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Tokyo’s lack of live music

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By JJ Vicars

Being a musician living in Tokyo, many Westerners, both visitors and residents, ask me why there isn’t more live music. Sure there’s the big festivals and big-name concerts, but what about simply going out after work and hearing some decent music that’s not pre-recorded?

Every American knows that back home, you can walk into your local watering hole and, at least on the weekends, there will be a rock, blues or country band. Restaurants often have blues or jazz combos and coffee shops often have either acoustic performers or small Jazz combos. These are the jobs that local musicians work. Add to that school dances, battle of the bands, etc… and you can see why the U.S. has been a hotbed of musical activity for so long. If an establishment doesn’t have some kind of music, it’s considered dull and boring.

Tokyo is different. Live music is considered something of a specialty. The places that regularly feature it are either posh hotel lounges or ex-pat pubs. Hotel lounges hire jazz (standards only) or Top 40, so the chances of finding anything new and interesting are nil. The ex-pat pubs have music most nights but due to a lack of work throughout the city, there are very few pros and a whole lot of amateurs. The average Tokyo resident, the ones on the train with you, go to tiny bars and hostess clubs to sit and talk. How often do you see them get up and dance?

At the places that do regularly have music, there is no consistency to the schedule. As it is now, a person walks in with no idea of what kind of music there will be that night. They may want something low key and get blasted by a loud rock band, or want some excitement and be bored to death by a folk singer. Having a weekly blues night, a rock night, a jazz night, etc… would increase the number of patrons by giving them knowledge beforehand of when to expect what they want to hear.

In the meantime, the best thing a person can do is sign up for the mailing list when they hear a group they like. At least then, they’ll have some information beforehand so they can a plan a night out to hear what they want to listen to at their favorite local watering hole.

© Japan Today

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I'm gonna have to disagree with this article. I found quite a few small venues with decent live music. One of the best nights I had in Tokyo was when I randomly walked into a place called 'Graffiti' in Akasaka and discovered Sex Rex, as Jazz outfit who I fell in love with instantly, as well as three other acts ranging from weird electro concept stuff to more upbeat J-pop.

And just around the corner from where I was staying in Kuramae was a place called Kurawood. They have something practically every night, and a lot of regular acts (of which, it turned out, Sex Rex is one).

There are a lot of places, it's just a case of finding the hidden gems tucked away in little the nooks and crannies Tokyo.

SexRex:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx5S_KU0ho4

Graffiti:

http://www.moz.co.jp/graffiti/schedule/

Kurawood:

http://www.kurawood.jp/top.html

Heres a list of hundreds venues ranging from little cosy live bars to bigger stages:

http://www.tokyogigguide.com/livehouses

or just pick up a copy of Metropolis Magazine, which you will find everywhere:

http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/recent/listings.asp

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This article is utter nonsense. There are hundreds of live music venues throughout the city catering to a variety of tastes. The notion that Tokyo lacks live music is laughable. What is the author of this article talking about?

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This is the worst example of foreigners not being able to get out of their ghettoes. There is live music everywhere everynight of the week in all genres. check out that flyer stuck to the phone pole near your house.

Tokyo is one of the best places for live music. especially jazz.

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Agree with the above. If you have a smattering of nouse you should be able to find some great bands easily. Of course they're not going to be found playing your local izakaya though..

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Ridiculous article. The live music scene may exist in a different form than it does in North America but by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that Tokyo is lacking in live music venues. Saying that a live music scene doesn't exist beyond "posh hotel lounges and ex-pat pubs" is utterly absurd. If anything, people checking out the local music scene in Tokyo, and I'm not talking about music performed solely by ex-pats here, are spoiled for choice. The writer of this article needs to get out more.

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I agree with the author: in Nagoya, if you visit all the 30 plus places adverstised in japanzine, you will find live music only in 2 or 3 of them. This is a small number in comparison to other countries - I take Thailand, Brazil and Italy where I have been recently. In these countries almost every small restaurant, bar or pub you would have live music. I think it has something to do with nightlife in Japan finishing early. In my neighborhood there are bars that do not even open on Saturdays.

