NAGOYA, Japan – And then came one of those dream nights as I love them: A combination of a fabulous stage, a fabulous sound system, a fabulous crowd, a bunch of fabulous “other” musicians, and lots of fabulous people to talk to! That describes in a (fabulous) nutshell the evening I spent at the Plastic Factory last night in Nagoya. Any regular readers of this blog will know that I have been going to the Plastic Factory annually for a few years now, but I have to say I think that was one of the top two times I spent at this very cool, in-place in Imaike, owned and run by the fabulous Heinz Senn, of Switzerland.
I had to stay late at the racetrack, interview lots of people, pack in a few stories and organize my racing life. So I figured that I would not have the time to make it to the Plastic Factory, where Heinz told me that I was welcome to come, and maybe even if those who had booked the night allowed it, I would be able to play some songs. “Those” people being a group of musicians who meet at the Plastic Factory once a week, or once a month, or once in a while, to play a kind of open mic that actually consists of each of the musicians taking the stage for two or three songs and then handing it on to the next musician…. first at plastic factory
And so on until the early hours of the morning. And so it went last night, with a nice mix of expat musicians and some Japanese people in the crowd, and the wonderful Japanese harmonica player who accompanied me on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” of Bob Dylan, and with some other musicians. fourth at plastic factory
In any case, I had the most amazing time, and I was so glad that once again I proved to myself that I must never take “no” for an answer to myself. I realized as I got to the Nagoya station from the Shiroko station – near Suzuka – that if I ate a horrendous fast-food meal in the Nagoya station, and if I did not go back to my hotel to pick up my guitar, then I would make it to the Plastic Factory easily in time to see much of the show – and maybe even play. second at plastic factory
And that’s what happened. The Plastic Factory is a fabulous venue with, as I said, a great stage and sound system, and on the first floor a space that is used sometimes as a gallery, sometimes for other things, and all together, it is a great meeting place for like-minded individuals looking for…great music, fun and chat. third at plastic factory
What can I say. Just check it out. And check out the videos on this page to see the variety of musicians! They call their group, I believe – writing this from memory – “The Good ‘Ole Boys.” And indeed they were.
PS, and I almost forgot to mention! On the last weekend of the month, or something like that, they also have a real bona fide open mic at the Plastic Factory. So when in town and looking for an experience, or a place to play, check out the Plastic Factory.
NAGOYA, Japan – I realized last night that it was the eighth time I have played at the R&B Melrose permanent open mic in Nagoya, last night, and I will gladly return again. Later, today, I found I must have missed another open mic that I have never done before, but somehow the thought of checking Facebook never occurred to me. But little does that matter aside from the area of big experiences of life events…. The R&B Melrose is a jamming bar hors paire…. fourth at the R&B Melrose
It is in the cellar room of a place in downtown Nagoya, with a fabulous little stage, the wonderful couple who run the place, and piano, drum set, acoustic and electric guitars, the Marshall amps, and the regular flow of Japanese musicians. Third at R&B Melrose in Nagoya
I was feeling kind of tired last night, thanks to the ongoing tale of jet lag, and I ate a meal of a pizza and wine at a bar not so far from the R&B Melrose, and I was almost ready to go directly back to my hotel and flop over into bed. But I could not resist aother visit. second at r&B melrose
And so I went, found several musicians there, even though it was not advertised as an open mic night, and I got to go up and play several times, the most fun being when I got to play with the 1973 Martin of one of the musicians – it reinforced my faith in Martin guitars…but from 1973…. first at the R&B Melrose
I suddenly had a real feeling of the kind that I look for all around the world of sharing a bit of real life in another country far from my own with people doing what they do all the time, with no consciousness of the same thing happening elsewhere in the world, with no consciousness of the thing that draws me to this part of the world, with full consciousness of living their life rituals, into which I dip momentarily.
I returned back to my hotel, found that the evening had given me enough energy to go out for a nighttime jog, and then I slept soundly for 10 hours! Welcome back to Japan, Nagoya and the Live House, jamming bar, permanent open mic of the R&B Melrose….
DUBAI – Just sitting half wiped out in the Dubai airport on my return flights from Japan to Paris, I’m still thinking about my last night in Nagoya, where I finally got to take part in the open mic of the Plastic Factory. I’ve played at the Plastic Factory a couple of times before, but I was never there on the last Sunday of the month when the official open mic takes place. This time I was, so I have something new to report.
The Plastic Factory is a bar, music and art venue run by a German-speaking Swiss, a longtime expat in Nagoya, and the place is about to celebrate its 11th year of its existence. I discovered it four or five years ago – I think! – and always wanted to try the open mic. But my timing to get from Suzuka to the edge of Nagoya, by way of my hotel to pick up my guitar, was tight, to say the least.
