame for the death of the music industry is so poorly made that produce the packaging of the CDs in the West. Most consumers are disappointed when they uncovered a CD and found a brief booklet of poor layout and poor design. The Japanese have respected the original artwork of the albums and when they do alter these to improve in a flawless manner, for this reason that every day those issues are sought with eagerness.

spacefreak

This is how ALL CDs should have been made, if it weren’t for the record industry greed. Illegal downloads would have been reduced if the industry respected the album bying public the way japanese are.