“Japanese-influenced listening bars” may be the latest, greatest trend in US bar culture, but their high-end sound systems and even more highfalutin aesthetic draw from a much more humble practice: the Japanese “jazz kissa,” an unpretentious, no-frills bar offering cheap drinks and a wealth of physical music, played by the owners, for patrons to enjoy. (Think of it as a well-loved, longstanding neighborhood pub with a vast jazz vinyl or CD collection).
Though the jazz kissa may be the genesis of the above-mentioned trend, it’s gradually fading away in Japan due to an aging clientele, increasing business costs, shifts in popular music and the ever-encroaching threat of gentrification. To spotlight the unique ambiance and well-worn history of the jazz kissa, author James Catchpole and photographer Philip Arneill have teamed up to create Tokyo Jazz Joints, a lovingly shot visual compendium of the decades-old jazz kissas that still dot the residential neighborhoods of Japan’s capital.
Jazz kissa (a term that’s shorthand for the Japanese phrase “kissaten,” which roughly translates to “tea-drinking shop” in English) culture first gained traction in Tokyo after the Second World War, and peaked in the ’60s and ‘70 as a place to communally enjoy records, then prohibitively expensive for many individual buyers, on high-quality sound systems. As seen in Arneill’s photos, the kissas are packed full of vintage records plus photographs of legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane as well as other ephemera. “Japanese jazz joints are so full of love: love of music, audio systems, record collecting, alcohol, social gathering, shared interests and humanity,” said Arneill on a past podcast.
Tokyo Jazz Joints was shot over the span of eight years and is the expansion of a podcast and magazines of the same name. Arneill describes his photos of the spaces as “Personal, passionate homages to a music deeply embedded in Japan’s modern musical culture” in a podcast episode titled An Irishman and an American Walk into A Jazz Joint. “The project captures the essence of these hidden gems, from impossibly narrow staircases to cramped spaces yellowed with years of cigarette smoke – all are adorned with memorabilia and vinyl collections.”
A limited-edition first pressing of the book released and quickly sold out earlier this year, but you can pick up a second-edition copy of Tokyo Jazz Joints for $85 via Amazon. Head to the Tokyo Jazz Joints website for more info on the project.