Brad Spurgeon and others jamming at the Plastic Factory in Nagoya.
So when I arrived, the evening was already well advanced, with a nice big crowd of spectators and musicians, lots of expats, but many Japanese as well. I love the mix at this place. On the other hand, I was in such a state having gulped down a fast food hamburger of a kind I don’t dare mention, and having stopped off and got my guitar, and arrived to find that my name had just been announced for me to play, but I’d missed the slot….
Third at the Plastic Factory
No problem! I was up next! So I took a beer, tuned my guitar, warmed up my voice and got on stage. Turned out that I hadn’t been there long enough to realize that the crowd can be quite talkative when there’s just some guy with an acoustic guitar and vocals, since this is really a very hot spot for socializing and meeting fellow expats.
Sixth at the Plastic Factory
So, OK, I sang my three songs to myself, and got off stage, took another beer, and watched as the evening got better and better. The talk would continue for most of the other acts, but bit by bit the stage took over as the center of interest of the room, and bit by bit it turned into a jam session with various of the musicians mixing together on stage.
Seventh at the Plastic Factory
That’s when I pumped up my courage again and after the MC of the evening went up with a woman on violin, another on bass guitar and a guy on washboard, I said to myself, “I want a bit of this action!” So I asked the MC if I could do a song with the band, and his guitar. He immediately agreed, and the other musicians agreed too, and so we leaped into “Mad World.” And it was mad. I had a great time, I think the other musicians enjoyed it, and the people who remained in the crowd weren’t talking so much anymore but whooping it up with the music.
Second at the Plastic Factory
A memorable night! My only regret is that I did not get a chance to take a look at the apparently wildly cool art exhibition on the upper floor. When I went up to check it out, it had just ended.
Fourth at the Plastic Factory
I hope that my date for a return trip to Japan – if there ever is one – will again coincide with the last Sunday of the month, and the so-called “Harmonium Parlour” open mic of the Plastic Factory in Nagoya. It’s a real happening.
NAGOYA, Japan – It has become a tradition for me now to spend Thursday nights in Nagoya at the R&B Melrose open mic. This cellar room full of musical instruments and warmth, is one of the more laid-back and friendly open mics I know of in Japan. It is also not one of the most crowded in terms of participants….
But that’s always a great way to start off my weekend in Nagoya, relaxed, low key, amongst friends. I calculated last night that it was my seventh time at the R&B Melrose – seven different years!! And it has not changed. Arrive, choose your instrument, play alone or with other clients, play what you want in terms of musical styles.
Drums, keyboards, bass, all sorts of different electric and acoustic guitars. And some great music piped in between times in the nice choice of the hosts…
My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.
This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.
NAGOYA – Got nothing done but a pizza eaten on my first night in Japan, in Osaka, before I checked out a music joint only to find it was not open for another 7 minutes, and I was too tired to move. So I returned to the hotel and didn’t sleep more than a couple of hours. That’s travel. So last night in Nagoya, for the first night here, I decided that nothing in the world would stop me checking out R&B Melrose, where the open mic night happens on Thursdays, and which I have played in once a year for the last five years.
So it was that after a quick meal of fried chicken and noodles, I dropped by the R&B Melrose and got greeted in the usual fabulously warm and kind manner from the owners, and got my beer and took to the stage. I played I don’t know how many songs, many by myself, many others with a couple of the other musicians who were there for the open mic. The R&B Melrose is a basement bar the main purpose of which is to have live music. The stage is comfortable cool and there are instruments all over the place for the public: Drums, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, bass… you name it….
Did Mad World with one of them on the piano and the other on lead guitar. As I realized that it was my sixth time at this very cool and simple open mic with its devoted bar owners, here in Japan’s third biggest city, I realized just how much sake had gone under the bridge since then. (OK, water. I think I might have drunk sake once in Japan.) And I realized that I was using my same Seagull acoustic since that first visit to the R&B Melrose, and that it had been around the world 6 times now, too.
If I can, I’ll be back next year. But first, the rest of the weekend in Japan….
A Slightly Different Approach in My Thumbnail Guide for Japan
I have decided to make Japan one of the exceptions on in my Worldwide Thumbnail Guide of open mics in that I will not focus only on one city, and I will name this after the country itself. I did the same with Monaco, when you think about it – and added Nice to that one – and I also did the same with Bahrain, as I only spoke of open mics in Manama, the capital city, but called it after the country. The point in Japan is that I have no single city with a wealth of open mics and open jams to list here, but I do have experience with three different cities in Japan, and they happen to be the three biggest cities: Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. It seems to me, therefore, that it will serve the reader much better if I do a guide with my findings for all of these cities, rather than just listing Nagoya, which is where I have spent the most time. So it is that I am going to list my findings in the three biggest cities in Japan, and hope that makes the page worthwhile for travelers to Japan.
