HOKKAIDO

Part Ib (general)

Jazz in japan

At first sight, one would almost wonder why one would put the words “jazz” and “Japan” in the same sentence. I had the same opinion and thus I was very much surprised that almost all music played in the cafés in Hokkaido was jazz. In addition, we “accidentally” had a surprisingly amusing Jazz night in Sapporo (I describe it further down).

And yet, the inter-wars period (and more specifically the 1920s) was the golden age of jazz in the Land of the Rising Sun. The first jazz café opened in 1933 in Osaka. In a context of progressive openness towards the West, this musical genre infiltrated big cities. Today, Japan has the largest jazz community in the world. 

A tribute LP album about Jazz in Japan (1947-1962).

A tribute LP album about Jazz in Japan (1947-1962).

Identifying the exact origin of the emergence of jazz in Japan is difficult, but it is clear that the increasing number of Japanese citizens traveling to the United States had its role to play. Their travels exposed them to this new style, a musical mix of African and American cultures. Back to their home country and in possession of recordings, they started sharing the music on a large scale; some Japanese groups even went as far as covering some of the songs. Make no mistake, however: Japanese artists did cover American songs, but they did so while adapting them to their own language and culture. Jazz at that time was not just a tool of expression and entertainment: it embodied the growing influence of the United States.

Culture is a main component of a country’s capacity to influence others, that is to say a component of a country’s “soft power”. “The post-war Occupation (ten years) provided Japanese their initial heavy firsthand exposure to the music. American military presence allowed jazz to grow and prosper in cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, but also Osaka. Osaka’s entertainment district, Dōtonbori, had already been at the heart of jazz celebrations in the 1920s thanks to numerous dance halls; it had even been nicknamed the “Japanese jazz mecca”.

This was an opportunity for Japanese artists to develop their passion for this musical genre and be professionally recognized. At that time, jazz was perceived as an alienation of all things American: Japanese musicians had to adapt it progressively, “Japanese style”, by using traditional instruments such as the Tsuzumi, Japanese court music melodies, or aesthetics inspired by Zen Buddhism. Nevertheless, no fusion occurred between traditional Japanese music and jazz, as had been the case with Afro-Cuban, Caribbean, Latin, or Brazilian music, amongst others. All these places that had, even if differentiated, African slavery in common. The phenomenon was both musical and cultural, be it in terms of scales, instruments, and social relations to music, to the extent that Japanese jazz has established itself as a unique and original style.

Nowadays, Japanese jazz has freed itself from American influence and constitutes a genre in its own right thanks to the various jazz schools that have been founded since the late 1960s. The city of Osaka is still at the heart of the movement.

A jazz night in Sapporo -the highlight of my Hokkaido holidays? Japanese food is interesting but let’s be realistic: it is not something you can eat every day during your japanese holidays. Personally, I do not value much the Japanese food in general.

Before visiting Hokkaido, I read an article about “umami-rich, Italian-inspired, 'wafu-style' pasta”. So, several times I discussed with my co-travelers that we need to have some European food, literary some pasta if possible.

So, we checked all “Italian” restaurants in our area, and after some search we decided to go to the one located closer to our apartment. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, as we could not find a parking place near the restaurant. Besides, it was raining that night, which made searching more difficult. Some days later, we decided to go on food and try to find the place. We found the restaurant located on the 2nd floor of a commercial building (click here for directions) which over the entrance says "This-1", just next to the Shiroishi metro station of the Tozai line.

Beautiful audience.

Beautiful audience.

He explained to us that there was a jazz night later that evening, so on top of the price of the food, there is an extra of 1500 yen per person for of the music. We though “oh well, it’s going to be a torture night… what the hell...jazz in japan?”. Nevertheless, we decided to sit down as we were hungry. Three people were already rehearsing music just 2 meters away from the table we were asked to sit at. Those were the musicians of the Jazz piano trio called "K's Mood" ("K"eiko Tanemura on piano, "K"-ichoro, bass and Sohei "K" on drums). 

The proprietor of the restaurant (on the left) taking pictures of the birthday lady.
The entrance to the restaurant (top left). Part of the decoration (rest of the pictures).

The entrance to the restaurant (top left). Part of the decoration (rest of the pictures).

I must mention here that it is very common in Japan to have restaurants and cafes on high floors of buildings, which usually have no sign at all outside and no guidance about the floor the restaurant is located, etc. I suppose locals know where to find them, but for tourists this is rather strange.

The restaurant was a peculiar (in a nice way) place, decorated with an assortment of old vinyl (western music) records and old household appliances, musical instruments, and other memorabilia. There were not more than 4-5 tables in there, two of them big enough to squeeze 6-8 persons around them.

