Yokohama has something for everyone regardless if you’re a jazz veteran or a newbie. As the birthplace of jazz in Japan, it’s a good place to get a taste of this genre of music that took a foothold here and stayed. Jazz is something the people of Yokohama freely experience and enjoy. Jazz is enjoyed not only in clubs, but also in concert halls, restaurants, and outdoors.
Every October, the city welcomes more than 120,000 guests for the Yokohama Jazz Promenade, one of the biggest festivals in Yokohama. Luckily, if you’re jazz-curious, you don’t have to wait that long, since jazz cafes and bars are dispersed around the city. Keep on reading to find out how jazz came to Japan and the best jazz cafes that Yokohama has to offer!
How Jazz Came to Japan
As a port town, Yokohama City has always been one of the first to embrace foreign cultures. Since the Taisho Period, jazz performances have been held in the city. Approximately 70 years ago, when American soldiers arrived in Yokohama City at the end of World War II, they began integrating jazz into their daily lives.
For Yokohama City, where residents were struggling in the aftermath of the war, jazz music introduced by Americans was a symbol of freedom and the subject of admiration.
Terumasa Hino, Sadao Watanabe, and Toshiko Akiyoshi, later jazz music pioneers from Yokohama, were among the young people who saw these jazz performances in Yokohama City at the time.
Jazz spread like wildfire across the City as it gradually recovered from the war and blossomed, energizing locals and becoming essential to their everyday lives much like it had in America. Residents of Yokohama City have long been inspired by jazz music, which is possibly the best background music for the area. As a result, the jazz people hear in the harbor city of Yokohama is somewhat unusual. The music is informal yet resonates in the hearts of listeners.
Jazz Café Chigusa
Through Japan’s maritime gateway, ocean liners would transport travelers and ship bands from all over the world. The bars and cafes were the places where traveling musicians would go to drink, dance, and make music.
The local appetite for that new ‘hot jazz’ sound was insatiable and its popularity spread rapidly. Jazz cafes and bars sprung up across the city playing the latest discs imported from America. Places, such as the legendary Jazz Cafe Chigusa.
When Jazz Cafe Chigusa initially opened in 1933, several of Japan’s most well-known jazz musicians. These musicians include Terumasa Hino, Sadao Watanabe, and Toshiko Akiyoshi, would hear the newest American recordings and had the opportunity to play along with the records and develop their own take on the music form, inspired by the great jazz innovators.
Listening to artists like Bix Beiderbecke, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkings, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, and Miles Davis, jazz fans would squeeze onto stools between walls packed with enormous speakers and large vinyl collections.
Note: The club is currently closed until 2023 for renovations.
One of the better jazz venues is the first one you come across after you exit Sakuragicho Station. Downbeat, a historic cafe that first opened its doors in 1956, is only advised for passionate music lovers because the volume of the music playing there is frequently too loud to carry on a conversation. There are approximately 30 seats available in the main section of the cafe, and there are an additional eight at the slightly more quiet counter.
Low lighting, vintage signs, pictures, and newspaper clippings taped to the deteriorating walls create a wonderful vintage ambiance. The music choices are diverse, and apparently every month’s 17th is John Coltrane Day. The menu offers popular Japanese drinks along with coffee, tea, a few simple dishes, and a wide selection of alcoholic beverages.
The oldest jazz bar in Japan is tucked in between Yokohama Chinatown and Yokohama Stadium. When you go through the doors, you’ll know you’re in the right place because the inside resembles the interior of a vintage ship, which is where the name Windjammer comes from.
A windjammer was a huge sort of merchant sailing ship in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Windjammer has been a fixture in the live music scene since 1972, and its host band performs live every night. It’s a terrific place to start because it’s been a part of the jazz scene for so long, not to mention that it’s equally well-known for its food and beverages as it is for its incredible music selection.
Motion Blue Yokohama
Motion Blue Yokohama began in 2002 with the idea of fusing food with music. It’s in the popular tourist destination Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. Its elegant interior and fine cuisine entice sophisticated visitors with a sense for style and great music. The Blue Note in Tokyo is connected to this historic establishment.
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Given its name, it is obvious what kind of location this is. Even so, it’s rather misleading because it’s not “simply” a bar. This jazz bar was established in 1984 and is only a four-minute walk from Kannai Station.
It has two floors: a first floor with a bar, and a second floor with a restaurant and stage where guests may eat while enjoying live music. It’s also advised to make reservations in advance for popular shows because bands from far away travel to play here. Jazz fans will love this location for both the jazz and the Yokohama shotengai (commercial district) ambience.
A small and cozy cafe with an intimate atmosphere, Minton House is conveniently located near Ishikawacho Station. Opened in 1975, this cafe doesn’t have any live music, but it has huge speakers to make up for it.
You’re guaranteed to hear any favorite jazz songs here because the owner’s record collection may be the largest in the city. It’s the perfect location for anyone who likes that retro feeling,. Its many fans still consider it to be the best jazz bar in Yokohama.
Jazz Spot Dolphy
This venue, which opened in 1980, can accommodate about 50 guests. The café offers a busy live schedule that includes everything from vocal jazz to free experimental jazz. Its outstanding acoustics and welcoming environment receive praise by both locals and visiting musicians.
Saxophonist Sakata Akira, guitarist Akiyama Kazumasa, pianist Itabashi Fumio, and singer Nakamoto Mari are some of the regulars. On the fourth Monday of each month, there are even jam sessions. Lots of food and an especially huge drinks menu are perfect for nighthawks who enjoy the bar’s late closing time.
This brand-new addition to the neighborhood’s jazz scene is located on the opposite side of the tracks. It’s next to the Yokohama baseball stadium, and differs from competitors in many ways. One reason is that its spacious, well-designed space looks more like an ordinary bar/restaurant.
In fact, the food is much better here than it is elsewhere and the drinks menu includes wine. As a result, the clientele is not only jazz enthusiasts. Even the available music is more diverse, featuring jazz in a variety of forms along with fusion, funk, and bossa nova. They have live music every night and the cover charge averages 3,000 yen.
This basement pub offers plenty of style, with sofas, large mirrors, and soft lighting. Its name translates to “The Drunken Count”. Given that vocal jazz is the only genre available there, it stands apart from other local venues. In addition, it offers a more mellow, more laid-back atmosphere. Almost every day, they feature three sets of live music between 19.30 and 23.10. The usual entrance fee is about 3,000 yen, and food is available.
Do you have a favorite jazz cafe that you would like to visit in Yokohama? Let us know in the comments below!