Historic Jazz Coffee House Closes

Chigusa, the very first "jazz kissa" (jazz coffee shop), which opened for business in Yokohama in 1937, recently closed its doors to make way for a new building complex.

Founded by the late Mamoru Yoshida when he was 20 years old, Chigusa became the model for jazz coffee shops that sprung up throughout Japan in the ’60s and ’70s, when the cost of vinyl records was too prohibitive for most diehard music fans.

The coffee shops were places where jazz aficionados could meet and hear the latest recordings by top Western artists and old favorites.

Some historians, in fact, have said that jazz kissa were more instrumental in creating a loyal fan base for jazz in postwar Japan than any other phenomenon, including radio. Best-selling novelist Haruki Murakami owned a jazz kissa for a while in Tokyo before turning to full-time fiction writing.

Chigusa’s influence goes even further than cultivating fans. Jazz giants Toshiko Akiyoshi and Terumasa Hino frequented the Yokohama coffee shop as youths and caught the jazz bug there.

During the war, the original café and all its records were destroyed in American bombing raids, but Yoshida reopened it after the war and, ironically, his first customers were mostly soldiers with the American occupation.

The coffee shop’s last owner, Yoshida’s younger sister Takako, told Reuters that it became impossible to run the business on her own, even though she still has many regular customers.

Jazz kissa dimished in popularity with the rise of punk in the late ‘70s, the increasing affordability of records and high-quality home stereos.

Nevertheless, many jazz fans appreciated the atmosphere of the jazz kissa, which they considered unique.