Two gigs in two days, same guitarist, different…food. Riverside loft-space Kawauso tonight becomes a pop-up restaurant. Hayato Aoki plays live background music. His electric guitar echoes and loops. At one point he throws in the theme to Twin Peaks. The diners laugh, a little unsettled. Hehehe. Only kidding. See him in the background there, behind the big table. He plays quietly. You can hear him of course, but sometimes you don’t. That’s partly the point. Absorb it in waves. Talk to your neighbour. Later Aoki tells you he’s listening to you too, the rise and fall of chit-chat, laughter, the clink of crockery, passing cars in the lane, it all melds with the guitar, to swell and roll, wander and weave. The whole night – your life – is a soundtrack.

Guitar squid salad1

The food spurs conversation. Yasufumi Manda, the cameraman who operates this space together with fellow photographer Shoji Ohnuma, loves to cook. He is an Italian specialist, has covered food assignments in every Italian state. So there’s broccoli and blue cheese gnocchi, a thick al dente spaghetti tossed with olive oil and shirasu baby sardines – if you drew them they’d be like fat white felt-pen marks. A striking original is his hotaru ika – firefly squid – with ricotta cheese, walnuts, hassaku orange, watercress and peppermint leaves. It’s an exciting dish. Somehow he makes all this and more, including a steamed pork shoulder, using three tabletop gas-canister burners. You wish you’d gotten a photo of him. Ohnuma is busy working the floor, looking after orders. She grinds and drips fruity coffee at the vintage nautical-themed bar-counter that looks like a boat and for some reason makes you think of Gilligan’s Island.

Guitar coffee captain

It’s supposed to be reservations-only but others just appear. Ohnuma says with a laugh, That’s Kawauso way.

Aoki plays for two hours, the music embeds itself, dreamlike. People come and go. Local figures – crafts- and shop-people are here. It’s supposed to be reservations-only but others just appear. Ohnuma says with a laugh, That’s Kawauso way.

Aoki’s guitar makes ties across tables, across days. You learn there’s a second concert, tomorrow. He is playing up the lane at the kitchenware and homecrafts shop in-kyo. It begins at 9am. Isn’t that still dreamtime?

In-kyo owner Chie Nakagawa has been staging Soup and Bagel in-store breakfasts for over a year, with bagel baker Junya Matsumura of Yanaka. This is the first time they’ve featured Aoki. What do they call it? She says, Guitar and Soup and Bagel. Well, you had to ask.

Guitar Inkyo

You arrive after 10. You thought it was a casual drop-in affair but you should have asked to make a booking. Aoki is in mid-flight and two tables are crowded with an intent, nearly all-woman audience of over a dozen. They are Aoki fans and In-kyo breakfast fans. It’s a bit formidable. You blunder in, and no one seems to mind.

Nakagawa makes a tasty-looking potato soup and bean salad. You buy an Aoki CD, and a couple of freshly baked bagels. One is cranberry and walnut. The other is orange-, lemon-peel, and Earl Grey tea. Matsumura, says, Sounds good doesn’t it? He lived for a while in Berkley, California, where he grew rice, then came back and set up Tabi Bagel seven years ago. The bagels are light but satisfying. Nakagawa says they have just the right mochiri, chewiness.

Guitar Chie Junya

Guitar Inkyo soup

Guitar bagels

She makes good drip coffee too – in fact they’re the same beans as at Kawauso, she brings them in from the roaster in Tokushima prefecture and sells them at the store.

Today Aoki plays nylon-string classical. It sounds improvised but they’re structured pieces. Like the events themselves, there’s a balance between spontaneity and planning. Like the slightly rundown yet fixed-up riverside buildings. A certain tension sustains everything.

Guitar Kawauso team M+


Guitar Yoshi

Hayato Aoki’s website is here