Sone Jazz Bar
The big daddy of Kobe’s jazz scene: An iconic jazz bar in the heart of Kobe, with live performances every night.
Spend an evening at Sone Jazz Bar and Restaurant in Kobe, perhaps one of the most well-established jazz houses in Japan. For the uninitiated, this could be the perfect place to experience the charm and allure of jazz in Japan. And for jazz aficionados, this is one spot that should definitely be on your itinerary.
Half a century of Jazz
As you step onto the threshold of the building, you can feel the presence of history. Shotaro Sone (pronounced so-nay), third-generation owner and proprietor recalls that the establishment was originally a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, started by his grandmother Keiko Sone in 1960. At that time, Kobe was a growing port-city and a veritable melting pot of cultures.
Situated in the vibrant neighborhood of Kitano, where the stone-flagged building still stands, Sone was a hub for avant-garde performers and people of the arts. It was in the year 1969, when one evening, at the spur of the moment, a gathering of performers held an impromptu jam session, which became the first jazz performance at Sone.
From then on, the popularity of the nightly performances resulted in Sone slowly becoming the center of Kobe’s jazz scene and consistent quality performances built Sone’s reputation as an iconic jazz bar.
Atmosphere and ambiance
The deceptively small entrance opens up into a spacious room with an elegant low wooden beam ceiling, ornate bar with stained glass fittings and period furniture — all of which set the mood. The food and drinks menu — with set courses (from ¥2,500 to ¥3,800), a la carte, finger food and a full range of drinks from cocktails to single malts — further adds to the setting, but it’s rightfully the music that steals the show.
The live jazz ensemble performances can be enjoyed from every table. Each night has four 40-minute stage performances, with a variety of acts from trios and quartets to bands and vocalists. For details, check the monthly listings on their website.
Kobe Jazz Street Festival
A fun time to visit is during the annual Kobe Jazz Street Festival held every fall. Kobe has long staked claim to being the home of jazz in Japan. It’s believed that it was in this city that the first Japanese jazz band Laughing Stars was formed. Moreover, great performers such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong visited during the post-war jazz boom.
Since the ports of Kobe were a routine stop for ships and ocean liners entering Japan waters, the vibe in the city provided the right stimulus for jazz to flourish. To commemorate this spirit, the Kobe Jazz Street Festival was started in 1981. Commencing with a parade down Kitanozaka Dori, there are back-to-back events held over two days, spread across Kitano, the old Foreign Settlement Area. For up-to-date info check their website.