100 Years of Kobe Jazz
In 1923, Ichiro Ida, a violinist with the Takarazuka Revue orchestra, formed Japan’s first jazz band, the Laughing Stars, in Kobe. At first, jazz was mainly performed at dance halls. That same year an influx of musicians fleeing from Tokyo in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake led to many new venues opening in Osaka and Kobe.
During the World War II years, jazz was shunned as the music of the enemy. Soon after the end of the war, however, the Allied occupying forces bands that were camped in Kobe and its surroundings rekindled its popularity. Jazz cafés sprang up across Japan in the 1950s, attracting a dedicated following. In Kobe, most venues were in the Kitano, Sannomiya and Motomachi areas.
The city still celebrates its jazz traditions with a number of big jazz events throughout the year. The preeminent jazz festival, Kobe Jazz Street, was launched in 1982, featuring street performances and shows at local live jazz clubs. It has become an anticipated annual event, and was even held after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 in an effort to bring cheer to the devastated city.
In 2014, musicians, the local government and business interests came together to form Jazz Town Kobe, an organization to promote Kobe’s jazz culture throughout Japan. April 4 has been designated Kobe Jazz Day (marking the formation of the first jazz band in April 1923 with the fourth chosen for the four-beat rhythm common to jazz). Kobe also has a youth jazz orchestra, made up of players from elementary, junior, and senior high schools.
Kobe Jazz Events in 2023
This year, 2023, is the 100th anniversary of jazz in the city and special events are planned throughout the year. The city is changing the melodies played at major train stations to jazz, and using jazz as background music on buses and in various venues. Visitors to the city will want to keep their ears peeled for old and new favorites.
Infiorata Kobe Kitanozaka
May 3 - 5, 2023
Not a music event, but an annual display of giant street artworks created from flower petals in this popular area known for its international flavor. This year, however, the theme is Kobe Jazz 100th, which is especially pertinent given the prominence of jazz clubs around here.
21st Kobe Shinkaichi Ongakusai (Music Festival) + Kobe Jazz 100th
May 13 - 14, 2023
The Kobe Shinkaichi Ongakusai is a popular annual event which will be held this year in a collaboration with the Kobe Jazz 100th celebration. Over 200 groups will perform on the main stage in Minatogawa Park and other stages in the Shinkaichi shopping street.
Spring Jazz Cruise
June 11, 2023
This jazz event by the water at Harborland Kobe has been hosted by university students from around the Kansai region since 2008.
Hyogo Terroir Journey Kobe Jazz 100th Anniversary Live
July 1, 2023 (11:30 - 15:00)
A live jazz event held in conjunction with a Hyogo destination campaign inside the Duo Kobe underground shopping arcade, which links JR Kobe Station with the Harborland shopping precinct.
Kobe Jazz Academy Students Live
Sep 24, 2023 (11:00 - 16:30)
Free jazz performances by junior and senior high school students from around Hyogo Prefecture along with guest professional musicians. The venue is the Space Theater under Kobe Harborland Center Building.
40th Kobe Jazz Street
Oct. 7 and 8, 2023
The oldest jazz event in Japan, with performances at nine venues. Tickets are required, and allow entry to all venues. The cost is ¥4,600 yen for one day, ¥8,700 yen for both days (¥4,100 / ¥7,700 in advance).
There is also a jazz street parade from 11:00 on both days, starting from Ikuta Shindo near Hankyu Sannomiya Station, heading up Kitano-zaka to Ijinkan-dori.
The venues for performances are: Kobe Club, Kitano Meister Garden, Kobe Woman’s University Educational Center, The India Club, Kobe Baptist Church, Hotel Kitano Plaza Rokko-so, Bistrot Café de Paris, Sone Restaurant, and Pipeline.
Hyogo no Tsu Jazz
October 21, 2023
An event held in the old canal district in Hyogo Ward, usually in late October or early November. Performances by professional musicians, amateur jazz groups, and high school jazz bands. Key locations are the Aeon shopping mall and Shinkoji temple.
1 Day Jazz Road
November 2023 (date to be confirmed)
An event combining public art displays in Museum Road with jazz performances at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Haradanomori Gallery near Oji Zoo, and on a stage outside JR Nada Station.
Venues for Live Jazz
In Kobe, you can enjoy live jazz every night of the year, thanks to the plethora of bars and other venues in town. Most have a cover charge for live performances (generally ¥1,500 to ¥3,000), and post their schedules online. The following list is a selection with a jazz focus. There are other venues that host live music but not exclusively jazz.
Sone is a spacious restaurant and bar, hosting a wide range of performers in a classy setting. Shows can be enjoyed with drinks, light food, or a full meal.
Address: 1-24-10 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 17:00 - 24:00 (first show from 18:30)
Shows at 14:00 and 15:00 on Sundays
Pickup first opened its doors in 1979. It hosts live shows 7 or 8 times a month.
