Katsumasa Kusunose, founder of the great Jazz Kissa publication, shares his fifteen favorite jazz kissas in Tokyo.
Currently, about 100 jazz kissa and jazz bars are open in Tokyo. The number of such rooms in the region began to increase in the early 1960s and peaked in the late 1970s. At the peak, an estimated 200 jazz kissas were operating in Tokyo, but only about 20 remaining rooms have been in business since the 1960s and 1970s. In the past, many jazz bars were open in the morning, but as the owners have aged it’s become difficult to maintain extended hours, so many stores open in the evening. Sadly, many shops have lost their founders, so their families and regular customers have taken over management.
Below are fifteen jazz kissa and jazz bars founded in the 1960s and 1970s that remain in operation. Each is full of personality and worth a visit. Use this as a reference when you come to Tokyo someday.
3-14-10 Nishinippori,Arakawa-ku / Founded in 1955
Charmant is the oldest jazz kissa currently open in Tokyo. At first, the ground floor was open as a coffee shop and the second floor was open as a bar, but after the founder died in 2010 and the shop’s regulars assumed control of management, only the second floor remains open. The current owner’s main business is as the director of the dental clinic, so Charmant is only open on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturday nights. The loud volume produced by vintage JBL speakers is intense.
2-1-11 Nishiasakusa,Taito-ku / Founded in 1962
A typical jazz kissa in the 1960s, Flamingo was renovated in 1993 to become a coffee shop on the first floor and a jazz bar on the second floor. Its turntables, CD players, preamps, and power amps are all made by McIntosh, and they’re hooked to Altec 802 and TAD TL1601 speakers. The bar has a collection of more than 4,000 records, with an emphasis on piano trios and jazz vocalists. The volume is not so loud, which makes the room a relaxing place to enjoy whiskey and cocktails.
B1,3-15-2 Shinjuku,Shinjuku-ku / Founded in 1967
DUG was opened as a sister store to DIG, a jazz kissa in Japan. Conversation was prohibited at DIG, but DUG’s concept was looser, with attendees talking with friends while drinking and listening to jazz. DIG closed in 1983, but after two relocations, DUG is now the most famous jazz kissa in Japan. It’s not a shop where you can enjoy jazz at a loud volume, but the unique and cozy space has created a lot of fans.
1-8,Yotsuya,Shinjuku-ku / Founded in 1967
Loud playback with high-spec audio composed mainly of JBL speakers and a collection of more than 20,000 records and CDs, Eagle is a spacious space for relaxing. The venue maintains rules prohibiting conversation from 11:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. but evenings the atmosphere changes to a jazz bar and you can talk until the store closes. If you want to immerse yourself in the world of jazz and enjoy the essence of jazz kissas, please check out Eagle.
1F Mansion Suzuno,3-2-10 Honcho,Nakano-ku / Founded in 1970
The owner is a former staff member of DIG and a well-known record collector. Since its opening in Shibuya, it had been one of the most popular jazz kissas in Tokyo, but in 1989, when it moved from Shibuya to Nakanoshinbashi, it changed its management policy from an orthodox jazz kissa style to a coffee shop that is familiar to the residents of the neighborhood. The audio and records are the same as those used in Shibuya. The volume is low. The owner is old but still alive and well — and still plays maniacal records.
5-6-14 Daizawa,Setagaya-ku / Founded in 1973
In the corner of Shimokitazawa, which is crowded with young people, a woman has owned and operated this kissa alone for 48 years. Posy was open during the day until about 20 years ago, but due to the owner’s age, she now only opens at night. She has traveled often to jazz festivals in the United States and Europe, and the walls are decorated with jazz legends’ autographs on colored paper. Posy’s not loud, but it has an atmosphere unique to an owner who loves jazz.
7-61-8 Nishikamata,Ota-ku / Founded in 1975
Chyokuristu Enjin is a Japanese translation of “Pithecanthropus Erectus,” the founder’s favorite Charlie Mingus album. After the original owner died in 2015, a regular customer assumed management responsibilities. The founder’s concept of wanting people to enjoy jazz while drinking coffee or alcohol rather than focusing solely on the records has been inherited. The interior of the store is the same as when it was founded more than 45 years ago. Open only at night.
