While New York is the place to go for jazz musicians when it comes to jazz fans it doesn’t get any better than Tokyo. These are the words of James Catchpole, a transplanted Brooklyn native who has lived in Japan for 13 years and documents the many cool jazz joints in Tokyo on his Tokyo Jazz website. Anthony joined James at the hidden Samurai jazz bar in Shinjuku to talk about jazz in Japan, where it originally came from and why he feels that Tokyo is one of the great jazz cities in the world.
Top 4 Jazz Joints in Tokyo
“Mono-no-aware” (物の哀れ) is a Japanese phrase which resists clear translation. It is often described in English as “an empathy towards things” or “the subtle awareness of ephemera”. This is a concept that is integral to much of Japanese classical art and culture and also the perfect phrase to describe a visit to the Samurai Jazz Bar.
Dark, quiet, extremely peaceful..with hundreds of manneke-neko (lucky cat figurines) making it just a tiny bit unsettling, the Samurai is a place that lends itself to contemplation. You feel a sense of timelessness in there, with the music transporting you to a new space, of calmness and clarity.
Address: Mori Bldg. 5F, 3-35-5, Shinjuku-Ku
Station: Shinjuku-JR, Marunouchi/Fukutoshi/ Keio/Odakyu Lines
Exit: South-East (Tower Records Exit)
Jazz Pub Michaux
Music fans know that Japan is a country filled with dedicated, serious, almost manic record collectors but when it comes to collecting, Misho Yasushi, the 76-year old owner of Jazz Pub Michaux is in a class of his own. A fan of hard-bop & soul-jazz Misho-san has collected over 4500 records of this genre, almost all of which are originals giving him a knowledge of obscure hard-bop/soul-jazz players and albums that is just stunning.
Just as good as the awesome music is the conversation with Misho-san. Bearded and usually in kimono with a Mongolian hat, he is full of stories about the 1950s and 60s in Tokyo. Hanging out with Black American soldiers in the various jazz joints around town, drinking with Horace Silver, interviewing Thelonius Monk during his Japanese tour and even if you don’t speak Japanese Misho-san will chat with you anyway.
Address: 3-11-12 2F, Shinjuku
Station: Shinjuku-San-Chome – Marunouchi, Fukutoshin, Shinjuku Lines
The Eigakan (映画館 “Movie Theater) is a jazz cafe for both jazz lovers and cinephiles. Owner Yoshida-san has worked in the film world for several decades and made several documentaries. He has filled the Eigakan with vintage European film posters from the 1960s and hundreds of old film journals and magazines.
Yoshida-san is a huge Thelonius Monk and Eric Dolphy fan and also features a lot of rare Eastern European jazz records in the cafe. He’s very chatty when the place is not busy and will be more than happy to regale his customers of stories about jazz, art and film.
Address: Bunkyo-Ku, Hakusan 5-33-19
Station: Hakusan – Mita Line Subway
Fukuchi-san is a passionate and dedicated owner of the Kissa Sakaiki jazz bar and someone who represents the new breed of jazz kissa owners. In his mid-30s, Fukichi-san has a great awareness and respect for the jazz kissa tradition in Japan, but is also fully engaged with the modern scene. He’s created a space for people who love music and art to gather and engage with one another, something not always easy to do in a city that can be as alienating as Tokyo.
Kissa Sakaiki is a small space with a side room that is used for live performances, art exhibitions, “record concerts” (people bringing records to listen to and talk about) and calligraphy lessons. The customers are usually regulars including many musicians, artists and designers. Fukuchi-san will always take the time to introduce you to everyone in the place, making conversation easy and relaxed. It takes a special kind of talent to create such a vibe.
Address: 2-4, Dai Kyo Machi, Shinjuku-Ku
Station: Yotsuya San-Chome – Marunouchi Subway Line