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.
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.
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….