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Ridiculous.Plenty of live music.Sure the venues are small and crap and the standard of music is dodgy,but there IS live music.

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I organize music events in Tokyo, about 1-2 a month. I think the main reason there are not more live performances every day is that it is a massive pain to produce events here. Especially when compared to a city like Seattle.

Venues: Expensive, difficult to arrange, often hard to work with and poorly organizes. Did I say expensive? The cost of a so-so space with so-so sound can be JPY70,000 -JPY150,000 on a weekend or JPY40,000+ on a week night. Most organizers I know lose money on weekday shows and many have a hard time making money on the weekend.

Bands: Bands here expect to be paid a lot for shows. So again organizers can't do much on weekdays because of the financial risk.

Scenes: There are no music scenes here to speak of. You don't have set clubs in town that excell at a certain genre or style. And there are no major leaders in most genres to help create scenes. Japan's music world is every band for him or herself.

Solutions.

Venues: If you want to make money, work with promoters to create a music scene based out of your venue. Mon-Wed make events free for organizers to try out new artists and give new bands a chance to play and gain audience.

Venues 2: Sponsor scenes that you think will grow. Help by working with promoters and bands to make events affordable. Over time people will start to support and you will make more money by being a hot spot for rock on friday, hip hop on Saturday and something else on Sunday. Then people know to come on certain nights to see who's playing.

Bands: Reality check. If you want to be famous and get paid you need to first pay your dues. Play as much as you can for whatever price or for free until you gain an audience. Just because you think you are worth $300 on Monday with no audience, does not mean you are. You have to find and build an audience. If you don't play you will never do this. So play, and play for free at venues to help build up your music community's scene. When you have a following, then you can demand money. Until then show a little humility and common sense to build up an audience.

Finally. More people need to come out and support events. Weeknight events should be mostly free or very low cost so people will go out instead of going home or to the local drinking hole instead. Then people may be more excited to come out on weekends to support the bigger shows.

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This article is total rubbish. Yeah if you live inside an English bubble there is a lack of live music. But if you make the slightest effort you'll find Japan, and Tokyo especially is one of the best places in the world for live music.

All over Japan even in the tiniest towns there are live houses, jazz bars, and folk bars - every possible genre of music is catered for. You can't go anywhere in Japan without seeing young people walking around carrying guitars on their backs.

So far I have 8 gigs I am planning going to in June, and I have a problem that some of my favourite bands are playing on the same nights. There is too much music and not enough time.

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Haha. I've seldom seen an article in JT get so unanimously slammed.

@tkoind2 - I totally agree that the live house scene has serious problems. Admission is generally too expensive, bands are often exploited, and live houses still don't seem to do all that well. You make some good suggestions.

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Somebody needs to get out and learn some Japanese. Plenty of live shows, everywhere. They're just not necessarily where the English speakers hang out. And why would they be? It's Japan. Most things cater for the Japanese.

Go look at some of the Japanese ticket websites like eplus or Ticket Pia. There's literally hundreds of shows a week in Tokyo. And that's just the ones that are large enough to sell tickets online!

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Well, the guy who wrote the article is musician. tkoind2 apparently is also in the business. But everyone else says they are wrong?!

I love live music and night life but I also think what we have here is not enough. I'm also involved in organizing dance events and can confirm what tkoind2 says.

Basically in Japan too much is asked from the organizer, the clients are too much pampered but in the same time they pay much higher prices compared to US or even Europe.

And there are many more ordinary people that will be content with less luxury and would like to go out but can't afford. Add that trains stop in midnight and if you live for example in Yokohama you have to spend the night somewhere till 5am. Can continue with more and more...

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tetsukon:"...Japan, and Tokyo especially is one of the best places in the world for live music." That's going a bit far.Tokyo doesn't compare with other major cities in the world.

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I'm not sure if a club dance scene counts as the kind of 'live music' most of the posters are on about. Given that they mention doing it on work nights, probably not that many people want to stay out past midnight anyway.

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Well, the guy who wrote the article is musician. tkoind2 apparently is also in the business. But everyone else says they are wrong?!

