CHECK IT: Inside Tokyo’s Audiophile venues…

Image courtesy of Resident Advisor.

I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve been absolutely itchy with a desire to hit the streets of Japan, and check out all things audiophile. My father traveled there in his 20s, and always has a special light in his eyes whenever the subject of that trip comes up, and he is able to regale whomever is present with stories of his time there. The fact that Japan is home to some of the most discerning, and legendary names in high-end audio, and to some of the most passionate, and intense audiophiles in the world is a big draw too. Some of the analog, horn-speaker systems that exist in Japan are the stuff of absolute legend, and this article at Resident Advisor that I stumbled across which focuses on the rarefied atmosphere of a number of super-exclusive clubs, bars, and listening venues in Japan is just too much for me to ignore, and not write a quick post to share it with PTA readers.

Typical, large-array horn system in Japan. Image courtesy of True-fi.

From the Resident Advisor article:

“The temperature drops a couple of degrees as the train crosses the Tama River heading toward Mt Fuji. The destination is Hachiōji, which sits on the westernmost edge of Tokyo. Stepping outside the station at night, Hachiōji feels like a smaller version of central Tokyo: neon advertising above, people scurrying around below. A short walk from here is a small basement venue called SHeLTeR, which Yoshio Nojima has been running since 1989.

SHeLTeR is the kind of place that gets audiophiles drooling. There’s a Bozak mixer, high-end amps and giant, ornate-looking JBL speakers. For 27 years, Nojima has been on a quest to perfect SHeLTeR’s acoustics. Rarely does a day go by when he doesn’t tinker with his setup in some subtle way. Foam and cardboard tubing line the walls and ceiling, dampening the sound’s reflection. DJs can use the record-cleaning fluid that Nojima’s friends make. In front of the booth, four comfy chairs are positioned facing away from the DJ and towards the main speakers. This, Nojima tells me, is where the music sounds best.”

–Aaron Coultate


Kobayashi Kazuhiro opened JBS (Jazz, Blues and Soul) 13 years ago. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bardawil, Vinyl Factory.

I also want to include this link to a Vinyl Factory article that also focuses on Japanese audiophile experiences. The article, by Cedric Bardawil, takes an up close, and personal look at a small jazz bar in Tokyo that revolves around a pair of Thorens TD-124 turntables, and which has been run for the last 13 years by Kobayashi Kazuhiro. Kazuhiro basically started up the venue as a way to have more space for his record collection, and to continue listening to music seamlessly when out of his home. A premise for opening a vinyl-themed speakeasy that I both wholeheartedly endorse, and plan to support when I get to Japan. From Bardawil’s story:

“Nestled away in the Shibuya district of Tokyo is a small bar named JBS. A modern take on the jazz kissaten or jazz café, it’s a refuge of sorts – a place to drink, smoke and most importantly listen to jazz. A concept popularised in Japan after the Second World War, there was a code of silence in many of these establishments, chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing the speakers with seats located for optimal listening (the sweet spot) taken first.

Music was at the centre of the experience, the volume was high as opposed to bars where jazz was played as background music. Drinks and often food were served, although they were secondary to the music, the menu was limited with an emphasis on quality and local produce. It’s well documented that Japanese poets, writers and artists would spend time at their local kissaten for inspiration. For jazz enthusiasts they were a means of discovering new music, an information point for imported records as well as a place to relax.”

–Cedric Bardawil





About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream