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Listening bars around the world influenced by jazz kissa culture

TOKYO >> Jazz kissa, or cafes with extensive collections of jazz records and high-end audio equipment for playing them, originated in Japan. Now listening bars, influenced by the culture of jazz kissa, are opening up worldwide as cozy places to enjoy music.

Jazz bars and jazz cafes in the West typically feature live performances. This seems to have made the jazz kissa arrangement, of listening to jazz recordings at bars, a novelty for people outside Japan. The setup allows customers solitary experiences, a draw during the pandemic.

Jazz and funk records turn out tunes at New York’s Eavesdrop listening bar. Customers look relaxed as they silently listen to the music.

Dan Wissinger, an owner of the bar, which opened in March, learned about jazz kissa on YouTube about five years ago and decided to open a bar himself. “I think what’s interesting is the respect for a record that I’ve heard happens in Japan,” he said.

He found the idea of letting customers listen to music, rather than dance, innovative.

In July 2021, Laurin Joel Schafhausen opened owls bar, a listening bar, in Bielefeld, Germany.

“The listening bar trend is a part of the big worldwide movement of ‘slow food’ or ‘mindfulness,’” he said. “We human beings have to learn to do things slower, and a listening bar, a jazz kissa, is a very good place to do things slowly.”

Jazz kissa first appeared in Tokyo around 1929 and reached its prime in the 1960s and ’70s. At the time, it was still difficult to bring jazz musicians to Japan from the U.S., so people instead enjoyed jazz music at jazz kissa. In time those establishments turned into listening bars that featured other genres of music as well.

According to editor Katsumasa Kusunose, 63, a listening bar expert, at least 50 such bars have opened worldwide in the past decade. The movement started around 2010, when foreign musicians touring Japan visited listening bars and discussed them on social media.

Jazz kissa in Japan are often operated as a hobby by owners, but overseas counterparts tend to be larger in scale, with substantial investments in equipment and interior spaces.

“Vinyl records and vintage audio equipment are in vogue globally. (Listening bars) are probably viewed as having good business potential,” Kusunose said.

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