Summer lingers. Punishing heat. On Kokusai Dori near Tawaramachi, the woman at the fruit shop splashes the footpath with her watering can. Past the police box, next door to the Tyrolean-styled Cafe Flamingo, Takashi Yoshida at Music House Yoshida turns up the sound. It’s aural air-conditioning, from outside hi-fi speakers hidden above your head in the shop awning. A stream of jazz showers the street. Crisp and loud, whatever music Yoshida has chosen (he has recently been into Pinetop Perkins), people at the bus stop seem to chill. On your way to the supermarket you stand by the display window with the faded Beatles pictures, and luxuriate in the sound.
Inside Music House Yoshida, you soak up something else: the past. Thousands upon thousands of physical products. Not too far in the future, you’ll have to explain this to a young person. These plastic boxes? Well sonny, they’re called CDs. Streaming? Isn’t that what the Sumida River does?
Yoshida emerges from the far corner. There doesn’t seem to be a counter. He is 70 years old. He says he doesn’t acquire much new stock. Just selling off the old. Both his father and grandfather sold records too. That makes 95 years they’ve been selling music. The shop began near where the Skytree is now, and moved here in 1927, the opening year of the Kokusai Gekijo, International Theatre, which used to be down the road.
He is international, too. He talks in fast, free-associations, like a jazz player. He seems sort of ageless. Comfortable in the present, in his home. He has never been overseas. His son set him up with an iPad, so he can search music. He is a type. You knew a man like him before. He ran a tiny jazz bar, knew all about different cultures, artistic movements, social hierarchies, current affairs, the slave trade, race relations – through music and the characters who formed bands. He probably had an exact image of New York City at the height of bebop, or Chicago, with the blues. Like Yoshida, he never once left Japan. It was as though he didn’t want to spoil those worlds in his mind.
Just listen to this sound, Yoshida says, putting on a Hawaiian recording from the 1950s. Before that he plays music from a rare CD by a harpist. Later he describes how Japan was gripped by Les Paul and Mary Ford’s version of Jingle Bells. He likes Santana. There is a Jimi Hendrix box set on the rack. And samba. He puts on the soundtrack to the 1959 Marcel Camus Brazil-shot feature Orfeu Negro. The colour was remarkable, he says. He pulls out a Joao Gilberto album. Mention Stan Getz and he finds a bargain 24-bit audiophile album to show you. You end up buying it, and a Bjork best-of, and another album he says is rare, a Victor collection of pre-war Japanese Hawaiian songs. His prices are a bit high because his ageing stock is all Japanese – from the time before those cheap imports. But of course you’re paying for the world tour as well.
His wife emerges from the back and looks on indulgently as Yoshida takes you between eras and countries and artists. You sense the two of them have traveled together quite a lot, on the wings of imagination.