We already know Tokyo has one of the best bar scenes in the world. This time we venture underground to find the best jazz bars and cafes in Tokyo. These eight jazzy joints will transport you back to the 70s when Jazz ruled Japan and it is unlike anything you have or will experience outside of this country. Get ready for a magical night with music that will feed the soul!
Dug Cafe and Bar
After a fruitful vinyl shopping spree at Disk Union, wander a short five mins down the road and you will find an unassuming sign that reads, DUG. At the bottom of a narrow staircase is a warm, dimly lit bar. The wood and brick details add to the cosy vibe whie the quiet jazz playing in the background is perfect for ruminating in your own thoughts and feeling nostalgic. Expect some lively sax later in the evening and people watch. Try one of their interesting coffee and cocktail concoctions of the handwritten menu (coffee starts from Y420, cocktail prices start at Y700) or opt for Japanese draft beer. Mentioned in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, this place is supposedly popular with fans of the novel but is mostly frequented by regulars.
Dug Cafe and Bar is located at３丁目-15-12 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan. Open Sun-Thu 12noon-11.30pm & Fri-Sat till 2am. Cover charge of Y500 from 6.30pm.
The Adirondack Café
Three minutes away from Jimbocho station, The Adirondack Cafe is the ideal place to rest your feet after perusing the used bookshops nearby. The owner and his wife are friendly and can speak English so conversation about anything Jazz related is more than welcome. Enjoy a glass of wine (Y600) or try the Adirondack Cocktail (Y700) of Japanese whisky and apple liqueur as as you listen to the owner’s original jazz record collection (he used to own a record shop). Every Tuesday evening and the second Saturday of every month, come for some live jazz – but do check the website before heading town to avoid disappointment. For fuel, look forward to American grub like pizzas and burgers with a Japanese touch.
The Adirondack Cafe is located at 神田神保町1-2-9 ウェルスビル4F, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open Mon-Sat 12noon-11pm. The Music Charge for live jazz performances is Y2800 per person unless otherwise stated.
The Old Blind Cat
Looking to reminisce? Then, this is the bar for you. Be warned though, it can get claustrophobic as smoking is allowed in this basement bar. Once a popular jazz bar in 1960s and 70s Japan, it has since gone digital and plays standard jazz while occasionally screening a contemporary live Jazz concert. Drinks are between Y800-Y1200 and the bartender/owner can hook you up with his wide repertoire of classic cocktails. This was the bar Murakami frequented and work at part-time eventually leading him to open his own Jazz bar (Peter Cat) before deciding to write full time, so who knows how it will inspire you?
The Old Blind Cat is located 3 minutes away from Shinjuku Station. Take the East Exit and the bar is located at the basement of Big Echo. Cover charge of Y700.
Paper Moon has been around since 1975 and it’s your classic jazz joint. Run by the same owner since opening, Yamamoto-san has kept this place like a time capsule. Preserved and authentic, go alone to really take in one of the best jazz bar experiences you will have in Tokyo. Enjoy the Japanese jazz vinyls played here as many jazz establishments in Tokyo focus predominantly on foreign jazz artists. This dive-like bar that barely seats 15 allows bottle-keeping and the regulars are more than ready to welcome a new face. Dark and dusty, its the perfect spot for old souls to listen to jazz while nursing an Old Fashioned.
Paper Moon is located 3 minutes away from Ikebukero Station. Take the West Exit 1A and the bar is on the right. Located on the fourth floor of Umemoto Building, 3-29-2 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo.
One of Tokyo‘s most distinctive jazz cafes, Eigakan – meaning cinema in Japanese, was originally meant for documentary screenings as the owner is an avid lover of arthouse films and documentaries. The movie paraphernalia adds to the artsy vibe while this place has become a haven for live jazz. Grab a seat and a coffee (Y500) or a malt whisky (Y600) and enjoy the great jazz and mellow atmosphere. It’s also home to a dazzling tiger-striped feline by the name of Kotaro, so get acquainted with the resident kitty when you stop by.
Eigakan is located 2 minutes away from the Hakusan Station. Take exit A3 and turn around and the bar should be located across the street at 5-33-19 Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo. Open Mon-Sat 3pm-11.30pm.
Jazz Spot Intro
Accommodating 12 is a stretch for this tiny jazz bar, and this means you can literally rub shoulders with both amateur and professional jazz musicians at Jazz Spot Intro. Bring your instrument and join the bar manager Inoue-san – who plays the alto sax – for epic jam sessions from Tuesday to Thursday. The session on Saturday lasts till 5am and is a surreal experience with Japanese and foreign jazz musicians joining the band (usually after midnight), contributing to a lively and electric atmosphere.
Jazz Spot Intro is located 2 minutes away from Takadanobaba Station. Take the Waseda Exit and the bar is at 2-14-8 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo. Opens Daily at 6.30pm.
Reliable and comfortable,Ragtime is perfect for an afternoon coffee or after dinner drinks. Their drinks menu is more extensive than most jazz bars with familiar classic cocktails as well as lesser known tipples like the Black Cat – all at Y700 – alongside a whisky and spirits list. It is easy to feel at home here with a warm and hospitable owner who lets you write down song requests. Open daily, check out this rustic bar for vibe you won’t find elsewhere.
Ragtime is located a minute away from Chitose Karasuyama Station. Take the West Exit to 15-13 Minorakuyama Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157-0062 Tokyo Funeral Welfare Real Estate 3F. Open Daily from 3pm-2am.
Nefertiti Jazz Cafe and Bar
Natural light and plenty of seats are not the only things that sets Nefertiti Jazz Cafe and Bar apart from the 100s of other jazz joints in Tokyo. A grand piano alongside a drum kit and double bass fit comfortably on the small stage where there are live sets usually once or twice a week. The top of the line sound system makes it an ideal location for mini Jazz concerts; owner Kurita-san is proud of his quality set up. Ask him for the specs and watch him light up! Paired with a complete drinks menu and interesting food options like Indian Curry (Y800), Mentaiko Spaghetti (Y700) and Ebi Pilaf (Y800), a trip to Nefertiti is a must for all Jazz lovers.
Nefertiti Jazz Cafe and Bar is located at Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture Masuo 1124-1. Open Fri-Tues from 11.30am onwards.
Top image courtesy of Aki Hatakeyama