Listen and Learn in the Jazz Capital of Japan
Drift through Noge nights at this iconic cafe, beloved by Yokohama’s jazz legend himself.
When talking about jazz in Yokohama, it’s impossible not to mention Masaaki Hiraoka. In the 1960s, having already established himself as a jazz critic, Hiraoka went on to delve into politics, entertainment and culture, leaving his mark in each field. He explored various branches of traditional Japanese entertainment, such as rokyoku (narrative song), shinnai (traditional musical theater), kayokyoku (Japanese pop), enka (traditional ballad), rakugo (storytelling) and street performance. As a critic, Hiraoka left behind an impressive number of books, most of which followed one style, the “Hiraoka style,” a distinct literary style composed of a jazz-inspired rhythm. This is not a steady eight-beat, but a passionate, outlandish improvisation. He, of course, explored many jazz kissa (cafes)—coffee shops dedicated to playing jazz music and beloved for their moody, nostalgic atmosphere—noting differences between JBL, Altec and Tannoy speakers.
One place he returned to time and again was Downbeat in Noge. Head up the stairs to reach the doors of Noge cafe. Hiraoka-approved red and black booths fill the small space, and enshrined in the far back is the Altec A7 speaker. There are also comfortable counter seats where the second-generation owner will pour you a cup of coffee. Or if you prefer, a whiskey or cocktail. If you’re alone, opt for a counter seat. That way, you’ll be at a perfect distance from the Altec, named the “Voice of the Theater” for its top quality audio, where you can sit back and enjoy a contemplative night in Noge. It’s a famous cafe, loved by the man who loved jazz.
1-43 Hanasaki, Miyamoto Building 2F, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Tue – Sun 4pm – 11:30pm
*Updated at time of publication. Information may change, so check before going.
An indispensable piece of Noge’s local scene, Chigusa carries the legacy of jazz through generations.
Founded in 1933, Chigusa opened its doors at a particularly challenging time in history. The Great Depression, which began in 1929, was raging worldwide, and Japan had just left the League of Nations after the assembly opposed the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion of Manchuria. That Chigusa emerged within an environment so polar to the liberating spirit of jazz music demonstrates the cafe’s commitment to the genre and its culture. In fact, Chigusa is the oldest jazz kissa (coffee shops or cafes dedicated to playing jazz music) in all of Japan. Countless musicians have passed through the intimate space, making it their home at one point or another. Key visitors smile down from portraits on the wall: Toshiko Akiyoshi (who received 14 Grammy Award nominations), saxophonist Sadao Watanabe and trumpeter Terumasa Hino, to name a few. Though the genre itself evolved through the years, from swing to modern jazz, the interminable passion underpinning jazz music remains at the core of this establishment.
Chigusa closed in 2007, but it wasn’t long until loyal patrons revived and reopened the cafe in 2012, cementing its significance within the jazz community. As is customary for a jazz kissa, no reservations are required. Stroll through Noge after alighting at Sakuragicho Station and you’ll immediately see Chigusa’s storefront. Upon stepping in, you’ll find yourself immersed in the rich legacy and passion of the local jazz scene.
Jazz Kissa Chigusa
2-94 Nogecho, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Mon – Sat 12pm – 10pm, Sun 12pm – 8pm
To visit the past is to discover the new. CD or vinyl — find your jazz at Bashamichi’s Disk Union.
Jazz is truly unlike any other genre. At times an unscripted product of the moment, jazz music captures the essence of life through inspiration and improvisation. Other times, it’s subject to hours of minute tweaking and countless rehearsals before reaching perfection. There’s free jazz and progressive jazz, pop culture jazz and complex, contemporary jazz. What one considers to be “real” jazz remains a subjective experience ultimately up to the world’s listeners and musicians to decide. Still, where do you start?
Perhaps the answer lies in the endless shelves of an old record shop. To sift through such shelves, stocked full of jazz standards and countless performance techniques, to listen, analyze and listen once again until songs of old come alive in their modern forms — this is how you really hear the music of jazz. Although Disk Union has locations nationwide, its Yokohama Kannai outpost, located in historic Bashamichi, stands out as a reflection of the city’s deep-rooted connection to jazz culture. Here, you can listen to both CDs and vinyls as you rummage through the store’s unmissable classics and rare gems. Jazz, after all, is as much about discovery as it is about the auditory experience. Visiting Yokohama, the city that led Japan’s foray into the jazz scene, is a reminder of that fact.
Disk Union Yokohama Kannai Shop
4-45, Tokiwacho, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Mon – Sun 12pm – 8pm