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Big In Japan: Chicago Blues

It is ironic that while Japan is considered one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries, its music scene - specifically in Tokyo - is one of the most creative and diverse in the world.

Whatever a fan wants, Tokyo has it. Drum and bass? Japanese pop? If it exists, you can find it here.

Like big-name foreign acts? So do the Japanese: Billy Joel, Lenny Kravitz, Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are popular and find time to tour the Tokyo area. The summer brings two huge music festivals, Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic, which headline popular Japanese groups as well as foreign acts like My Bloody Valentine, the Sex Pistols and Death Cab for Cutie.

Are you a fan of club culture? That, too, is big in Tokyo. All-night venues like Womb, Unit and others host a variety of DJ music every night of the week. There is even a smattering of reggae and hip-hop thrown in the mix for good measure.

Still not satisfied? Maybe you need some blues or jazz? Tokyo mainstays like American bass great Paul Jackson sling soul while local musicians show their love for making foreign styles their own. A healthy amount of dark, smoky clubs that mark the genre are spread throughout the city.

Looking for something more . . . Japanese? Add J-pop, J-rock and traditional Japanese music to the mix and the result is a truly unique, and sometimes stupefying, Tokyo music experience.

When an urge for live music hit me Friday, I decided to visit one of Tokyo's best-known live blues/jazz clubs, Jirokichi.

Located in west Tokyo's bustling Koenji neighborhood, Jirokichi is this city's answer to the underground jazz and blues caverns of Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Upon entering, patrons are treated to a low-lit main room adorned with wall graffiti and avant-garde art - or as my companion for the evening put it, "something like post-modern confusion." A splash of the tropical can be found as well, as fake palm trees dot the club's corners.

According to legend, Jirokichi the Rat was the Robin Hood of 19th century Edo (now Tokyo). How appropriate, then, that after paying the 2,700 yen (about $26) cover charge, I felt a bit like I had been robbed. Even more disappointing was the manager's insistence that I not take any pictures. Oops!


Although advertised as a blues bar with "real black music," we were instead treated to a softly crooning Japanese songstress with a love for overly loud, slow and disappointingly long Japanese elevator-jazz ballads.


She is Akemi, the frontwoman for Akemi no Sekai (Akemi's World), and although she had decent pipes, by the end of the performance, it seemed I had heard "The Girl from Ipanema" a dozen times.

The experience was not all bad; the encore was a satisfying blues number about a painful breakup, and the ambiance of Jirokichi demonstrated why it has attracted a cult following for almost 30 years. And despite being fleeced on the cover charge, it cost only 600 yen (about $5.65, moderate for Tokyo) for a beer - and from what I hear, that's a bargain at Wrigley Field these days.



Previously in Big in Japan:
* Not Fukudome
* The Yokohama Cubs
* The Chicago Way
* Not The Olympics
* Charisma Man
* Not American Football
* J-Girl Style


Posted on October 21, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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