The Zoomer Obsession With Japanese Jazz

Louis Barnes
4 min readDec 12, 2022

I’ve wanted to write about Japanese jazz for quite sometime now, but I didn’t know the proper context to frame it. There are plenty of historical articles and documents about the history of jazz in Japan and I had struggled to find and angle that was fresh and interesting. That all changed when I saw the above tweet pop up on my twitter timeline a couple of days ago. I laughed pretty hard at it and then I had my eureka moment. Zoomers (Gen Z folk) LOVE Japanese jazz, and I don’t think we talk about it enough.

Ryo Fukui, Masayoshi Takanaka, and Jiro Inagaki are just a few iconic names that immediately come to mind when discussing Japanese jazz. These people have had stellar careers back in their day and have seemed to be almost revitalized thanks to the YouTube algorithm. A quick look at the comment sections on many of these videos will give you hundreds of comments saying that they were randomly recommended this video by The Algorithm™ and now they’re in love with the genre.

All Of Me was my personal introduction to Masayoshi Takanaka, along with many other internet users

The big question is then: “Is there anything distinctive about Japanese jazz?” It’s hard to say. There’s jazz produced by native Japanese people, and then there’s jazz that’s distinctive to Japanese culture. Jazz already has a culture where the most famous jazz musicians know and play “the standards” in addition to their own original compositions, which makes this question a bit more complicated. But nonetheless, authentic Japanese jazz can be found.

The easiest distinction can be found in the instruments that are used in the performance. There are a few prominent jazz groups out there that utilize traditional Japanese instruments in their music. The most famous example is Minoru Muraoka, a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) player. Bamboo, written by Muraoka, is the blueprint to a great Japanese jazz album. Along with a few American jazz standards, there are plenty of original jazz songs in there, as well as the featuring of traditional Japanese instruments. My personal favorite Japanese jazz band is Hiroshima. They are a group of Japanese-Americans who, like Muraoka, utilize traditional Japanese instruments in their music. Another Place is my favorite album by them due to its heavy fusion and pop influence. I don’t listen to a lot of pop music, but Hiroshima wants me to get into it lowkey…

my vinyl copy of “Another Place”, displayed prominently on my vinyl setup

The main reason why I wanted to write this article was to make a scathing point: A lot of the Japanese jazz that has gotten popular with the Gen Z (and Millennial) audience isn’t too sonically different from the jazz here in America. Sure, I just spent the last couple of paragraphs explaining the distinction of Japanese jazz against American jazz and even providing examples. I made the distinction in order to not diminish the impact of the Japanese jazz scene. It would have been wrong (and just plain rude) to call Japanese jazz indistinguishable from American jazz. However, a lot of the albums that I see that have gotten popular within these past few years are sonically similar to the jazz that’s gotten popular here in America.

Knowing all of this, there’s another big question to ask: “why has Japanese jazz gotten popular on YouTube?” The reason is simple: fetishization of Japanese culture. There is a huge section of the internet that loves Japanese culture. Anime, video games, music, and other cultural outputs of Japan are enjoyed heavily by this crowd. The concept of Japanese jazz would definitely pique the interest of those interested in Japanese culture. Those who don’t listen to a lot of jazz music would listen to Japanese jazz and think it’s really interesting and distinctive.

i feel disgusted downloading a wojak meme to make a point but i think you get it

I don’t want to end this article with a metaphorical finger-wagging to this crowd; I myself am a part of it to be honest. If I had something to say to this crowd, it would be to expand your boundaries! If you love Japanese jazz so much, listen to jazz in general! It’s a massive soundscape with tons of distinct subgenres. Don’t limit yourself on your jazz discovery journey! And always, thanks for reading!