Kyoto Cafes and Students in the 1970s

April 16, 2005

by Akiko Nakai; Mami Nishiyama

1. History of Cafes in the 1960s and 1970s

First, in the 60s students used to have many heated arguments about society and politics related to Japan in cafes, and they also focused on reading books related to Karl Marx. The reason is because at that time in Japan there were serious discussions about the Vietnam War, rising school fees, and the automatic renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

a musician of an utagoe cafe

Second, in the 70s, as the number of cafes increased, the variety of cafes also increased. For example, there were youshu cafes (for drinking foreign liquors like Scotch whiskey), utagoe cafes (where musicians sang songs with customers while playing guitar), ongaku cafes (for listening to music on the stereo), douhan cafes (where men and women could chat together), bijin cafes (where the owners were beautiful), dansu cafes (cafes for dancing), jun cafes (an ordinary, simple cafe), and muongaku cafes (where no music was played).


2. Ongaku cafes

Ongaku cafes were mainly divided into rock cafes, folk cafes and jazz cafes. In Kyoto, there were many ongaku cafes, and university students used to spend time here discussing current issues, listening to music, or singing antiwar songs (mainly at folk cafes). One reason why ongaku cafes were once popular is that most students didn’t have their own stereos, and the stereos of cafes were of high quality; it was the best way to listen to music. Also Western music greatly influenced students’ music sense, and the cafes were where students widened their musical horizons. Now folk cafes and rock cafes have changed to live houses. However, in Kyoto, some jazz cafes have existed for decades, and they remain the same as in the days when students used to spent time there enjoying jazz. So, why don’t we travel to the jazz cafes of that time?

3. Jazz Cafe

This tower is the monument of EXPO OSAKA.

In the 1970s, Japanese experienced some big events, such as Expo Osaka and the 1970 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. At the same time, the world of jazz was changing from modern jazz to free jazz. Therefore, in the 70s not only society but also jazz was changing as time flowed.

At that time, jazz cafes were full of university students and even high school students who didn’t have their own home stereos. Most jazz cafes prohibited chatting, so the patrons confronted jazz for hours with only a cup of coffee. That is to say, a style was being formed when people listened to jazz in the 1970s.

One point that we need to note is that Kyoto was the key place in Japan for jazz in the 1970s. That is because the jazz cafes in this city had the best audio systems compared to cafes in other big cities like Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka. Therefore, jazz fans rushed from all over Japan to Kyoto to enjoy jazz. Furthermore, at that time in the city, there were at least one or two jazz cafes near each university. Therefore, the jazz cafe would become a part of the life style of college students of that time.

The owner of Yamatoya, which is near Kumano Shrine, recalls an interesting story. At that time this cafe had a seating capacity of 30, and 30 customers were listening to jazz, their eyes closed as the owner played a record in the darkness. The music that those customers listened to was Left Alone by Mal Waldron, and the theme of the song was segregation. According to the owner of Yamatoya, the social sense of that time made this song attractive.
As the media says nowdays, it is a time to try to obtain peace with force and arms. However, in the 1970s there was a movement for people to try to confront the vicious aspects of society with nonviolence, as we can see from the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. In Japan, the place to confront the problems of society was often the jazz cafes.Students tried to change all of society, not only their own world,through the power of music.

4. Why Not Visit Jazz Cafes in Kyoto?

Why not add jazz cafes to your plan for sightseeing in Kyoto?If you do, you’ll definitely recognize that Kyoto has the ability to create a brand new society and culture and does not only exist as an historical city with many temples and shrines. That is because college students discussed society with youthful zeal at these cafes, and it created a variety of ongaku cafes.

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