Jazz Cafes: Totally Japanese

  • Japanese people are open-minded music lovers who readily adapt foreign music cultures into their own. One genre that gained particular traction in Japan is Jazz. Of course, as most foreign imports go, the way people in Japan consumes Jazz in their own country evolves to something unique to their own country. One such example of localized Jazz culture is no doubt the Jazz café (jazu-kissaten).


    The concept of a Jazz café seems simple enough: you get a regular café, stock up on some Jazz records, get someone to play the records during business hours, and the Jazz café is born. Yet the Jazz café evolved into an important subculture in Japan, and many cultural giants grew up frequenting or even owning such cafes (the author Haruki Murakami as one case in point).


    Contrary to what you may expect, Jazz cafes in Japan do not play any live music. As a rule, they play only records, and people gather around following a schedule for what could be described as a listening session. The master places the record on a stage like part of the room, plays the record loudly, and people listen quietly and studiously to the records. Again, unlike what you may expect, there is no spontaneity or loud bar noises tolerated in these cafes- they are strict and serious places for a silent appreciation of Jazz music.


    Jazz cafes started in Japan since the 1950s, after the war ban on foreign music is lifted. There was a huge revival in interest in foreign music after the war, in part spurred by the presence of American troops after the short occupation period in the late 40s. Jazz cafes serve a great need; unlike us who can easily go online to get our fix anytime, anywhere (with decent internet connection), music lovers in the past have to either spend one month’s salary on an imported record, or go to public spaces like the Jazz cafes to catch up on their listening.
    Now, you are able to visit some vintage Jazz cafes that have survived today through hard times (from the bubble economy burst to the general decline in interest in Jazz). While the music is not native to Japan, Jazz cafes are definitely a Japanese invention, and worth a visit whether you like Jazz or not.

    Some of the most popular Jazz cafe in Tokyo:
    Samurai*Japanese Only
    JBC*Japanese Only
    Meg*Japanese Only

    Related: Well-kept-secret “Bar Music” in Tokyo