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Tokyo Jazz Cafes

Kissaten` (喫茶店) in Japanese simply means coffee shop. 'Jazz kissaten' (Jazz cafes) are a subset of the extensive local cafe culture in Japan. Every neighborhood in every city of Japan has at least two or three old 'kissaten' that serve morning toast and coffee or tea, and often simple lunches. These are gathering spots for locals to chat, smoke and drink.

The 'Jazz Kissa' sprung up in the 1950s and 60s when imported records in Japan were quite expensive, if available at all. Young jazz fans could go to these cafes, order one drink and then spend hours listening to the latest records as they planned riots against the government (Japan was like that back then). There were hundreds of these places all around the country and they played a huge part in making Japan the jazz-loving nation that it is as these customers got older and became more respectable members of society. I've met dozens of older 'salarymen' in these cafes who talk lovingly of their college days as they listend to jazz, chased girls and ran from the riot police on their college campuses.

Jazz kissa have varied opening hours with some closing early and others open until the late evening. The larger ones offer light snacks, and almost all will serve at least beer and whisky, if not a more extensive alcohol menu. Most will have a good vinyl and cd collection behind the counter reflecting the owner`s individual taste. (I have heard of one jazz kissa where the owner has 2000 swing albums from the 1940`s, but have been unable to confirm its existence, will keep searching...) The decor in these places is consistent; old, dark, photos and album covers on the walls, old jazz magazines in the cabinet for browsing. There usually is no 'table charge' during the day but may be one from 300-500Yen at night.

For Japanese readers, look for the book by Murai Koji `ジャズ喫茶に花束を or Mike Molasky's 戦後日本のジャズ文化.

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