UPDATE, 30 OCT. 2013: I noticed that unlike all my other open mic guides, the Japan guide was not receiving much traffic, and so I decided that I had made an error to change the system, and I have now today made three separate guides for Japan: a Thumbnail Open Mic Guide to Osaka, Thumbnail Open Mic Guide to Tokyo, Thumbnail Open Mic Guide to Nagoya. People search by city, not by country. So that is the end of that experiment – and please note the link at the beginning and end of this page will not work, as I got rid of the country guide all together.
Japan’s Open Mic Scene is Focused Around the So-Called “Live House”
The first thing to keep in mind when coming to Japan and looking for places to play music, is that while there are such things called open mics, there is another phenomenon that you must know about, and that is the ubiquitous “Live House.” Live Houses come in various forms, but generally what they are are bars with live music, or music venues that people can rent out by the time clock for a fee and then invite people to come and hear…and pay back the rental fee in their spendings. But Live Houses can also be places that hold open mics and open jams of the kind I focus on with my list. So aside from my limited list, the place to start looking for places to play in Japan is a Live House. Just find one, then see how they operate. They may have an open mic or an open jam – or you may want to rent the room for your half hour or so slot.
Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
NAGOYA, Japan – One of the greatest parts of my trip to Japan each year is that on my first day of arrival in Nagoya, I do not have to look for an open mic. I know that the doors to the R&B Melrose will always be open, will be open late, and that Thursday night is the night of the open mic. It was no different last night, as I arrived in Nagoya after two days of failing to find my venues in in Osaka, and I wandered over to R&B Melrose, bought a beer and took to the stage.
R&B Melrose is in a basement room, well insulated for sound, and it has a nice little stage, a drum set, bass, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, lots of amps. Everything you need for a jam or open mic. And that is exactly what it is open for: I arrived to find a couple of Japanese musicians, Diabolo on the guitar and Jo on the rhythm box. Jo is a woman, but Diablo is the devil, if you give a listen to his riffs on his six-string Fender bass, which he plays almost like a rhythm guitar rather than a bass.
I played two little sets – during one song of which, “Mad World,” the aforementioned “Joe” the woman, came and joined me on her rhythm box – as there were few musicians present, but I could not have asked for a better first night in Nagoya, especially a great way to warm up for my little cameo concert at the Plastic Factory on Saturday…. which, by the way, the people at R&B Melrose already knew I was doing, as they asked me about it…. Nice to feel at home in Nagoya, Japan – especially after the weird experiences in Osaka!
OSAKA, Japan – And so my second night in Osaka ended up being a near repeat of the freaky first night that I documented below. I worked in my hotel room all night and having not found any threads for open mics I decided early on that I’d just take my guitar out and scour the streets around the hotel, since I had seen live music advertised in one bar or venue after another. It turned out that my best opportunity was right beneath my feet….
I walked out of the hotel and took the back stairs since the escalator to my hotel – Hotel Floral Inn Namba – was moving in the wrong direction. Walking through the hall to the street exit I saw a door open to a cellar room called, “Another Dream,” which is one of the many “Live Houses” offering live music, that are all over Japan. The concept is similar to an open mic in that a Live House is open to pros and amateurs, anyone who wants to play. The difference is that you rent the room and try to fill it up with spectators to pay the rent….
Well, it turns out that on the second Wednesday of every month – ie, yesterday – at “Another Dream,” the room is rented out by a Japanese bluegrass band, and it’s a full-on, live bluegrass night. I discovered this was right under my feet all along, and I didn’t know about it. I walked into the large venue room to find a fabulously decorated Live House looking like a New York jazz bar, and getting off the stage just as I arrived, were a bunch of Japanese musicians dressed in distinctly hill billy clothes, and with mandolins, double bass, guitars, banjoes, etc., in hand.
I had just missed by two minutes the once-per-month bluegrass night – which goes from 7:30 to 10:00, every second Wednesday of the month. I rarely put up anyone else’s videos on this blog, but since I was not able to make a video of the music myself, and I have found someone else’s video of the sam musicians and same venue, I have decided to put it up. I spoke to the hayseed mandolin player on the left of the video last night.
I left this failed dream and did a long, long walk all around the area and failed once again to find the open mic venue that I had found adveertised on the Internet, just as I had failed the night before…. this was a different venue, however. But despite seeing a few other live houses, I found nowhere to play myself. It is a massively vibrant city musically, however, and I hope to have more luck when I pass through again next monday.
