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Where you can find Good Music in Japan

Rediscovering the Legacy: Downbeat, Yokohama’s Beloved Jazz Kissa Since 1956



The well-established jazz café “Downbeat,” established in 1956, is presently attracting notice. Rather than experiencing a nostalgic revival, it is acknowledged as a lively and modern venue.

Music critic Mitsutaka Yanagura takes a closer look at its appeal. This is the sixth installment of the series “Where Good Music Meets Good Music.

Running Almost Seven Decades in the Town of Jazz Yokohama

Over the past few years, I have been repeatedly recommended “Downbeat” by friends. Downbeat is a long-established jazz cafe in Yokohama, and I had been there many years ago. I had been to Downbeat a long time ago, but it seemed to have changed a lot since then. My friends were all saying how special Downbeat was now. If they were so sure, I went to Yokohama.

Yokohama is also known as a jazz town, with many jazz cafes, jazz bars, and jazz clubs. After the war, from the mid-1940s to the 1950s, Yokohama had a district where military personnel working at U.S. military facilities in the city and Yokosuka lived, and there were many restaurants catering to Americans. Some of these stores catered to those seeking jazz, the most exciting music of the era as it transitioned from swing to bebop.

The jazz cafe “Chigusa,” established in 1933, was a place that played jazz records, which were difficult to obtain at the time, on its excellent audio system. In the mid-1950s, Yokohama was also home to the famous “Mocambo” nightclub, where “The Phantom “Mocambo” Session ’54” was recorded. If you read books about jazz in Japan, you will find that the young Sadao Watanabe, Akiyoshi Toshiko, and the legendary pianist Shotaro Moriyasu also frequented these clubs. In other words, Yokohama was the most important area for modern jazz in Japan.

Downbeat, founded in 1956, is another long-established jazz cafe that was part of the postwar jazz scene in Yokohama, along with other famous stores like Downbeat. Thousands of records lined up in the dimly lit store. The ceiling and walls are covered with clippings from the American jazz magazine “Downbeat” and old posters. Everything is the very image of a “so-called Showa-era jazz cafe. The interior of the cafe is said to have remained mostly unchanged since its relocation to Noge in the mid-1960s. Those who drop by for the first time will be surprised to see that such a space still exists in the 2025 era. I think it was in the mid-2000s when I first went there, and I remember how excited I was as if I had stepped back in time.

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