Where to watch live music in Tokyo

Bands are returning to bars and cafés to reach new audiences, and it's putting a serious spring in our step
Living Room Cafe by eplus | Time Out Tokyo
Living Room Cafe by eplus
By Time Out Tokyo Editors |
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Words by William Bradbury

As CD sales continue to decline and music downloads increase, musicians in Tokyo have begun to reignite the live music scene. This way, new artists get the chance to promote themselves and established musos can appeal to new audiences, while you get to enjoy music the way it should be enjoyed – everyone wins, if you ask us. As an introduction to the casual live music scene in Tokyo, we’ve rounded up five of our favourite café-style venues, all offering something a little unique in terms of music and setting.

Restaurants

Living Room Cafe by eplus

icon-location-pin Shibuya

Shibuya has its fair share of live music clubs, but the latest addition to the lineup claims to be Japan’s biggest live music café yet. Combining music, food and art, Living Room Cafe by eplus (one of Japan’s most well-known ticket sellers) opened in July and features 1,200mÇ of floor space and 300 seats. It’s divided into five main areas including living, dining, patio, main bar and terrace room, which hints at the concept behind the name: you should feel as though you’ve been invited to an artist friend’s home to chill out and listen to music. The idea is to encourage people to stop by for nightly live music concerts. On weekdays, the entrance fee is ¥300 for the live performance area (when musicians are playing). On weekends, ticket prices vary according to performances and bear in mind that you might need to buy tickets in advance.

Daily 11am-midnight.

Restaurants, American

The Guinguette by Moja

icon-location-pin Shibuya

A five-minute walk from Shibuya Station, this restaurant featuring live shows is on the basement level of a three-storey café and shop called Moja. Oshare (stylish) is probably the best word to describe the interior. Colourful lanterns hang from the ceiling and the vibe is classy – in keeping with the ambience, the jazz musicians we watched performed in suits and top hats. The bands that play here are focused more on traditional genres like jazz and pop oldies rather than breaking new ground, but there’s an enthusiasm and upbeat atmosphere that makes it a fun night out even if the music isn’t something you’d usually listen to. Shows are scheduled about three times a week, starting at 7pm and finishing at midnight, and featuring a range of bands, DJs and other performers. We were even treated to a burlesque show as a warm-up to the main gig. It’s still family friendly, though: one customer had her young son with her and the burlesque dancer playfully placed a top hat on his head – definitely more sweet than sexy. The elegantly dressed audience is a mix of photographers, businessmen and groups of friends.

Mon-Thu 5pm-2am (Fri & Sat until 3am), closed Sun. Entrance ¥1,000-¥3,500.

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Music

440

icon-location-pin Shimokitazawa

Found in the ultra-hip neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa, this bar takes a softer approach to live music with mostly folk and acoustic sets. When we visited, the main act was a semi-famous Japanese comedy duo performing pop songs on guitar and piano, interjected with comedy skits. The indie Japanese musicians who play here are likely to be unknown to you. But the positive spin on this is that it gives you real insight into local culture. You could end up discovering some native talent that might otherwise never have crossed your path. Most of the venue is seated and drinks cost ¥600 each. Food options include fish and chips for ¥850, chilli con carne for ¥600, and chorizo for ¥700.

Entrance ¥2,500 to ¥4,000.

Music

Rooster

icon-location-pin Ogikubo

With live events almost every day and a bartender who occasionally performs magic tricks in between live performances, this intimate bar is one of our favourites. The music is mostly jazz and blues – the band we watched focused on interpretations of works by artists such as John Coltrane. The vibe is laidback and relaxed, and the interior is adorned with pictures of jazz greats such as Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Almost all the acts are Japanese and, although they’re not famous, the musicians are top level and clearly highly skilled. Rooster offers a snack menu with options such as pizza, salad, sausages and cheese for ¥500 per dish. Perhaps due to the traditional nature of the music, the bar seems to attract an older crowd, and it’s a place where you’ll feel just as home enjoying beers with friends as you will nursing a whisky on your own.

Shows daily from 7pm. Entrance ¥2,500-¥3,000.

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Nightlife, Alternative nightlife

Art Space Bar Buena

icon-location-pin Okubo

This art gallery come bar is one for the noise and electro fans. Their regular events, mostly on weekends, are not your average kind of gig. When we visited, audience members were encouraged to wear blindfolds, and in true punk-rock fashion one of the noise artists pushed his table of gear over as he ended his set (we’re not actually sure it was intentional, but hey, it made an impact). They also host rakugo (traditional Japanese comic storytelling) events in case you’re interested in experiencing another side of Japanese culture. Although the noise bands attract a more otaku crowd, Buena draws a mix of curious customers. There’s plenty of time to mingle after the show, and this is also a good time to order food as it’s hard to find space to eat while the performance is going on. The menu includes reasonably priced snacks such as chilli beans mixed with chickpeas and sausages for ¥500, and French fries with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream for ¥700.

Tue-Sun 7pm-1am. Entrance ¥1,000 when events are held (fee varies).

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