Lost in the Streets of Osaka, Found a Busker
I DID manage to hear a little live music in the end, though, in the form of this wonderful busker on the street, who passed out a flyer advertising another live house, called JT Volcano. She was a volcano herself, as you can see in my short video of her:
OSAKA, Japan – Arriving at the Kansai Airport in Osaka yesterday I no sooner got through customs and out into the airport hall where I sought a cash machine when a television crew of three people approached me from behind and asked if I could speak to them about why I was in Japan.
Was it my guitar case that attracted them? And the fact that I was clearly not Japanese? I had noticed them momentarily before, as I approached the ATM, and they were speaking to another foreigner – whom I assumed was a big star I could not recognize. So I was not totally taken by surprise.
I was fairly tired after playing in Tony’s Aussie bar in Seoul the night before, and this seemed like good fun to be interviewed by two Japanese journalists behind a TV camera, that it would help give me the electric voltage I needed to snap a bit more life into me, so I decided to play along and really got into it. Well, all except the fact that I did not really want to get into the details of my day job, and basically just emphasized the fact that I came to Japan to play in open mics and jam sessions, in addition to attending the Formula One race!
Playing Music For Japanese Television at the Airport
The interview went on and on as they spoke first in Japanese and then translated the questions into English, and I suppose perhaps translated my answers. They asked me if I wrote my own songs, if I was a professional musician, if I played with other musicians, where I played, what I intended to do… for a moment I wondered if this was a TV crew at all, or whether it was a novel idea for an interrogation by the customs people, beyond the customs wall. (Customs had asked similar questions.)
Japan TV crew in Kansai that interviewed me
But then I realized this must really be Japanese television when they asked me if I could play a song for them there, right there, in the airport front hall of the terminal. I immediately saw my opportunity for marking my territory in Japan in the most unusual of places, and not having to wait to find an open mic! So I whipped out the guitar and started playing my song, “Crazy Lady,” for the camera.
At some point – I think right after the song – I turned around to notice that one or two members of a Formula One team whom I know and who had been on the same flight with me and just got off, were filming me being filmed and playing my music for the Japanese TV people! Talk about a reversal of roles! I’m supposed to be doing stuff on the F1 people, not the other way around. But they were greatly amused, and in any case, I’d already jammed with that team in Singapore one night a couple of years ago after the race, so they knew about my musical adventure….
After speaking to the TV people, I had to sign a release form to say it was OK for them to use the footage if they wanted to. But I have no idea what channel it was, or whether it will make it to broadcast or not. What I do know is that it may have been a world-turned-upside-down experience from the moment I stepped off the plane into Japan, but it was only the first part of a loopy tale of Lost in Translation.
Seeking Out the Elusive Open Mic Space D45 in Osaka
I checked into my hotel and did a bit of work or something else, and then I set off for a bar that seemed to specialize in holding open mics. In fact, the bar is called: “Open Mic Space D45.” I found their page on Facebook, and from there I used the translator and saw that they had posted that yesterday it was an open mic all day long at the venue.
d45 open mic osaka
So knowing full well that any forays into the complicated world of a big Japanese city looking for an obscure address was inviting terror and confusion and certain defeat – for a foreigner who visits the country only for one short period per year – I decided nevertheless that I was here in this life in order to do such things, and I set off.
My iPhone was losing power at a fast clip, but I managed to find the metro stay, find the right train, and get off the metro and into the correct neighborhood of the open mic. But I then spent around 30 minutes going around in circles from street to street, block to block, building to building, and never, despite the GPS location device in the iPhone telling me where I was, never did I find the “Open Mic Space D45.”
Finding a French Restaurant in Osaka: Kitchen Coto Coto
But finally, when my iPhone did go dead – and I prayed I’d find my way back to the metro without it- I found myself standing in front of a Japanese/French restaurant, right next to where the open mic was supposed to be. And in there, I met a Japanese woman who was friends with the owner, and she spoke English because, naturally, she had once lived in Canada. So she asked, and no one knew of any music joint in the vicinity. So I decided that it did not matter, I’d already played for Japanese television at the Kansai Airport, and I’d marked my territory.
kitchen coto coto osaka
So I settled down for an excellent French-Japanese meal at “Kitchen Coto Coto,” some nice French wine and one of the best creme caramels I’ve ever had, outside Africa. (I’ll tell you more about that some other time.) And the woman who had worked in Canada opened up a notebook she had, in which she had drawn a map of France, and marked off dozens of the names and locations of great French cheeses – which she loves…as do I….
PS, I’ll see if I can get that video from the F1 team for posting here in the next few days….