Takashi Yoshida 03.24.1944 – 12.24.2020
The soundtrack for this dream is Takashi Yoshida playing a CD through the speakers outside his record store in Asakusa, a shower of song tumbling onto the pavement: the harp of Dorothy Ashby, vibraphone of Milt Jackson, piano by Earl Hines, Carlos Lyra lilting the bossa nova….
It is refreshing to walk past here in summer, poignant at night when the store opens until 10pm (though later he will begin closing at 9pm, at the urging of his wife). The music wafts over the people waiting at the Kokusai-dori bus stop, beside the faded Beatles and enka posters in the display that can’t be changed, as Yoshida has added shelves inside which block access to the window, so this is how they will stay.
One rainy day the tumultuous drumming of Art Blakey live in Paris skitters over the puddles on the checkerboard footpath, the cymbals splashing with the sound of cars as pedestrians rush between the stations of the Ginza Line at Tawaramachi and the Tsukuba Express, near the View Hotel (formerly a large theatre with a dancing girl revue). “Blakey always wanted to play like a waterfall — like Niagara,” said Mr Yoshida. “He lit the funky boom.”
He rarely stepped outside the store, but one night we stood on the street watching passersby, admiring an enormous harvest moon rising behind the river and Skytree.
I took a friend there, a Western investment consultant who has sometimes been on TV, and Mr Yoshida was very pleased to recognise him and also that he liked jazz, and talked about his trip to hear John Coltrane in Shinjuku in 1966, and his disappointment in the drummer and also the piano that could have been better.
He read the papers, kept up with world news (he had opinions on everything, said Mrs Yoshida, laughing as if to say, what-could-I-do), and went about life with the same acceptance and curiosity he brought to music. He didn’t seem to care about borders, had never travelled abroad, but his listening made him international. In his youth he haunted jazz coffee shops around Yaesu, Ginza and Shinjuku. Places you could listen to music loud.
He was born as the war was ending and bred in the neighbourhood. His father, who ran a record store too, was the adopted son of a man who made metal parts and also sold records, across the river where Asahi Beer now stands. Young Yoshida attended the Kuramae Technical High School down the river near Asakusabashi. He discovered rock and roll during middle school, when a friend who was the son of a Buddhist priest played him a record by Fats Domino.
So the soundtrack continues; everything is connected. He asks, “Do you like country music,” and digs out an old RCA four-CD box of 100 “all-time country hits”, which prompts him to play Irish folk songs, before he jumps to Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Dylan. “Agitation music,” he says, then rustles up Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire in its double CD edition that includes the original raw mix. Talking of rebellion, he moves on to Kiyoshiro Imawano, “king of rock”, who protested nuclear power and ignited a scandal in the 1990s with his punk “Kimigayou” national anthem, and then swings back to America with an album Kiyoshiro recorded in Memphis (the mayor of Memphis awarded him honorary citizenship). As this leads to other Southern artists, my intended brief visit stretches an hour and I’m glad we have the place to ourselves. I know the complete absence of customers is not good for business but then, who buys CDs anymore, and it’s not as if Mr Yoshida seems to care.
I started dropping in to the store after moving to Asakusa about seven years ago. Music House Yoshida is like an enlarged shoe-box near the corner of Kokusai-dori and Kaminarimon-dori, ablaze with fluorescent lights and lined on all sides with albums and cassettes, with a central island of shelves between two narrow aisles. He sits at the back on the right, his big glasses and big face emerging from behind a tower of CDs when a customer opens the door. High on the wall is a black and white photograph of Coltrane on stage. The loudspeakers sound great, but since his amplifier can play only one pair at a time, he usually turns up the volume outside on the street, and lets the music filter in through the glass.
He opens my ears to music I have missed, and brings familiar artists back. Nostalgia colours his selections, but the shop — as much as it may be a relic — is also a doorway to another sort of present, because everything here defies the passing years.
His aura never changed, his work clothes over his bulky form, a stiff cotton apron with pens sticking out of the bib, were almost always the same, nothing about this ageless fellow appeared to bow to time.
I barely managed to scratch his encyclopedic knowledge of domestic artists, apart from some early jazz and country, some Japanese-Hawaiian music, rarities like an album of Buddhist monks chanting the heart sutra to Brazilian samba drums, and pop legends like the Candies. If I mentioned an unfamiliar name, he tapped his tablet screen to find it, sometimes pausing to show off pictures of his grandchildren.
He suffered for several years with painful cellulitis in his legs, but other problems emerged. He told me a couple of times his father had died at age 49 (it was the morning after they had watched Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return), so anytime after that age, he said, was all right.
On the morning of Christmas eve last year, when he was due to see a doctor, he told his wife he would rest in bed a bit longer, and when she went back up to get him he was gone. The doctor who came said it was his heart.