I know dozens of people "in the business" including my wife who played in a band for years and worked in a well known live house. There is a big difference between saying the system and culture of live performances in Tokyo has problems, and saying there isn't enough live music. Go to any city in any country, and you'll find plenty of complaints about the way live music venues are run and musicians are compensated. That's kind of the nature of the biz. If this article was a critique of the live music industry in Tokyo, you'd see a lot of agreement in the comment section, but that's not really the point of the article. The author is basically saying he can't find a gig to go see, and that's ridiculous.

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Potsu, you too don't know what's available in Japan. I know of 32 live houses in just Shibuya, that's not even counting other genres.

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maybe JJ needs to learn Japanese and get out a little more... this article is not very informed to say the least.

there are live music clubs everywhere, big and small... If I wanted to play every night I could with out an afterthought... maybe he is too much of a "pro"... the "scene" does work a bit different here, but not so much that you are locked out...

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i think the wtiter should visit tickepia in the 101 building to find out the live venues in the city, there is live music every night. I guess he is "somewhat" unaware of the underground music scene in Japan

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tetsukon: "I know of 32 live houses in just Shibuya, that's not even counting other genres." ??? Doesn't make sense.... Having lived in NY,London,and Sydney,I'm sorry,Tokyo is very ordinary for live music.That there IS live music is not in dispute.

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This article is total rubbish.

Badly written too. The first sentence should be something like: "Being a musician living in Tokyo, I am asked by many Westerners ..."

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tetsukon

All over Japan even in the tiniest towns there are live houses, jazz bars, and folk bars - every possible genre of music is catered for. You can't go anywhere in Japan without seeing young people walking around carrying guitars on their backs.

I do not know if karaoke is considered live music, that is what you have plenty of. And young people walking carrying instruments does not mean that they are going to play live, or do I miss something here? According what I see, these ones are heading for rental studios to rehearse. Last month I went to more that 15 different places, all Japanese. No live music whatsoever. So, are we dwelling in different Japans?

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Also, I think that there are misunderstandings here: as live music, I think of the concept of going to a bar and there is this guy there on the corner, playing the piano, or bossa nova, or jazz, the music is part of the atmosphere there. This is quite different from you going to Blue Note, for instance, where you pay for the music, and sometimes there are not money enough to drink along - like the last time I saw Ivan Lins live. Totally different concepts. Gigs, Japan has tons of it. But not free, spontaneous music. As someone said above, there are money involved in the scene here, everything is so professional it is boring sometimes.

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As someone said above, there are money involved in the scene here, everything is so professional it is boring sometimes.

Go to a local live house, and you'll see plenty of non-professional bands, that's for sure. Very, very non-professional.

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But not free, spontaneous music.

There's bands playing at my station several nights a week. It's usually some local college students and their guitars; they get a decent amount of people watching them. You see these scenes in lots of places.

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Wow, the author needs to open his eyes and ears.

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pawatan: if you are happy with that, then you are very humble guy and I don't envy your taste or notion of live music.

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does anybody know of a decent blues club in Tokyo? thanks

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Potsu now I know you are ignorant of what's available in Japan. I didn't say Tokyo was the best, I said it was one of the best. Yeah London is probably better, so too Seattle.

There are 32 live houses in Shibuya. Surely you know what a "live house" is, right? There are other live venues as well catering for different genres that I didn't count.

I come from Sydney and the situation there is dire (straits!). The RSL and Leagues clubs have live music and there are a few pubs scattered around. But noise complaints have shut down a lot of the traditional pubs shows and there is no where near the scope and variety of venues as in Japan. 32 live houses in Shibuya, I bet you couldn't find 32 live venues in the entire North Shore. There are 15 live houses in Shinjuku, another 15 in Shimokitazawa. Every part of Tokyo and every little hick town across Japan has live houses.

LostinNagoya By live music I mean musicians playing instruments and people watching them. How do you know the people you see are going to practice studios? I lived in Nagoya for several years I know there are lots of live houses there. If you want to hear crappy Bob Dylan covers and "Danny Boy", there was an Irish Bar that (hopefully) might not be around anymore. But if you want serious music, there is a Club Quattro near Yabacho, Heart Land Studio in Fushimi has a full schedule, Sonset [sic] Strip near Shin-Sakae and there are many others.

