Jazz cafes in Tokyo

Jazz kissaten, or coffee shops, have a long tradition in Japan. Customers go there to hear jazz on vinyl records or CDs, rather than live performances, while they drink coffee in the afternoon or sip cocktails in the evening.

Years ago, many jazz kissaten prohibited talking, and the customers were extremely serious fans who resembled monks seeking enlightenment. A few jazz kissaten are still like this, but most have gotten much more relaxed. Some of them serve restaurant-quality food, or at least good sandwiches and coffee, and they now attract a more diverse crowd of customers (i.e. not solely men).

But the biggest charm of the jazz kissa is still the music, played through a state-of-the-art sound system and presided over by staff with encyclopedic knowledge of jazz. So put away your personal-stereo earphones and check out one of Tokyo's jazz kissas!

Big Boy (Jimbocho)
With its bright yellow door and sunny, modern interior, Big Boy has an atmosphere that's the complete opposite of old-fashioned jazz kissas. The management plays jazz both new and old, and the sound system is optimized for piano music, so it's a special treat listening to piano-trio records here.

At lunchtime this is a popular spot for people working in the neighborhood to drop by for sandwiches and coffee (Y1100 including tea or coffee). There's a bulletin board set up for customers who want to trade jazz CDs and DVDs. When the clock turns to "bar time" (after 7pm) there's a Y1000 cover charge, and you can nibble on light snacks such as sausages and baked potatoes with blue cheese. [No credit cards.] [data]
Eigakan (Hakusan)
This cozy cafe bar is furnished with European and Japanese antiques and heavy-duty lights used for shooting movies; the ambience seems almost like that of a private detective's office in a Raymond Chandler novel. The cafe's manager is also a director who makes documentary films. A big Eric Dolphy fan, he uses the sleeve from Dolphy's "Last Date" album as his menu cover. The cafe's resident cat grooms himself to the rhythms of Thelonious Monk.

Eigakan's coffee (Y500), which is carefully prepared using a siphon system, is quite extraordinary. They also serve premium shochu and malt whiskies (Y600-), and you can enjoy original-recipe pastas and stir-fried vegetables. One minute walk from exit A3 of Hakusan station. [data]
Kissako (Jimbocho) CLOSED
Coffee lovers as well as jazz fans will have good reason to try this charming little cafe - they grind the beans for each cup after they get an order, and the three original-blend coffees here (Y600) are excellent. The cafe occupies an old Showa-era house, with a wooden floor that creaks when you walk around. The volume of the music is relatively quiet, and listening to a lyrical trumpet solo by Clifford Brown around sunset evokes a magical, nostalgic feeling of old Tokyo.

Breakfast is served every morning from 7-11am - toast variations and tea or coffee or Chinese teas (Y600-). Unfortunately the only food served in the evening is cake, but as a plus they do have Japanese craft beers. The second floor is available for parties. Five minutes walk from exit A4 of Jimbocho station, on the small street one block behind the main road leading to Suidobashi station. [data]
New Dug (Shinjuku)
This popular cafe-bar was featured as a setting in Haruki Murakami's novel "Norwegian Wood." In the afternoons customers enjoy quiet jazz along with a cup of their relatively bitter coffee (Y420), while at nighttime the place is packed with lively groups talking and listening to energetic bebop. There's often a line of customers at the entrance waiting to get in.

The interior is relatively spacious, with brick walls that may remind you of a Belgian pub. Because of its basement location, though, it can get a bit smoky. Don't miss the portraits of jazz musicians such as Monk, Coltrane and Miles, photographed by the owner, Hozumi Nakadaira. The drinks menu includes European beers like Hoegaarden along with various cocktails, and the evening table charge is Y530. [data]
Narcis (Shinjuku)
The bustling Kabukicho neighborhood may seem like a strange place for a jazz kissa, but Narcis is a great spot for listening to quiet jazz, and their stylish interior design is reminiscent of old cafes in New York City's East Village. The tiny cafe-bar is filled with African-style furniture and beautiful flowers arranged by the mama-san.

The music played here is mainly cutting-edge European avant-garde jazz and rare old vinyl. The friendly proprietress is happy to take requests from their big collection of vinyl and CDs. They serve good coffee (Y500), and Kirin beer comes in the small-size bottles that were popular in the 1960's and 70's (Y700). There's no table charge. [data]
Samurai (Shinjuku)
Thousands of maneki neko (good-luck cat statues) fill the interior of this spacious cafe-bar. There's a counter and several tables, making this a good venue for a small party. Service is friendly and the air isn't too smoky. The manager seems to be a big fan of Johnny Griffin, whose records are displayed prominently.

Haiku-related events are held here regularly. The food and drink are reasonably priced - beers and whiskies start at Y680 - and the pastas, pizzas, fried noodles and other dishes are above average. There's a table charge of Y300 from 6-9pm and Y500 after 9pm. Just a few minutes walk from the south exit of Shinjuku station. [data]
Mary Jane (Shibuya)
You'll hear all sorts of jazz here, with an emphasis on the lastest CDs from American and European musicians. Besides the great music you can also enjoy good food - they serve delicious soups and risotto at dinnertime, and five different pastas at lunch (Y1000 including coffee or tea).

The spacious room is furnished with stylish green sofas, and this is a pleasant place to dine while listening to jazz. There's a Y500 table charge at dinnertime. Three minutes walk from the south exit of Shibuya station. [data]
by Hikaru Okabe
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