Kusonose said the idea was to share the stories with a wider audience. Vol.1 follows the trials of several jazz kissa that had to be rebuilt or restored in the Tohoku Region following the devastation of the magnitude-nine Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami in 2011. The disaster claimed more than 19,000 souls and forced the evacuation and relocation of almost 500,000 people.
Of the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, Kusonose wrote: “People can live so long as they have a place to eat and sleep. But, after all, people need music too. This special feature is the story of jazz kissa in Tohoku that revived from the catastrophe.”
I caught up with Kusonose via email to find out more, the following is an edited version of our conversation.
Resistor Mag: This is your first English language version of Gateway to Jazz Kissa, how many other volumes have you previously published in Japanese? How did you first hear about the story behind “Jazz Time Johnny” reopening, and why did you think this was an important one to cover?
Katsumasa Kusonose: “First of all, I will explain how Gateway To Jazz Kissa was born. This started in December, 2015 when we launched a website with the same name. Originally, I was planning to publish a book about jazz kissas all over Japan in 2014. However, due to illness, I had to stop publishing the book. But, it is a waste to leave all the materials, photography and interviews as they are, so I decided to create a website that summarizes information about jazz kissas nationwide. Until this site was created, we didn't know how many jazz kissas and jazz bars there were in Japan. I collaborated with people who went around jazz kissas to compile the data and posted a list and map of the stores on the site.
“In February 2017, the third year since launching this website, I learned that "Jazz Time Johnny" started a fund-raising activity for reconstruction. To inform people of this fundraising activity, we first posted the story of "Jazz Time Johnny" on our website. Donations were collected steadily, but by the end of 2017, the amount of donations was not as much as hoped, and the target amount was not reached yet. Once again, I thought it was necessary to boost fundraising activities, so I decided to publish an article on the website as a book. I decided to donate ¥500 per book from a list price of ¥1000. By publishing this book in November 2018, we were able to achieve the target amount of ¥8 million in September 2019.
I would like to publish an issue that introduces another aspect of Japanese jazz kissa – to satisfy the audiophiles – and there are various other projects.
“I published the English version this time because since I published #VINYL, I have received so many voices requesting the reissue of Gateway To Jazz Kissa VOL.1. However, as you can see by reading this book, even if you reissue this book in Japanese, I think that foreigners can hardly understand its contents and meaning. For this reason, I made it the English version.
“We have published a total of three volumes of Gateway To Jazz Kissa. A Japanese version, an English version of VOL.1, and a Japanese version of VOL.2. VOL.2 is the story of a jazz kissa called “Eagle” in Tokyo. It is one of Japan's leading jazz kissas, which has been in business for 52 years, but this spring, due to the influence of Covid-19, the survival of the store was jeopardized. This VOL.2 was issued in a hurry to support this store. All sales were donated to the store at a list price of ¥1000. Apart from this VOL.2, "Eagle" also sold its own booklets and goods and asked for support from the world, so the store is still open for the time being. Three hundred copies of VOL.2 sold-out at the shop, but we did an additional 100 copies. This VOL.2 is also sold on the sales site I run, but the sales here are used for various expenses such as printing costs.
“Another of the reasons for publishing the English version of VOL.1 this time is that many users overseas confuse #VINYL with Gateway To Jazz Kissa, so I wanted them understand the difference between these two media.”
RM: The “Jazz Time Johnny” story, “Vanguard” and “Pablo” stories focus on rebuilding or restoring jazz kissa. Was this theme planned or did one story lead to another and provide you with these foundations for part of the magazine?
KK: “The purpose of publishing the Japanese version of Gateway To Jazz Kissa VOL.1 was, first of all, to make everyone aware of the story of “Jazz Time Johnny.” However, this alone is not enough to make one book, so I had to make several other articles. For this reason, I interviewed three stores, “Vanguard,” “Café Koropokkur,” and “Pablo,” which are highly related to the Great East Japan Earthquake, like "Johnny," in the summer of 2018.
RM: It is fascinating that the Cafe Korpokkur is a kissa based less around vinyl records, and more on CDs and digital audio. This must surely be the exception and not the rule with kissa in Japan. Do you think there will be more kissa like this over time, or will vintage vinyl always be king?
KK: “Most jazz kissas and jazz bars in Japan use both records and CDs. There are overwhelmingly more people who are happiest to play records as many shop owners and customers like the sound sources from the ‘50s and ‘60s, which is also the reason why records are appreciated so much. On the other hand, there are some shop owners who have always thought that it is their mission to play new music at jazz kissas, and such shop owners want to actively play CDs as many new artists are not available on vinyl. Although very few stores are focusing on CDs from the perspective of audio, "Café Koropokkur" is one of them. In Nagoya, where I live, there is a store called "AONEKO" that only uses CDs, but most of the works from the ECM label are available here. I would like to see more stores like this, and I think there will probably be more. Records will continue to play a leading role in jazz kissa for some time.”
RM: This edition continues your commitment to high quality journalism and photography, I'm sure people will want to see more. What's next for Gateway for Jazz Kissa?
KK: “I am honored to have such a high evaluation. The next issue of Gateway To Jazz Kissa will be a magazine to donate a part of the sales to the jazz kissa that remodeled the store and reopened after losing the store due to the flood two years ago. I hope to publish a report of "Jazz Time Johnny,” which is scheduled to reopen in March next year, in the same issue. It is undecided whether the text will be in Japanese only or English as well. I have published all of the previous issues to donate to jazz kissas, but Gateway To Jazz Kissa is not a magazine for that purpose. I'm just doing what I should prioritize right now. After that issue, I would like to publish an issue that introduces another aspect of Japanese jazz kissas – to satisfy the audiophiles – and there are various other projects. However, it's a pity that I can't move because of Covid-19 now. I hope it will be a situation where I can interview freely as soon as possible.”