Whilst most of my Japanese friends are photographers or associated with the photographic industry, I have a couple of cherished friends who really aren’t interested in taking photos. They have provided me with a fabulous insight into Japanese culture and an introduction to their world. These moments are relished beyond compare, and they sometimes give me an inadvertent photographic opportunity. Such is the case with Murakami-san and Fukushima-san. Both gentlemen have the common bond of working for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office and share a love of music. Tamio Fukushima plays banjo in a blue grass band, sings Bach with a large choral group and sings Enka (a popular form of Japanese folk music, and often nostalgically sung late at night in bars…….). Hideo Murakami is an IT manager during the day, but at night plays piano and keyboard as a resident musician for a number of bars and is a member of some jazz ensembles.
An invitation to his small apartment (2LDK in Japan means 2 tiny bedrooms, Living Dining and Kitchen; and not much else) surprised me by seeing a baby grand piano, shoe horned in next to the stereo gear and vinyl jazz collection. Oh, and photographs (jazz bands) on the walls.
But, the real story is being invited to a Jazz performance at a Friday night gathering in a small restaurant/bar adjacent to the workplace of my friends – in Shinjuku. Whilst I am accustomed to seeing tiny restaurants in Japan, even this one caught my attention. There were two tables, each for two people, and a curving bar that could accommodate a further five or at a squeeze six people – and I was invited to a Jazz Performance there.
Murakami-san’s ensemble consisted of a trumpet and bass player + vocalist and himself. We were waited on by the bar owner and his assistant, and our little party consisted of Fukushima-san, and two Australian gaijin. Two “real” jazz loving diners came in and during the course of the evening we were joined by a passing lady who heard the music and wanted to jam with the group, giving us a couple of lovely vocal renditions of jazz standards. The evening also attracted the attention of one or two passers-by, who briefly wandered in.
The intimacy was enhanced by the interaction of audience and musicians – we could suggest items to be played, we could jam with the group (those with requisite skills or relaxed abandon – not your earnest blogger); we could select food by discussion with mine host and his stock of ingredients; or we could drink. Sake was the drink on offer – and the brand changed when we had emptied the current bottle. More than three brands were sampled that night. I am talking Japanese sized sake bottles – 1.5 to 2 litre bottles!
The evening closed at a reasonable hour, as public transport closes down around 12:30, and public transport is how most Tokyo-ites travel. The evening was one of fun, laughter, enjoying quality music as if in a private performance space – which is what it was.