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Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Japan Edition

October 15, 2013

Live House JapanOsaka, Japan – For my 14th city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Japan page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

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.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Japan Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on venues.

Falling into a Jam in Nagoya – and Loving It

October 7, 2012

I played music on the first two nights in Nagoya, feeling completely satiated and happy and full of a sense of achievement. So I said to myself on my third night, last night, that I would just simply relax, go to a restaurant, take it easy, not look for a place to play and get to bed early. And then all hell broke loose….

I finished the meal and started walking the several kilometers from the center of the city in Sakae out to my hotel in Imaike. I had been eating and drinking a fair amount in recent days and I thought I could use the exercise of a nice long quick walk. It was a great pleasure. I ended up being slightly unsure of my route, though, but decided that for the sake of adventure, I would just keep walking in that direction and see where it led.

It led precisely to the intersection where I knew I had to turn left to get to my hotel. And as I turned left, I suddenly heard the sound of live music coming from a stairwell. I was about three minutes walk from my hotel, and there I saw a sign that said: Jam Session….

I quickly descended the stairs and found the warmest, coolest, ramshackle underground bar I could imagine, and it was brimming full of Japanese people listening to a bunch of Japanese musicians on a cool stage area playing the blues. I asked the woman behind the bar – who approached me – what time the jam went on to, and she indicated 2 AM.

“I’ll be right back!” I said, pointing at the guitars on the wall to indicate I was going to get my own. After all, it was only then just 10 PM.

So I went to my hotel, took out my guitar and sang a song to warm up my voice, and then I ran off again to the bar, which I later learned was called Nanbanya, and has a weekly jam on Saturday nights. Or most Saturday nights.

The first guy I talk to turns out to be the importer for all of Japan of Godin guitars, which is the company that makes my Seagull S6 – although he does not import the Seagulls, only the Godins. The night, I knew immediately, was going to be immense.

It was. I played three times, getting invited twice more after my first time up, and I met several interesting people, saw some amazing musicians – check out the absolutely nuts guitar players, the young Japanese guy with the Hendrix T-shirt, and the Peruvian with the Gibson….

Man, this was a dream night. I never knew anything like this existed in Nagoya, and I happened to stumble upon it next to my hotel after deciding to walk home and making a mistake in navigation. This is proof that everything we want in life lies just around the corner, and sometimes we will just stumble across it – so don’t give up!

Playing at the R&B Melrose in Nagoya, Japan

October 6, 2011

First night in Japan, first night lucky. I had a cheap meal of noodles – very good – and then made my way directly over to the R&B Melrose bar in Nagoya. I first played here two years ago, and when I returned last night, the owners not only remembered me, they actually had a piece of scrap paper on which I had drawn a little map-like thing showing the location of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

This is a very cool bar that has a full stage of equipment – drums, Marshall amps, microphones, and a collection of guitars, all there for the public. It is a cross between an open mic and a jam session, and last night I realized that it reminded me a lot of the Actors’ bar in Singapore. You can show up several days of the week and take the stage either alone or in a group, or joining people who are present, and play whatever you please.

So it is indeed an open mic, and a jam. The owners love music, and just let people play what they want, while making sure that each client has a chance to play. A really classy place.

Last night I played alone, and then with the drummer. Then I ended up playing with all the other musicians and we did a lot of songs, and I got a lot of them on video – me, a bass player, two guitarists and the drummer. But the videos are too long for the blog and I’ll save them for bits in my documentary film.

For the moment, though, I have the What’s Up video and a couple of others of the other guys jamming.

What luck, first night and I scored! (Well, yes, musically, I mean.)

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