Whiskey, Beer and Music at Hatchobori Hangouts - By Shoko Plambeck
Hatchobori is an unassuming neighborhood in eastern Tokyo speckled with a surprising number of trendy food and beverage spots like Craft Beer & Whiskey Bar Hatchobori Garden. The streets were chilly and still but the windows of the bar glowed and a cluster of people stood outside chatting and greeting newcomers. I approached like a moth to a flame and was soon engulfed by warm guitar music, the audience swaying along. A friendly face pulled up a seat for me around a whiskey cask repurposed as a table. With my spot secured, I meandered over to the bar to investigate my drink options.
This is one of those establishments with an extensive collection of whiskey stretching endlessly behind a long wooden counter. While this is delightful in and of itself, the bartender saved me from any decision fatigue by presenting me, with a flourish of the hand, to three whiskeys for the flight of the night. Who doesn’t love a sampler!
I looked around the room and saw that many people had a flight and a craft beer. How’s that saying go again? “Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear/ beer before liquor, never been sicker?” Say no more.
The bar had a small but impressive lineup of Japanese craft beers to choose from. With a pint in one hand and a flight in the other, I joined the music lovers happily sipping drinks and leaning in towards the performers.
I had seen Justin, the creator of More Than Music, buzzing around the event like the great host that he is. He was quick to find me once I sat down. “That guy,” Justin said, gesturing to the musician who had just started playing a folk song about whiskey, “composes music for Final Fantasy. His name is also Justin.”
Incredulous, I asked “How do you find these people?” but he just smiled at me coyly and fluttered away.
As it turns out, MTM often finds their performers in bizarre and unexpected ways. I got to talk to performer Justin--Justin Frieden--who disclosed that he was introduced by a mutual friend from Justin MTM’s hometown, which coincidentally is where Justin Frieden's grandmother is from. “It’s like a really random middle of nowhere town. And you can tell Justin I said that,” he said.
Justin F is originally from Los Angeles, an equally random and middle of nowhere town. He performs for MTM sometimes but for the past ten years, he’s been composing music for commercials, games, TV shows, and films. You’ve probably heard his music before without realizing it. Most of his work is orchestral or classical but he’s also a rock guy, which was evident by the music he played for us that night. I felt like rock, and the occasional country tinge to their performance, was very appropriate for sipping whiskey.
The musician he played with was Yuji Oyama, a veteran of the music industry who worked in Nashville and New York before landing at Sony Music in Tokyo. He spoke frankly about his thoughts on Japanese music in the global market.
“Sometimes we can spread our music to the world with animation. But without animation, no success. On the other hand, Korean music is succeeding.”
Oyama thinks we can learn from our neighbor’s booming music industry and modify or nurture alternative forms of J-pop so they have the potential to reach an international market. He has hope but also feels that the bridge between Japanese and Western music culture is a bit hard to cross.
This seems like a complicated, large-scale issue but like most things, tackling it from the ground up is key. Spaces like MTM help to break down the barrier between Japanese and foreign music culture by bridging the gap at a local level.
Both Oyama and Justin F echoed that they were excited by MTM emerging as a platform for smaller and medium sized artists to get regular exposure.
“Especially with Japanese people, Japanese bands, Japanese groups being able to mesh with a foreign crowd---I think that's really cool,” Justin F said. “It's not easy. But Justin and More Than Music makes it easy.”
The last act of the night, Pahuma, is exactly the kind of act they’re talking about. Pahuma is a one man band made up of Kim Wooyong, whose blues and reggae infused set enchanted the audience all the way until last train.
I got to speak with him afterwards and asked where he got his stage name. “It came to me in a dream,” he explained matter-of-factly, “and when I looked it up, it turns out it was the name of a park in Ecuador known for its spectacular waterfalls.”
"It’s hard to leave an MTM event. The music is great but you stay for the people. "
Wooyong was born in Osaka of Korean heritage and has been playing music for over 20 years. Before he left he handed me a CD of his new album, "Ling Lom". I couldn’t remember the last time someone had given me a CD and held the gift close to my chest, making a mental note to dust off my CD player when I got home.
It was a gentle album with moody undertows that were balanced so well with a touch of breezy reggae that you never felt like you would be completely pulled under. The perfect album for a chill night in, alone or with friends.
Wooyong normally plays at live houses for a mostly local audience, but Justin happened to see him play and immediately knew that Wooyong was the kind of act he wanted at MTM. I asked Wooyong what it was like playing at MTM events.
“The community they’re building is interesting to me.” Wooyong said thoughtfully. “The vibe is very free.”
I looked around at the diverse crowd of people having Japanese and English conversations in varying proficiency levels and had to agree. It felt easy to be at an MTM event because people want to connect with you using whatever amount of linguistic or cultural common ground you have.
Everyone came for the music but even after it stopped, no one was leaving the bar. I thought back to what Justin F said earlier.
“Most of the time the band isn’t necessarily my genre of music or whatever, but I can still appreciate them and hang out. The community that comes to the shows is really nice.”
It’s hard to leave an MTM event. The music is great but you stay for the people.
Never miss another More Than Music event by checking the schedule here
If you want to come to all events for free, sign up for the More Than Music event pass here