Release Date: Apr 8, 2016
I’m back in Tokyo. Send help.
This is my second time round in the outrageously incredible city and I decided that this time I’d make a bit of a go of it for three months. The first time I was here was last June whilst on tour with my band The Lagerphones. I immediately fell in love with this place and knew I needed to get another fix real soon. I came back earlier this year and, with the help of my connections from last time, I have been embedding myself into the Tokyo music scene. Most nights I’ve either been playing gigs, hanging out at gigs or checking out exhibitions and have been exposing myself to as much of the creative scene here as possible. I’m now coming to the end of my journey and what a rollercoaster it’s been. I’ve partied way too hard, eaten way too much, spent way too much money, seen too many sunrises, been heartbroken, been to hospital, had my double bass smashed, met some incredible people, made some great friends and loaded up on a lifetime’s worth of Ramen and Yakitori. To be able to do all this though (and in the words of my dear friend and pianist Aaron Choulai) I’ve always needed something that’s been able to “bring me back”. Basically… I’ve needed a serious amount of caffeine. This is where the next three places I’m about to talk about have been my saving grace.
I first stumbled upon Kakurembou whilst out for a walk checking out some of the recently bloomed Sakura. For weeks I had been living in the area and whenever I’d go out for a walk or head down to the local Ramen joint I could smell that distinct woody smell of roasting coffee. I finally found this quiet little coffee shop that has a dusty front bench with some old looking beans hanging out in jars on the window. The place was empty and the blinds seemed to always obscure the view of the inside. I went in there on a hunch as that irresistible smell of freshly roasted coffee was driving me crazy. It took a while to sort out what in the world I was going to order due to my severe lack of Japanese and the master speaking barely any English. It turns out that there’s three types of blends on offer: Bitter, sour or in-between. All are spectacular and all roasted on-site. There’s a whiteboard permanently set up with what looks to be a menu but I have absolutely no idea what it says. Apparently the name of this place is a play-on-words of “Hide and Seek” where the master has switched out one of the Kanji characters… That’s as much as I could work out with my embarrassingly limited Japanese. I’ve bought my beans exclusively from this place this time round and they always come with tasting notes, instructions and a resealable bag. I recently discovered that the master is featured in pour-over magazines all over Japan. What a badass.
Dream Coffee is the place that’s come highly recommended to me the most by all my crew out here in Nerima-ku. Just a short train ride away, in the heart of Ikebukuro, this corner store brings the goods as far as a great cup of coffee goes. I seem to spend an unusual amount of time out in Ikebukuro and it’s definitely helped to have this great coffee shop around helping me fuel my deep-rooted caffeine addiction. This place is a Japanese style coffee shop, also known as a Kissaten, with a unique design that seems to remind me of the Central Markets of my old home town of Adelaide. Kitted-out with an almost Italian style decor with some bizarre coffee bean filled pillars, coffee tables on wheels and comfy chairs this place has cups of coffee starting at 220Y. Make sure you go up to the counter and order your coffee before sitting down as you might find yourself waiting for a perplexing amount of time, wondering why no one will serve you and why the staff look disgruntled as you take up another precious chair in their store. All coffee seems to be roasted on site here too. Couple of great cups if you’re out this way.
My final destination is a very special place. Dug in Shinjuku is this dark, brick-lined, basement cafe which also serves to be a mural of jazz history. The master of this incredible coffee shop is non-other than legendary jazz photographer and venue manager Hozumi Nakadaira. I was lucky enough to meet him and we got talking about all his experiences with some of the jazz greats and his previous club ‘Dig’ which first opened in 1961. Some of the most legendary jazz musicians including Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea and Art Blakey played there when they came to Tokyo. A lot of Nakadaira’s works line the walls and it has such an incredible vibe. Whilst you’re sitting here enjoying your coffee (or beer) there’s always some outrageously impressive record playing over the stereo. It gets to the point where having a conversation with me becomes futile as I find myself enthralled in the music. I was even here the other day doing the shoot for goodcoffee.me and was talking to the editor when suddenly a friend of mine’s (“TOKU”. Check him out. The most incredible singer I’ve ever heard) record started to play. I couldn’t contain my excitement. It took them until the song had finished to calm me down and get me back to focusing on the task at hand. This place is out of this world and can’t recommend it highly enough to jazz fans out there.
Well Tokyo, you’ve been wild. Thank you for all the bizarre and incredible experiences this time round and I can’t wait to see you before long. If you’re free this Monday night, I’ve got the last gig of a residency that I’ve been doing at a bar called “Toilet” in Shinjuku with my long time colleague and old friend Marty Hicks (event page LINK – https://www.facebook.com/events/193988320959026/ ). We start from 8:45pm and go until last train. Otherwise on Thursday the 14th it’s my last gig in town with the most incredible trio I’ve ever had the good fortune to play with – Aaron Choulai and Shun Ishiwaka at “Apollo” in Shimokitazawa at 8pm.
Marty Holoubek (@martyhbass) is one of Australia’s most in-demand bass players. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Marty has performed and recorded with some of the world’s most recognised artists. Marty is currently performing with The Lagerphones, Sex On Toast and The Joseph O’Connor Trio.
Cover image shot at Kakurembou
Photography by Nik van der Giesen