Top 5 Venues in Tokyo for Experimental and Improvised Music
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
Tokyo is a Mecca for experimental music and boasts more specialised music venues than probably anywhere in the world. There are too many to mention, but this post will run down our top 5 favourite venues for improvised and experimental music in Tokyo.
1. Shinjuku Pit Inn
ONJQ - Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet @ Shinjuku Pit Inn
The Pit Inn is the most established venue on the list, first opening its doors in 1966. It's on the jazzier end of the spectrum, but they program plenty free jazz and improvised music. The Pit Inn is one of Otomo Yoshihide's favourite Tokyo venues so if it's OK with him, it's OK with us.
The Pit Inn is the place to see some of Tokyo's most creative jazz and improvising musicians. This is where you'll be able to see Otomo Yoshihide, Jim O'Rourke, Akira Sakata, Yosuke Yamashita, Keiji Haino and other top Japanese and international musicians.
English Website: http://pit-inn.com/e/
Ftarri is a label, venue and record store - a must for any experimental music fan visiting Tokyo. The record store is impressively focused and dedicated to improvised, noise, free jazz and experimental music.
The venue is one of the best listening spaces in Tokyo and most gigs end with an after-party, so it’s a great place to meet like-minded people. The label has many releases from legendary Japanese and international artists such as Toshimaru Nakamura, Hirose Junji, Taku Sugimoto, Axel Dorner, Tetuzi Akiyama, Kazuo Imai and Roger Turner.
Tetuzi Akiyama at Otooto
Otooto is a little tricky to find but worth the mission. It is situated near Shimokitazawa, which is a great neighbourhood with lots of live house and places to eat and drink. Otooto is small, but it is a great listening space dedicated to improvised music.
Otooto is similar to Ftarri as it doesn’t have a bar, but you can bring your own drinks. Most gigs have an after party so it’s always a good hang. They also have a great website featuring profiles of Japanese improvising and experimental musicians.
Not far from Otooto is the home away from home Apollo also in Shimokitazawa. The hole-in-wall venue is a base for many of Tokyo’s creative jazz and improvising musicians who want a space to stretch out and hang without pretence.
Another small venue with excellent acoustics and it’s is always intimate and up-close at Apollo. It is free entry most nights with a small bar charge. Bar owner Miura-san is always up for working his English, so don’t be shy to start a conversation.
5. Bar Isshee
Sakata Akira (sax)/Yoshida Tatsuya (drums)/Uchihashi Kazuhisa (guitar) at Bar Isshee
Bar Isshee is situated in North Tokyo and is the second incarnation of the venue. Named after the owner Ishi-san, it is a place with an established history and a go-to for many musicians due to its great sound and intimate feel.
The vibe is very casual, but once the music starts, it’s all business from the usually small but attentive crowd. It’s free entry most nights with a one-drink minimum from the bar. As with Apollo, it operates on the ‘nagesen’ system of passing the hat around after the gig - we recommend only putting in notes (¥1000 minimum).
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/BarIsshee/
Special Mention: SuperDeluxe
Jim O'Rourke, John Duncan, Oren Ambarchi & Joe Talia @Super Deluxe, Tokyo 2013
R.I.P. SuperDeluxe. What a killer venue. Sadly, it closed its doors early 2019. For close to 20 years, under the guidance of Mike Kubek, SuperDeluxe resided over all things Tokyo-cool. It was a multi-purpose space, but it is best known for its live gigs with a healthy balance of local and international line ups from Merzbow to Brotzmann.
SuperDeluxe hosted Test Tone which was curated by Tokyo man-in-the-know Cal Lyall. It was a rare free gig which was the meeting point for many international and Tokyo-based artists. With outstanding sound and three projector screens, it was a stellar venue that will be missed.