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Dispatches from Japan: Day 10

Today was a deceptively simple day. I woke up, and immediately headed for another CoCo Ichibanya that I had researched in the morning. Indeed, this time Google Maps have steered me right towards this veritable palace of piquant delicacies. I immediately ordered my favourite—sausage salad—and, just as I devoured the last of those delightful meatsticks, my korokke (with a healthy helping of medium-spicy curry, and rice) had arrived. I savoured every bite of this delightful meal, and, when I was finished, I was satisfied.

Next, I headed to Makishi to get some video of walking people for a new short film project I had hatched throughout these past few days. The Heiwa-dōri intersection was too narrow for my purposes, but, a few blocks down, I found a very handy pylon that served as my tripod, overlooking the all-way intersection from just the right height. Not only was I able to track any individual person as he or she crossed the street with the 70-300mm, but I also could easily maintain manual focus on him or her from my little perch.

It was a little annoying that the sun kept coming out and then hiding behind clouds, over and over. Eventually, I became a little bored, too. Thus, I decided to go back to the hotel, sleep for about six hours, and the meet the new year at one of the jazz bars (Jazz Kam's or Jazz Village) that I had researched earlier in the morning. My plan was spot-on.

I had arrived at Jazz Kam's just after 8 PM, together with with the elderly gentleman who turned out to be the pianist. This lovely place is no bigger than my living room (and certainly much narrower). The back wall is occupied by a bar that blinks at me with its soft, little Christmas lights. No more than five people can sit there, and no more than ten others can fit at the small, round tables at the opposite wall. One must squeeze past someone or something to go to the bar or to the toilet, but the narrow room does not feel claustrophobic. I cannot stand cigarette smoke, but the faint tinge of former tobacco that permeates the room excites me. On the far right, in front of the curved window overlooking Kokusai-dōri, there is a grand piano weighed down with thick, dusty songbooks and sheet music. To the right stands a drum set; to the left—a covered keyboard and a microphone.

When I arrive, there is no one but the pianist and barkeep. The bar owner—an elderly lady—brings me a menu handwritten on the surface of a former drum. I order a double Maker's Mark. I watch the pianist check the piano. A girl at the bar (who later turns out to be a singer) shuffles sheet music. The drummer arrives. After a shy overture, he sits down at my table, drumming his sticks softly on his legs. We talk. I tell him about my adventures in Okinawa. He is surprised and excited about my stories. He was born on the island and has travelled only to Taiwan. He tells me that he wore his best suit jacket for the countdown. I take his picture.

The old pianist gives an invisible sign to the younger drummer. Soon, the two are playing together, as effortlessly as if they had just picked up an interrupted conversation. The old pianist runs his fingers over the old piano, registering the clicks and snaps of the old mechanism. He is a master, and I think to myself that he must be doing this for love—For who could be saved by the ¥1,000 cover charge levied from me earlier?—and he does it masterfully. I am intoxicated with sound.

The duo plays a song, then another, and another. The shy girl from the bar goes up to a microphone and sings a jazz standard in a practiced American accent, and then a familiar bossa nova song, in Portuguese. Later, I compliment her, but she says that she sang too fast.

I listen to the first set, then the second. In the breaks, I make small talk with the musicians, show my photos, and order more bourbon. A regular comes in, and then a young man with a toy keyboard (he turns out to be another singer). A bedraggled, old gaijin in a face mask clinks my glass (he turns out to be a forty-seven-year-old Calgarian—another "English teacher" who could not leave Japan in time).

Hours and minutes pass. A rotund lady comes in. The barkeep gets out the champagne and party favours. She pops the bottle. We pop the confetti and wish each other a happy new year. Then, I talk to the gaijin who sidles over to my table. The musicians play another set. I order another bourbon. I accidentally break the champagne glass that the hurried "teacher" leaves on the side of my table (I later insist on paying the barkeep ¥1,000 for it). When a local drunken lout swings in, I decide to head back to the hotel.

I settle the bill and navigate the dark streets by the light of my phone and teenage shrieks. When I get back to the hotel, I pack and fall asleep for four hours, unseasonably happy. In the morning, beautiful gypsies wake me up. After breakfast, I head to the airport.