An old, lean Japanese man, obviously the proprietor of the restaurant, happily approached to welcome us and ask if we had a reservation. There were already 3-4 people sitting around a table. We said that we had no reservation, and he replied that "it’s ok all good people can fit in his restaurant". 

The

The "K's Mood" jazz trio.

The proprietor was coming and going happily all the time  asking if we were satisfied with food and everything. What surprised me is that he was very open and cheerful and did not avoid body contact, which is rather unusual for the Japanese people, who are reserved towards the foreigners.

He was really amused when we told him we are coming from Greece (Girisha, in Japanese) and he happily told everyone in the room that his new friends are coming all the way from Girisha to eat his pasta and enjoy his music.

In the meanwhile, more people were coming in. All of them seemed to know each other giving the idea of a big party of friends. At some point a birthday cake arrived at the big table and everyone started singing “happy birthday to…”.

At 19:30 the three musicians gathered and started playing beautiful jazz music. We were starting to feel nicely among that big Japanese party of happy people. We started to laugh with the jokes the basso player was making ("K"-ichoro), even though we could not understand a single word! At some point "K"-ichoro, a man in his early thirties with a grey ponytail, looked at us and said something including the word “Girisha”; and then everyone looked towards us and started clapping joyfuly. It was one of those moments you feel enthusiastic, because you entered in a state you never thought you will enter.

After about an hour of music playing, came the highlight of the night: a middle-aged charming lady steped in the scene, "Miyako", the guest star of the night. She captivated all our attention for as long as she sang well known American songs. At the end of the night, we were all so happy and satisfied. Was it real? Were we ever expect something like that? How lucky we were not to find the place the first night! We left the restaurant, having promised the proprietor that we’ll return one of the next evenings (we never managed to) and we sang jazz songs all the way back to our apartment. It was one of those moments you feel thankful for traveling and absorb all these experiences that make life interesting and worth living.

The proprietor of the restaurant (on the left) taking pictures of the birthday lady.

"Miyako", the guest star of the night.

Coffee culture

Most people wrongly believe that coffee in Japan is a western invasion that came into the country with the Seattle-born coffee company. In the contrary, Japan is home to one of the world’s most exciting coffee cultures. This may come as a surprise to the uninitiated, who assume green tea is the chief caffeinated beverage, but Japan is among the world’s largest importers of coffee. Experts at manual brewing techniques such as siphon and pour over (a.k.a. hand drip), Japanese coffee-making has had a far-reaching effect on the modern movement.

Coffee has been considered an ordinary, everyday Japanese beverage since the early 1900s. Unlike other imports that retained their Western “scent,” coffee became naturalized quickly.

It arrived in Japan by the Dutch in the 17th century, Japan’s sole trading partner during the Edo period, and used originally for medicinal purposes as well as by Japanese prostitutes in Nagasaki as a stimulant.

Japan’s first coffee shop we have records about was founded in 1888: Kachiichakan in Tokyo, which was promoted as a place for the younger generation to gather and socialize. By the end of the nineteenth century, Brazil – today’s largest coffee producer – had chosen Japan “as their first targeted, overseas market.” In 1907, the first coffee chain in the world was established in Tokyo and Osaka: the Paulista group. It was a huge success. 

Until fairly recently, siphon was the most popular method of making coffee in Japan. A French and German invention, it was introduced by the Dutch when they were in residence in the bay of Nagasaki from 1641 until 1853. At specialty coffeeshops, espresso is becoming increasingly common. But at "kissaten", you’re likely to find pour over coffee, each cup individually hand-dripped. Pour over is the reigning style of coffee-making in Japan.

Kissaten offer a unique coffee experience. You can usually identify a kissaten by its retro styling – the décor and furnishings commonly date back to the 1950s or 60s. They have a comfortable, nostalgic vibe and a slower pace than modern coffee shops. The dark wood decoration and especially the wooden big bar (which in small coffeehouses, it literary occupies the full place) and the old style bar stools give that unique ambient to the kissaten. Another characteristic of the kissaten is that jazz is the prevailing music one can here into these establishments.

Old warehouses have been transformed into beautiful coffeehouses and if there is not an old building available, a new one will be made to look old! In recent years several kissaten opened more than one branch and in their shops sell also coffee beans, ground coffee and other memorabilia to buy. Coffee is served in Japanese traditional tableware or fine china and it is more expensive than in Starbucks or Dotour (Japan’s first indigenous chain retailers), for example: a cup costs isually from ¥400-700. In a kissaten you can enjoy your coffee together with a small but delicious piece of cheesecake (the NY style) or a tasty sandwich or a light meal.

