🔖 5 min read

TOKYO JAZZ JOINTS is an ongoing, self-funded photographic research project, created by Philip Arneill and broadcaster James Catchpole, which has documented the rapidly vanishing culture of jazz coffee shops (jazu kissa) in Japan since 2015. This project has been photographed and developed over 7 years and is being published by Kehrer Verlag, a renowned German publisher. They launched a Kickstarter campaign on December 18, 2022, to help co-fund the publication of an initial print run of 1,500 copies of the book in Spring 2023.

The Project

Starting in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, the project has since expanded to cover the whole of Japan; it has documented over 160 jazz kissa and bars. TOKYO JAZZ JOINTS has an established international audience which intersects vinyl and music enthusiasts, Japanophiles, world travellers, audiophiles and jazz fans. 

  • To date, images from the project have been shown on 3 continents, including exhibitions in New York, California, Penang, Tokyo, Berlin, Munich, London, Liverpool, Swansea and Belfast 
  • TOKYO JAZZ JOINTS has been featured in a range of print and online media including The Times, SüdDeutsche Zeitung, The Japan Times, All About Jazz, The Vinyl Factory, Asia Photo Review, Neocha, Wax Poetics & WeJazz Magazine
  • An accompanying podcast series of 48 episodes, which places the images in the context of audio and wider Japanese culture, has currently had over 90,000 streams since March 2020.

The History of Jazz in Japan

The history of jazz in Japan dates back to the late 19th century when the first jazz bands began to emerge. The early musicians adopted the style of jazz from the United States and began to develop it in their own unique way. The 1920s saw the emergence of the first Japanese jazz bands, such as the Tokyo Jazz Band and the Osaka Jazz Band, and the 1930s saw the emergence of a new wave of jazz musicians, such as the Tokyo Jazz Orchestra and the Osaka Jazz Orchestra.

The end of World War II saw a surge in jazz popularity, with the creation of the Japan Jazz Association in 1947. The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of a number of influential jazz musicians, such as Sadao Watanabe, Terumasa Hino, and Isao Suzuki. The 1970s and 1980s saw a further surge in popularity, with the emergence of a younger generation of jazz musicians, such as Toshiko Akiyoshi and Masabumi Kikuchi.

Jazz Kissa

Kissaten () is a Japanesestyle coffee shop or café. They are typically small and cozy, providing a warm and relaxed atmosphere for people to enjoy coffee, tea, light snacks, and other beverages. Kissaten often have a vintage vibe and may feature antique furniture, decor, and music.

The Japanese word ‘kissa(ten)’ translates directly as ‘tea-drinking shop’. According to the Gateway to Jazz Kissa website (https://jazz-kissa.jp/), there are approximately over 500 jazz kissa still spread across Japan, and after emerging fully as jazz-listening bars in the post-war years, they peaked in ubiquity in the late 1960s/early 1970s, during which they were often hubs for the counterculture movement. Many have since closed, but many still remain today.

Tokyo Jazz Joints

According to TOKYO JAZZ JOINTS photographer Philip Arneill, the unique environment of the Japanese jazz kissa is a pseudo-religious sacred space, replete with its own ritual, protocol, iconography and clergy.

These sacred spaces are a product of the cultural environment which created them while existing in direct cultural contestation with that same environment; their very existence is a result of their owners’ decision to step outside of Japanese mainstream culture, and it depends on their continued fervour and commitment to keep the faith in an era of changing tastes, digitisation and relentless urban gentrification.

These living museums exist only in Japan and are the subject of increasing attention with the worldwide revival of interest in vinyl, high-end audio equipment and analogue listening spaces. 

The Disappearing World of Tokyo Jazz

According to James Catchpole, broadcaster and one half of the TOKYO JAZZ JOINTS project, Japanese jazz cafes and bars are often hidden, insular worlds where time ceases to exist, spaces removed from the speed and chaos of the modern urban landscape.  Tokyo Jazz Joints is a visual chronicle of this world; an attempt to capture and preserve, if only from our perspective, the transient beauty of these spaces.

The jazz cafe culture in Japan grew organically in the years after WWII, as venues where fans could gather and listen to the latest records from the United States and Europe.  Imported records “let alone turntables and speakers “were a luxury few could afford in those days of recovery from the war.  The act of going to a cafe and listening to a new release in a social setting became the norm for a generation of urban Japanese.  At its height, areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku in central Tokyo had dozens of these cafes and bars scattered around the main station plazas.

Slowly, the cafes began to disappear as economic development continued and listening to music at home became the norm.  Some establishments transformed into night-time-only bars when it was no longer profitable to open for coffee time. Fewer and fewer customers would spend leisurely afternoons immersed in jazz, books and coffee.  As of 2015, there are approximately 130 jazz cafes and bars spread throughout the Tokyo Metropolitan area alone, a huge number compared to most cities, but down from the peak of more than 250 in the early 1970s.

Year by year, the old jazz joints around town close their doors as the men and women who own their age and their children move on to other more “˜legitimate’ or lucrative occupations. Tokyo Jazz Joints is our attempt to let you into this slowly vanishing part of Japanese culture.  These are small, sometimes tiny, intimate locations where you can lose yourself in the world’s greatest music.

Who are behind Tokyo Jazz Joints

Philip Arneill is a Belfast-born documentary photographer and educator based in Dublin, Ireland. He holds an M.A. Photojournalism & Documentary Photography from the University of Arts London, has had his work published online and in print media and has exhibited in both group and solo shows worldwide. He is currently a proud member of Fotovisura’s GUILD and the photographer of TOKYO JAZZ JOINTS.



James Catchpole is a broadcaster and writer based in Yokohama, Japan. He started Tokyo Jazz Site (TJS) in late 2007 to visit and briefly profile every jazz-related establishment in the Greater Tokyo Area. TJS has been featured in publications including the Japan Times, the Asia Wall St. Journal, The Tokyo Journal, BBC Travel, and Smithsonian Magazine, and currently has over 125 jazz joint profiles in its directory. James also hosts the online radio show Tokyo Jazz Map on www.jjazz.net and the OK Jazz Podcast.



The full project can be accessed at www.tokyojazzjoints.com and @tokyojazzjoints on Instagram.