Tokyo Stories from Curious Outsiders

027 : Reuben Stanton in a jazz bar in Kichijoji, Musashino City
Born 1981 in Australia, Reuben Stanton currently works as a programmer, illustrator. He came to Japan on a tourist visa. Why Japan? Japan has an inexplicable drawing power, once you have been there once it is almost impossible not to return. He digs the following Tokyo bits: his friends; machines that say “thank you”; ramen; the impossible sound and light show every day of the week; Pocari Sweat He, however, is a touch miffed by the fact that he can't read yet, so is reduced to child-like status; the fact that he is a foreigner, so is treated like a child; the poor quality coffee; actually, the really bad, bad, coffee; the grass-free parks For more info on Reuben Stanton you should send an email or visit Absent Design.

image: Reuben Stanton

“Amongst the bottles and the obscure records and the crimson velvet walls”

We found the place by accident. Trying bars at random.

She must have been in her eary 20s. She was not classically pretty. She had a sadness, a kindness, a melancholy. She placed small plates of olives and crackers in front of us at the old man’s behest and I knew we were being charged just to sit down. She took her place at the other end of the bar next to the only other customer, a youngish, tired looking salaryman with his own whisky bottle and a half-empty glass. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The old man said something, too quiet for us to hear, and she smiled softly in return.

What is it like to be the daughter (I’m guessing, the daughter) of an old Japanese man? To be the daughter (yes, definitely his daughter) of the owner of a small jazz bar in Kichijoji?[1]

He seemed kind. The bar had a large cabinet filled with bottles of Suntory and Canadian Club, with tags and names handwritten in kanji. Many regulars, I guess, or many people who splurged one night and never came back. The amplifier on the stereo was one of those vintage valve affairs, and was featured on a poster near the doorway.

How many nights had she sat there, amongst the bottles and the obscure records and the crimson velvet walls? I desperately wanted to talk to her, but my Japanese was limited to “biiru futatsu kudasai”[2] and “eki wa dochira desu ka”[3] – hardly engrossing conversation. I tried to listen to what my friend was saying, tried to look away, while my wandering, drunken mind created its own history.

Her mother had died young, unexpectedly, tragically. She had travelled with her father to New York and Chicago to see where the real jazz was played.[4] But his dreams of being a professional musician had been too difficult to follow with his daughter in tow, and he had returned to Tokyo and opened this bar. He hadn’t wanted to return, and she knew this. That was years ago. Recently she had begun making excuses to help him out at the bar, but the real reason she came was that still, more than anything, she loved to watch him play.

He turned away, switched off the stereo, and collected the double bass that leant against the back wall. He stood poised, his eyes closed tight, his right hand index finger floating and ready to fall on the thick E string, warm and golden in the light.

As he played, she would close her eyes and gently sway to the music. Occasionally, when he played a certain phrase, a certain riff, she would smile, slowly, knowingly, as if the riff contained a personal joke, a message just for her.

referenced works

  1. Kichijoji lies about 15 minutes west of Shinjuku on the Chuo line, just outside the hullabaloo of Tokyo's twenty-three central wards. It's known for Inokashira Park and its art markets and swanboats on weekends, fashionable boutiques and cafes - and some token Showa-era nostalgia in the watering holes and food stalls and shacks huddled together in "Harmonica Alley" (ハモニカ横丁) just in front of the station - a reminder of Kichijoji's humble, boondock origins.
  2. "Two beers, please"
  3. "Where is the train station?"
  4. In fact, Tokyo is perhaps one of the most dedicated jazz cities in the world, along with New York and Paris. In postwar Japan, long before the advent of chain coffee joints, jazz kissa (cafes) (ジャズ喫茶)spread throughout the country. There you could order a cup of coffee, sit and browse comics, newspapers and magazines, while listening to jazz records on vinyl handpicked by the owner. There is a short history of jazz kissa here.

location information

  • Name: a jazz bar in Kichijoji
  • Time of story: late night
  • Latitude: 35.703553
  • Longitude: 139.579225
  • Map: Google Maps


019She laughed at my effort and responded in English, ‘Long time, no seduction.’ — Qi Rari

018In my dreamy state, oblivious to signs and announcements I often boarded the wrong train.— Momus (aka Nick Currie)

017I was fifteen years old and it was one of those nights.— Yuko Enomoto

016That ear of corn just wanted to go home— Guttersnipe Das

015With his painstakingly coiffured mane blowing in the wind— Digits Wolfowitz

014Her voice, even across languages, betraying her worry.— Olly Denton

013I saw them drawing bamboo sticks from a silver rectangular box.— Daphné Haour

012A simulacrum of someone else's home, equal parts comfort and loss.— Adam Greenfield

011Jumbled Escheresque insanity where geo­graphy in any traditional sense ceases to exist.— Joseph Badtke-Berkow

010I could hardly make out anything apart from his glowing eyes...— Uleshka

009Shibuya was like a stroke.— Alice.d

008I cried for a while and wiped the dead bracken off my karate pants.— David Cady

007Both my tie and my disposition hang limp as I calculate the remaining distance to the station.— Chris Tobber

006I once read about a Chinese maiden whose feet were unbound by a cruel man …— Claire Tanaka

005The Bad Girl strutted off and I was left with a ham egg pie.— Guttersnipe Das

004I arrived expecting an irritated Japanese person to step out of the crowd and identify himself as Hideki.— Ashley Rawlings

003The woman at the ticket window seemed surprised to see another human being. I was the only visitor.— Andrew Douglas

002Flanked on either side by adult manga shops and the like, the smell of yakitori in the air.— Jean Snow

001For two weeks the day began with this morning walk, our shared routine.— Joseph Squier


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