‘Tokyo Jazz Joints’ captures the vanishing world of Japanese jazz kissa culture

New book ‘Tokyo Jazz Joints’ uncovers the ephemeral beauty of Japan's ‘jazz kissa’ – bars and coffee houses devoted to the vinyl or CD experience

Man at turntable, image from tokyo jazz joints book from kehrer verlag
(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

In their love affair with Japan, Irish photographer Philip Arneill and American broadcaster James Catchpole set out to explore the dying subculture of Japanese jazz kissa – jazz bars and coffee shops that serve as a refuge from the frenetic pace of contemporary urban living. Their journey resulted in Tokyo Jazz Joints, a podcast, a photographic chronicle, and now a coffee table book. What began in 2015, initially focusing on Tokyo locations, later expanded to encompass the entirety of Japan.

‘Tokyo Jazz Joints’, a dive into Japan’s jazz kissa culture

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

Distinct from live music venues, a Japanese jazz kissa revolves around enjoying vinyl records or CDs. Coined from kissaten, translating to 'tea-drinking shop,' jazz kissa gained traction post-Second World War, during Japan's Western cultural embrace.

Peaking in the 1960s and 1970s with jazz's commercial zenith, these establishments provided (and still offer) a communal space for the shared enjoyment of premium sound on high-quality stereos, overcoming the challenges of record costs.

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

Tokyo Jazz Joints is a visual homage that pays tribute to these unique shops, sadly fading away due to shifting trends, an ageing clientele, and the encroachment of gentrification. The book not only captures the essence of disappearing cultural havens but also serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between preserving tradition and adapting to the relentless march of time.

'Personal, passionate homages to a music deeply embedded in Japan's modern musical culture, these photos are a love story,' describes Arneill in Tokyo Jazz Joint's podcast episode '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.

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

'By crawling around these often cramped spaces shooting handheld images without flash in dark and gloomy lighting, I've created my own homage – a collection of dusty digital images – that I hope, even in some small way, gives a sense of the sheer wonder of these spaces,' says Arneill.

In the podcast episode, 'One Last Stop', Catchpole says: 'Japanese jazz joints are so full of love: love of music, audio systems, record collecting, alcohol, social gathering, shared interests and humanity.'

The project, which has taken over eight years to develop, aims to unveil a side of Japan often overlooked – a subculture that can astonish and thrill even the most cynical jazzheads.

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

tokyo jazz joints book kehrer verlag

(Image credit: Photography: Philip Arneill. Courtesy of Kehrer Verlag)

You can find 'Tokyo Jazz Joints by Philip Arneill and James Catchpole on Amazon and at Waterstones

tokyojazzjoints.com

Travel Editor

Sofia de la Cruz, Travel Editor at Wallpaper*, was born in Madrid, Spain. Moving to London at 14 shaped the creative professional she has become today. Before joining the team in 2023, she was an associate editor at Hypebae, where her focus was on the intersection of fashion, art, and culture. She also contributed as a writer for Futurevvorld, covering a variety of sustainability topics.