In Hokkaido, kissaten are mostly independent coffee shops, which import beans from coffee-growing countries around the world, such as Guatemala, Rwanda, Kenya, Indonesia and Thailand. Beans tend to be roasted and ground on site in small batches. Most of them make hand-drip coffee and there are no espresso machines. Another characteristic is that every time you order coffee, they will ask you “hot or cold”. Even in winter, cold coffee is equally popular than in the summer months. Iced coffee in Japan is not like the iced coffee you find in other countries (like in Greece, for example, where we believe we are the only people on this planet who drink iced coffee!): it is not just cold espresso or instant coffee, but really tasty and aromatic coffee. The cold brew processes are slow and consistent, capturing subtleties of flavor, most probably not experienced elsewhere.

One of the Miyataya coffee houses in Sapporo, which is housed in an old warehouse.

One of the Miyataya coffee houses in Sapporo, which is housed in an old warehouse.

Note: A drawback of the traditional cafés in Japan, is smoking. Smoking is allowed in most of them. When the size of the coffeehouse permits it, there are separated rooms for smokers and non-smokers (usually smokers get the best place, or the second floor is there is one). But this segregation is not efficient all the time. The very small cafés usual allow smoking in their premises, which can be very disturbing, especially during the cold months, when doors and windows have to remain shield.

Starbucks in Japan are clean, the coffee is reasonable and the perfect place to see all kind of people.  Certainly a place not only for coffee

Starbucks in Japan are clean, the coffee is reasonable and the perfect place to see all kind of people. Certainly a place not only for coffee

While in Hokkaido I went on coffeehouse hunting and visited a different one (or more than one) every day. A real experience, not to be missed.

While in Hokkaido I went on coffeehouse hunting and visited a different one (or more than one) every day. A real experience, not to be missed.

Here are some of the many coffee shops I visited in Hokkaido (mainly is Sapporo) and their addresses (via live links guiding to Google maps). I recommend you to do your own search and do not hesitate, whenever you see a place that looks interesting, to call in and take a look; most probably you will love the place.

Miyataya coffeeshop, Toyohira. Miyataya has several coffee shops around Sapporo, but this I believe is the most impressive, housed in a big warehouse in the suburbs of the city, east of Toyohira river. The second Miyataya, which I also liked very much, is housed in a warehouse, too, but a smaller one. The third Miyataya I visited, is the fisrt that opened, at the place of a private small house. The site of Miyatayais in Jpanese only, but one can at least find the locations of all their coffeeshops. At all Miyataya coffeeshops, besides coffee, one can enjoy cakes, snacks and light meals like sandwiches or pasta. 

Coffee served into beautiful china and a delicious piece of cheesecake: typical serving in a traditional cafe.

Coffee served into beautiful china and a delicious piece of cheesecake: typical serving in a traditional cafe.

Miyataya coffeeshop.

Miyataya coffeeshop.

Miyataya: more than just beautiful coffee.

Miyataya: more than just beautiful coffee.

Miyataya interiors.

Miyataya interiors.

Miyataya exteriors.

Miyataya exteriors.

The building which hosts the two cafes:  Mingus Café and World Book Cafe.

The building which hosts the two cafes: Mingus Café and World Book Cafe.

Mingus Café is located at the 7th floor of the building. It is a very small café with a big bar and no more than five tables, but it has a very charming little veranda, where, weather permitting (do not forget we are in Sapporo and raining is almost a daily possibility), you can enjoy impressive urban vistas, while drinking your aromatic coffee.


On the 5th floor of the same building is located one of the most popular and beautiful cafés in Sapporo. World Book Cafe occupies the full 5th floor and among books (in English, too) you can enjoy your coffee and cake. The place has a lounge ambient.

❤ In the very center of Sapporo, one block away from Sapporo Tower there are two cafés located at the same building block. From the outside the building has no indication about the coffeeshops, but after entering the street door leading to the stairs and the elevator there is a floor index. At the street level of the building there is a yellow-brick restaurant.

Worldwide Book Cafe.

Worldwide Book Cafe.

Mingus Café.

Mingus Café.

World Book Cafe.

World Book Cafe.

❤ A couple of blocks to the south, opposite the Nijo fish Market, there is another nice little café. It is very small (like many cafés in Sapporo) but serves excellent cold coffee. It is called “Café de PHΨΤΟΝ” and smoking is allowed.

“Café de PHΨΤΟΝ”.

“Café de PHΨΤΟΝ”.