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lostinnagoya,

you truly are never going to enjoy the japanese music scene, and that is your loss. outside of europe, japan has one of the best jazz scenes in the world. i don't know if it's because of your attitude, but you really seem to have selective blinders on. one minute you say there's no spontaneity, the next minute you trash anyone who plays in front of the station who is not up to your standards. huh???? and who are you winton marsalis?

I guess you are the kind of person who needs to ask the writer of this article for advice.

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well tetsukon, I know because there's a rental studio two blocks from my home. And I have never seen people playing live inside the mall, street galleries, like you see in other countries. Surely there's music around here, no one is denying that. What the author is saying, and I agree, is that there could be more. But then, if you are happy with the way it's now, good for you. I am not, that's why I flee from here (with Japanese money, eheh) to better beaches every holiday.

Sydenham: your advice is declined, thank you. I also don't envy your taste or notions of live music. But if it's good for you...good for you then.

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this article is so far off from the truth it's laughable. you have no idea what you are talking about, simple as that. go to Shimokitazawa, Koenji, Kichijoji, even shibuya or shinjuku. you can find ANY genre of music you like ANY day of the week

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Tetsukon...so if you really are from Sydney,don't you miss a Sunday arvo, nice spacious pub,(not some crowded little smokey room,or "live house" as you call them )free music by quality musicians/groups,not kids screaming ? Been in Japan a little too long perhaps ?

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As I said, if you are happy with this live music little scene, good for you. I expect more than a singer singing in a train station with 5 people watching to call it live music, eheh. Oh no, Italy and Thailand are paradises, but I love J money. eheh.

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People work until 11pm so no one can goto the bars. Same problem with clubs, it's all dead now I have no idea what people do for entertainment anymore.

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This article seems like a rehash from some months ago and I disagree with it. As a traveling musician who has played in Tokyo several times, we have most always been impressed with the musicianship and creativity of groups we perform with. FatFrenchFool is dead on. If you make a little effort to seek out the right places you can find some really great music. Of course "great music" is hugely subjective to the listeners likes and interests. 90 per cent of the bands in local American bars are completely crap. Just posers with no musical talent who thought it would be cool to form a band.

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I may be one of the few on the board who consider DJs live music but the dance music scene in Japan, esp Tokyo is epic. And I'm not just referring to all the big name, 4000 yen cover charge joints like WOMB. There are a lot of bars around where DJs and producers get the chance to set up in corner and play original tracks and mixes

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How long has this chap been in Japan?

Go to Shimokitazawa, Koenji, or Kichijouji. There's thousands of small "live houses" where music is played by scruffy teenages with lank hair and skyward gazes.

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if you are happy with that, then you are very humble guy and I don't envy your taste or notion of live music.

It's not really my taste - but it's very free and very spontaneous. Isn't that what you said didn't exist?

I like street music, even if it's bad street music. I used to enjoy going to Osaka-jo on weekends to see the bands perform. They're 95% junk, but they care about playing, and they do it for love of their music. Isn't that what it's all about?

I feel sad for those that can't see all the wonderful opportunities to see and hear so many types of music live like you can in Tokyo. I suppose you don't get much Country music (for example - though I know of a place in Takadanobaba that has live country music nightly) but you get almost any other type of music.

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This author is so misinformed that you have to also wonder what comes next? "Tokyo's lack of restaurants"...?

All I can say in JJ Vicars' defence is that sometimes a lot of live houses and bars with live music are tucked away in less than obvious locations - but there are plenty of them, as almost everyone here seems to agree

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wow... I can't believe JT published this trash. Did they even read what this incredibly uninformed guy wrote? Mr. Vicars sounds like a fresh off the boat guy who doesn't speak the language or ever leave his apartment. I'm sure that's not the case but HOW can this guy not see the thousands of live houses around Tokyo???

Does anyone remember the article less then 2 weeks ago that talked about the ABUNDANCE of live house bars/clubs? If I can remember that, then how can JT not?

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