I bought CDs there at the inflated domestic prices; others he would copy for me, such as the disc of his late drum teacher in a rehearsal of bon-odori festival dance music, or out-of-print albums like Dorothy Ashby on the solo harp. Her Concierto de Aranjuez, which he always played at an engulfing volume, is an album I initially dismissed as corny, then came to hear as exquisite and heavenly as it enveloped the street and seeped into the store, a sound that will always conjure this stretch of Asakusa. Listening from inside, Mr Yoshida once said he liked to hear music from a distance, as if it were coming from the next room, where people are enjoying themselves, carrying on.
Some time after learning of his passing I visited the store and lit some incense at the small altar at the back, where his photo sits surrounded by drawings by his grandkids. Mrs Yoshida told me she says to him every day, What are you doing there? She will run the shop for the time being. At home, I kept separately most of the albums I encountered there — for the first time, or purchased again — and made a list.
Morton Gould and His Orchestra: Aaron Copland Billy the Kid, Rodeo; Ferde Grofe Grand Canyon Suite
Kei Akagi, Liquid Blue
Wynton Marsalis Monday Night, Live at the Village Vanguard
Art Blakey & Les Jazz Messengers, Au Club Saint-Germain Vol.2
John Coltrane, Impressions, Live Antibes, Stockholm
John Coltrane, Blue Trane
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse)
Miles Davis and John Coltrane, The Final Tour — Bootleg Series
Miles Davis Volume One Blue Note
Miles Davis Volume Two Blue Note
Herbie Hancock, Crossings
Thelonious Monk Trio (Prestige)
The Art Farmer Quartet Featuring Jim Hall
Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life
European Jazz Trio, Japaneseque
Earl Hines double CD
Matsuri Bayashi, Bon odori drums and flutes live rehearsal, from Hamacho?
The Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason
Milt Jackson, The Ballad Artistry of Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson and Coleman Hawkins
The Essential Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
Hideo Shiraki, Fiesta, drummer solo album also features koto, 1961
Kouta, geisha love songs double CD
David T Walker, Memphis Soul
Kiyoshiro Imawano, Memphis
Maria Muldaur, Meet Me Where They Play the Blues
New Orleans Social Club, Sing Me Back Home
New Orleans Indians
Alain Touissant, The Bright Mississippi
Gabor Szabo, Gipsy ‘66 / Spellbinder
Friedrich Gulda, Gulda Non-stop (piano solo)
Arvo Part, The Best of Arvo Part
Dorothy Ashby, Concierto de Aranjuez (harp solo)
Dorothy Ashby, In a Minor Groove
Michel Legrand, Legrand Jazz
A Jazz Hour with Stan Getz
Carlos Lyra, Bossa Nova
Luiz Bonfa, Solo in Rio 1959
Luiz Bonfa Plays and Sings Bossa Nova
Getz/Gilberto feat. Antonio Carlos Jobim
Joao Gilberto, Bossa Nova
Nino Josele, Paz, and the Music of Bill Evans
Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Composer of Desafinado Plays
Quincy Jones, Big Band Bossa Nova
Sarah Vaughan, Viva Vaughan
Une Heure Avec Serge Gainsbourg
Kosaka Kazuya and the Wagon Masters,1954
Rockabilly Stars Japan Special Edition
Goin’ Home, A Tribute to Fats Domino
Freddie King, 1934-1976
The Walker Brothers Best
Cachao Master Sessions Volume I, Volume 2
The JBs Funky Good Time: the Anthology
Pinetop Perkins, Born in the Delta
Fleetwood Mac, In Chicago 1969, with Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Otis Spann et al.
NY Allstars, Jazz Summit, with Kenny Barron, Donald Byrd et al.
Tribute to Otis Redding, with David T. Walker, Steve Lukather et al.
Morishige Hisaya, spoken word and poems
Aloha Oe Hawaiian Music in Japan 1928-1939
Bob Marley and the Wailers, Catch a Fire, Deluxe Edition
Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, Raise Up (feat. Prince)
Christian McBride Live at Tonic, 2 CD
6 Responses to Music from the Next Room
Beautifully written, Mark. . . .
Sent from my iPhone
Yes you have a gift as Greg says and you are giving us the pleasure of discovering rarities always.
So, i’m impatient for the next one. I do remember visiting a coffee house in Shibuya watching-listening hundreds of jazz concerts on video tapes. Then disappeared. As always. The good things are gone replaced by cheap junks. That’s they call “progress”. Well, i try hard to be polite. So, good night. Olivier
thanks so much! Yes i remember “Swing”. There was a great Brecker Bros video the old man played. He used to give us bananas too.
I really enjoyed this article. One of the best Japan blogs I have ever come across. I’m a big fan of your writing and photographs.
Thanks very much Matt! I see you have some nice stories too.