❤ The first 'Morihico café' opened in Maruyama, Sapporo in 1996. This little coffee shop housed in a fairytale-like private house is very popular and unfortunately at peak hours there is a waitlist. It is in a quiet street of a residential area, not far away from the Maruyama Zoo and Sapporo Shinto Shrine. Soon after the opening of its first café, Morihico brand became a big roaster and the love for café of his owner resulted in the opening of more cafés in the Sapporo area. On September 2016, "Morihico" opened the first Book & Cafe shop at Kiyota-ku, Sapporo, with the collaboration of Tsutaya bookshop chain. “Atelier Morihico” is in central Sapporo, close to the western end of Odori park. “Morihito Plantation” (southeast of Toyohira River) is a very fashionable place that combines the café culture with the industrial look. “Morihico Stay&Coffee” combines a modern café with a boutique hotel. All together there are thirteen different Morihico coffeehouses.

The first Morihico café opened in Maruyama, Sapporo in 1996 (central picture). “Morihico Stay&Coffee” (left two pictures). Morihico coffee and cakes (two right cakes).

The first Morihico café opened in Maruyama, Sapporo in 1996 (central picture). “Morihico Stay&Coffee” (left two pictures). Morihico coffee and cakes (two right cakes).

Miyakoshiya Coffee is another café chain, which has long history in the coffee business and has opened several shops around Sapporo. “Maruyama Sakashita Miyakoshiya” is the chain’s main store. Modern and spacious, this store is located very close to Sapporo Shinto shrine. Miyakoshiya’s most central coffeehouse is located just a couple of blocks north of Susikino Station in the heart of Sapporo. Miyakoshiya “THE CAFÉ” is the most beautiful coffeehouse of the chain. It is housed in a two-storey modern building, from the windows of which you see only the green foliage of a park. On the upper floor there is a collecton of musical instruments. It is the perfect place to relax and have great coffee after your trip up to Mount Moiwa on the ropeway.

“Maruyama Sakashita Miyakoshiya” is the Miyakoshiya’s main store.

“Maruyama Sakashita Miyakoshiya” is the Miyakoshiya’s main store.

Miyakoshiya “THE CAFÉ”.

Miyakoshiya “THE CAFÉ”.

❤ Close to the “THE CAFÉ” there is a store that sells fishing equipment and clothes. It is a housed in a Sapporo listed historic building at the foothills of Mount Moiwa, very close to the Moiwa Ropeway lower building. It is not a coffeehouse per se, but also serves coffee, tea and ice cream in a beautiful building.

The store that sells fishing equipment and clothes. It is a housed in a Sapporo listed historic building at the foothills of Mount Moiwa and functions also as a cafe.

The store that sells fishing equipment and clothes. It is a housed in a Sapporo listed historic building at the foothills of Mount Moiwa and functions also as a cafe.

Café de Roman is located at the east slope of Mount Moiwa. It is actually a pastry house and a café. The special characteristic of the shop is its outside terrace which overs views over the valley of Toyohira River in front of it.

"Cafe de Roman", Sapporo.

"Café Noel" (カフェ・ノエル) is a nice café, housed in a bright red painted house, opposite the grounds of Sapporo Hitsujigaoka observation hill. Minimalistic and beautiful place that serves great roast either at the bar downstairs or the bigger space upstairs.

Cafe Noel, Sapporo.

Cafe Noel, Sapporo.

The patio of

Cafe Moeru is certainly the most interesting and beautiful little café in Sapporo. It is located close to the Moerenuma Park’s East Parking Lot (E1) and we accidentally saw it on our way to central Sapporo after having visited the Moerenuma Park. The café is really small, and it is heavily decorated with old vinyl records and vintage staff. It is probably the most characteristic kissaten in the area. The shop itself has space only for the wooden bar and a small number of bar stools. It also has an outside sitting area in the front (by the street).

The patio of "Cafe Moeru".

The proprietors of

The proprietors of "Cafe Moeru".

A beautiful old couple, who speaks English very well run the café. We sat at the outside area waiting for the coffee, when the man (who left his work at his countryhouse/farm at the back of the shop, when he saw us) came and sat with us for a conversation. He was surprised I can drive on the left side of the road and in general he was very enthusiastic talking with people coming from the faraway Girisha (Greece). Do not miss this place and when you go give to the couple my warm regards (mention the only people from Greece who visited the place and they will remember).

Inside

👍In the public transport, during weekdays, till early in the evening, you see only senior citizens and women.

👍They are obsessed with foreign products and mostly the French way of living; so they give to restaurants and cafes funny names like: Vie de France, Crepes de Giraffe, Café de crie, mon lapin, etc.

An order machines in a Sapporo restaurant.