Address: 2-2-7 Yamamoto-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: Tue, Wed, Thu 19:00-25:00, Fri, sat, Sun 11:00-25:00 (closed Mondays)
Live & Dining Bar Acoz
Acoz has been open since 2012, offering a space for a diversity of people to come together and enjoy music, food, and drink. It hosts a popular jazz funk session from 18:30 on the second Friday of every month.
Address: 3-1-15 Nakamachi-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 18:00-25:00 closed Mondays
SwingVille boasts an impressive sound system. It also offers dinner, including its popular fried cutlet on rice. On the fourth Saturday each month, it hosts a live jazz session from 17:00 to 20:00. Reservations are required for Sunday evening shows.
Address: 342-1 Oshibedanicho-sakae, Nishi Ward
Hours: 11:30-21:00 check the website for days off
Closed 2nd and 3rd Mondays each month, other Mondays open 11:30-15:00
Music Bar Ellie’s
Music Bar Ellie’s, in Kitano-zaka, has been entertaining locals and visitors from around the world since 1994. The bar has three live performances each night, focusing on jazz and also including bossa nova and popular music. They welcome song requests from their “request book” that lists over 200 songs.
Address: 1-22-13 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 19:00-25:00 (-24:00 Sundays and public holidays) closed Mondays
A cozy, retro bar for enjoying music and a drink, either alone or with friends. Y’s Road features live performances once or twice a week. Being a compact bar allows the audience to get up close to the performers.
Address: 1-22-10 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 19:00-25:00 seven days a week
Live Bar Basin Street
Basin Street has been open in Kitano-zaka for 10 years, hosting live performances by both veterans and up-and-coming musicians. The owner, award-winning guitarist Tatsuhiko Kawasaki, schedules a range of carefully selected acts to entertain patrons each night.
Three shows each night at 19:00, 20:00 and 21:00. Every second Sunday afternoon, the venue hosts an open jam session.
Address: 1-22-13 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 19:00-26:00 check the website for days off
A live bar with a focus on vibraphone, but also featuring other instruments and vocals, for three daily performances of jazz and other music. It hosts jam sessions on Monday afternoons (no live sessions on Monday nights). Sessions are also occasionally held on Sunday afternoons.
Address: 1-22-10 Nakayamate-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 19:00-23:00 (Sundays 15:00-18:30) closed public holidays
Shows at 19:30, 20:40 and 21:50
Live House Great Blue
Great Blue has been open for 20 years. Owner and pianist Yoshinori Andoh performs each night together with jazz musicians from around Kansai. Just one minute’s walk from Sannomiya Station, the venue attracts a large audience of jazz fans.
Address: 5-5-29 Kotono-o-cho, Chuo Ward
Hours: 18:30-24:00 closed Mondays
Negikura serves great food and most days it also has live jazz sessions. See the website for live show schedules.
Address: 4-1-1 Tamon-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 11:00-14:30, 17:30-23:00
Kobe also has many old jazz cafés with incredible collections of records that they play on high quality equipment. Each has a unique ambiance and a fixation for fine coffee. Note that some discourage conversation or have separate sections for silent listening or chatting.
Jazz & Coffee Voice
A relaxing, retro-styled coffee shop playing jazz music from its collection of over 7,000 records on a high-grade sound system. Twice a year, Voice hosts a live event called Kobe Modern Jazz Club.
Address: 2F Center Plaza, 2-11 Sannomiya-cho, Chuo Ward
Hours: 11:00-19:00 closed Wednesdays
Established in 1953, Java was one of Kobe’s first jazz cafés The audio equipment that was shipped from the USA by the café’s original owner is still in use today. Still in its original location under the railway line, and with mostly the same decor as over 60 years ago, it’s a great place to step back in time. Enjoy a relaxing coffee and the ambiance at this Kobe landmark.
Address: 1-31-13 Kitanagasa-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 11:00-21:30 closed Thursdays
Jazz Café Jam Jam
Jam Jam reopened in 2000, a few years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The café is separated into a listening-only section and a speaking section, all non-smoking. The shop's master, Ikenoue, and staff play carefully selected music from a collection of over 5,000 records. Thanks to the different settings, patrons can enjoy the music in peace, read a book at the counter, or enjoy conversation with friends. Coffee is specially prepared to order, a perfect match for its famous chiffon cake, old-style hot dogs, and more.
Address: 1-7-2 Motomachi, Chuo Ward
Hours: 12:00-24:00 closed Mondays
Funky & Soul Jazz Bar Doodlin’
A very cozy bar with just seven seats at a counter, with a penchant for hard bop and soul jazz. Serving Brooklyn Lager from New York, the perfect beer for enjoying jazz.
Address: 1-12-7 Motomachi-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 18:00-25:00 closed Wednesdays
Jazz & Coffee M&M
A jazz café close to Motomachi Chinatown, featuring mainly modern jazz records from the 50s and 60s, with the volume turned up. Coffee is freshly ground and brewed, so that you can enjoy a break from everyday life. Conversation OK.
Address: 2-7-3 Sakaemachi-dori, Chuo Ward
Hours: 11:00-22:00 check the website for days off