South Side Jazz Band leader and clarinetist, Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, who is also an event producer, is extremely knowledgeable on the early history of jazz in Osaka and the reason why Osaka is Japan’s birthplace of jazz. One afternoon before his other regular band, Breeze of Dixieland, was to perform on the Tonbori River Jazz Boat, I had a chance to talk with him about how jazz first came to Osaka. He revealed that Japanese classical musicians who performed on passenger ships crossing the Pacific Ocean in the early 1920s first heard jazz in the United States and were shocked to see men and women in close proximity to each other dancing to the music. Such physical contact in public between persons of the opposite sex was taboo at that time in Japan. Even today, it is rather rare to see couples kissing or closely holding on to each other in public.

The musicians brought instruments, sheet music and jazz records back with them to Osaka. This soon helped to create a jazz boom in Osaka. Bands that played jazz performed live at dance halls that lined the Dotonbori Canal in southern Osaka. Patrons soon made contributions that allowed owners and musicians to try all sorts of different innovations, including all-female bands, something that was extremely rare for these times in Japan excluding Osaka.

Meanwhile, Osaka was enjoying its most prosperous times. Known as Great Osaka (Dai-Osaka), it was the economic center of Japan and boasted a population exceeding Tokyo, the capital of Japan. Jazz flourished in Osaka during these flamboyant times. However, the death of the Taisho Emperor in 1926 changed everything. In spite of the emperor’s death, a time of countrywide mourning when citizens were expected to act in a more reserved manner than usual, people in Osaka continued to dance to jazz music at the Dotonbori dance halls. This infuriated the then-governor of Osaka, a politician sent from Tokyo. As punishment, he passed a special ordinance banning jazz and dancing in Osaka. This forced the closure of the fifteen dance halls that had been operating, and out-of-work musicians had to leave to Osaka to find work in Tokyo, Kobe and other cities. Although jazz was first performed and soon flourished at dance halls in Osaka, many people think it got started in the ports of Tokyo, Kobe or Yokohama since it became more popular to the masses after musicians moved to these cities due to their shortly-lived activities were prohibited in Osaka. Although jazz may have been popularized among the masses after it was forced out of Osaka, the city still remains the birthplace of jazz in Japan. This is something of which Osakans should be proud.


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