It's all japanese to me, too

An order machines in a Sapporo restaurant.

👍 Many restaurants (the cheaper ones) have "order machines" by the entrance, at which the customer gives his order. Insert cash and from several menus you choose your dish or beverage. For every item of the order you get a printed little paper, which you handle to the staff before you take your seat in the restaurant. Machines give back change. If you are lucky, the menu items will have an English translation, otherwise ask from someone to help you with your order. May God be with you!

Vending machines are virtually omnipresent in Japan.

Vending machines are virtually omnipresent in Japan.

👍One aspect of the country that continues to strike me every time I return: the overwhelming abundance of vending machines. The proliferation of vending machines is impossible to ignore. They are on nearly every block, down alleyways, in front of convenience stores, in areas both residential and commercial, inside shops and hotels, in faraway streets, in the middle of nowhere. They are as much part of the Japanese life, as are the conbini stores. At slightly over 5 million nationwide, Japan has the highest density of vending machines worldwide.

There is approximately 1 vending machine per every 23 people, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association. And they are marked by an incredible variety. The machines sell any number of types of soft drinks, coffee, tea, cigarettes, candy, soup, hot food, and even sake and beer. 

How to poo instructions in a shop toilet (left). How to prepare your eel teishoku dish at the reastaurant (right).

How to poo instructions in a shop toilet (left). How to prepare your eel teishoku dish at the reastaurant (right).

👍They are so obsessed with instructions. Wherever you are you see instructions of how to use any machinery and not only! Instruction for how to shit in a toilet, how to enter in a car, how to wear your cloths, how to open a door, how to use the flush, how to use the parking, how to use the flashlight (necessary in every house), etc. It seems like if there are no instructions people will not survive for more than few hours.

👍One should expect from a country like Japan that Wi-Fi signals is very good if not excellent. You will be disappointed because the signal not only of the public networks, but also the private ones at home really sacks. Oh well, no one is perfect! 

👍Like in Chinese cities, in Japan there are public toilets everywhere. Public toilets maybe of the traditional type, which is just a hole on the ground or of the super-advanced technologically "washlet" type. And of course, there are instructions nailed on the toilet walls to inform you how to use a toilet….in case you do not know!

👍Japanese are known for their persistence to ritual. This often becomes annoying! Just try to check in to a traditional hotel (with Japanese style rooms) and they will explain to you for hours again and again the procedures of making your bed, of taking your bath at the common onsen, of wearing your yukata, etc 

👍Recently, Japan seems a lot like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Over the last twenty or so years, the crow population in Japan has simply exploded. They’re not quite pecking people to death, but they’ve nonetheless become an avian menace. Crow has become the “national bird” of Japan. They’re bigger and meaner than their western counterparts and haven’t been playing nice with others. Throughout Japan, these crows have attacked people, stolen food from children, plucked small animals out of Japanese zoos, caused power outages, and downed internet lines. They are a nuisance. There are signs around to warn you about their aggressiveness, when they are after your food. 

Me in a traditional yukata.

Me in a traditional yukata.

Crows in Shikotsu lake.

Crows in Shikotsu lake.

"Beware of the crows" poster at a picnic area in Shikotsu lake area.

👍The Japanese modern urban and suburban architecture is based on the “cube”. Houses usually are simple two-storey cubes which have two windows on each floor façade, and the bigger and more complex ones are a combination of cubes, put one on the other. Modern/haute architecture follows also the "cube" simplicity. Few old wooden houses have survived as well as some stone warehouses.


You see the Japanese do not have the conservation attitude the way we have it in Europe: to keep whole cities or neighborhoods the way they used to be. Someone told me that modern buildings in Japan have a life cycle of only 20 years.

Contemporary urban houses in Sapporo.

Contemporary urban houses in Sapporo.

Modern architecture (1st & 2nd picture from the left), rural architecture (3rd picture) and one of the very few wooden houses that have survived in urban Sapporo (far right).

Modern architecture (1st & 2nd picture from the left), rural architecture (3rd picture) and one of the very few wooden houses that have survived in urban Sapporo (far right).

Charming old wooden houses like the one on the right are turned down giving space to modern ones.

Charming old wooden houses like the one on the right are turned down giving space to modern ones.

Food

Food: the most interesting topic! Food is a major means to discover the culture of a country and as such it is treated in Part II (food) of my narrating about the month I spent in Hokkaido.

Sapporo and beyond

You can read all about Dowtown Sapporo here and all about the atractions at the Suburbs of Sapporo here.

In Part III of this Hokkaido travel guide you will read all about the attractions Beyond Sapporo.