1F Izumi Heights 5-31-14 Daizawa,Setagaya-ku / Founded in 1975
The owner started this jazz bar after presiding over a theater company and has produced many cultural events so far in the space. Shimokitazawa is a town where many people work in theater and film, which means that actors, film directors, theater producers, writers, poets, painters, illustrators, etc. often come to this shop. Paintings and photographs are often exhibited in the space, and the musical focus is on various types of jazz, from bebop to avant-garde. The system’s not overwhelmingly loud, but it sounds excellent.
JAZZ KISSA EIGAKAN
5-33-19 Hakusan,Bunkyo-ku / Founded in 1976
“Eigakan” means “theater” in Japanese. Before opening the bar, the owner worked on making movies and television, which means it’s decorated with vintage movie posters from around the world. Of particular note is the store’s excellent sound system, which the proprietor has assembled over a long period of time. It’s one of the best in Tokyo, and with a vast collection of rare jazz records, an excellent place to visit.
2F MarcoPoroBldg,1-8-14 Honcho,Kichijoji,Musashino-shi / Founded in 1976
The town of Kichijoji was once crowded with more than 10 jazz kissas. When the boom was at its peak, Scratch opened as a specialty store for crossover and fusion sounds. About 20 years ago, the founder passed over control of Scratch to the bar’s manager, who has continued the business. The selector plays his share of bebop, but focuses on 1970s fusion, which draws a different clientele than many other kissas. It opens at noon and offers a wide selection of food and drink options.
JAZZ INN UNCLE TOM
1-15-15 Taishido,Setagaya-ku / Founded in 1977
This jazz bar has been open in Sangenjaya for 44 years. The founder died about 20 years ago so his wife and son took over. The son, an avid jazz enthusiast, plays hardcore jazz, reflecting the sensibilities of his mother, who frequented jazz kissa DIG. Food and drink options include a wide selection of sake and sashimi, as well as whisky and western dishes. Their speakers? JBL 4312XP.
5-1-2 Akasaka,Minato-ku / Founded in 1977
The name of the store is French because the bar originally focused on French chansons, but after it sold the new owner was a jazz freak so she transformed it into a bar specializing in her obsession. In 2011, she relocated from Harajuku to Akasaka. Sound-wise, Volontaire owns vintage JBL LE8Ts built in the 1960s — a very popular model for Japanese audiophiles and jazz kissas. The JBLs are powered by a JBL SA600 integrated amp, and amplify classic jazz, pre-WWII swing, New Orleans jazz and be-bop records.
5-17-12 Minamikarasuyama,Setagaya-ku / Founded in 1978
This jazz kissa retains its original appearance, so if you want to know the atmosphere of a room in its 70’s heyday, come here. You can feel as if you have traveled back 40 years. After the death of the founder, his wife and son have taken over the management of the store. It’s a coffee shop during the day but a jazz bar at night. Enjoy grooves while drinking alcohol and tasting the dishes that have been around since the establishment. Ragtaime houses about 4,000 records, which ensures continued variety.
2F YO Bldg.,1-13-6 Kabukicho,Shinjuku-ku / Founded in 1978
Located on the second floor of a multi-tenant building in the middle of Kabukicho, the most obscure area in Tokyo, Narcisse has a long history. The owner’s father founded it before World War II, and became a place where novelists and poets gathered. It transformed into a jazz kissa starting in the 1970s. For sound, Narcisse employs British-built Good Man speakers. The owner concentrates on avant-garde jazz, but plays fascinating records one after another while conversing with her clientele.
4F Miyazaki Bldg,8-2Asahicho,Hatchioji-shi / Founded in 1979
Harineko is located in the westernmost part of Tokyo. The nearest station to this shop, Hachioji Station, is about 50 km west of Tokyo Station, which takes about an hour by train. At the time of its founding, the owner also ran a bookstore in the same building. The store’s name is derived from the title of one of the owner’s favorite children’s picture books and has an interior designed as a relaxing cafe, but you can listen to serious jazz at a loud volume coming from JBL 4343 speakers.
Next month, Katsumasa will publish a photo book of jazz kissas including 130 of the Japanese jazz kissas he visited in 2014. Divided into Vol.1 and Vol.2, Vol.1 will be published next month and Vol.2 will be published in December. A4 variant version, all colors, about 140 pages each.
Look out for the upcoming likely essential release on: