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Quake-hit cafe in Miyagi Pref. connecting people through jazz

Jiji Press

Participants enjoy a jazz session at Vanguard in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 17.

Jiji Press KESENNUMA Miyagi (Jiji Press) — An old jazz cafe hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is evolving into a venue connecting people through music.

Located in the port city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Vanguard has offered coffee and jazz to local residents for more than half a century.

When the huge earthquake and tsunami devastated vast areas of northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, the cafe was hit by the tsunami, but the building remained standing.

The cafe reopened just four months later, after its former owners worked hard with others to get everything back in order.

“A grand piano had been dumped across the street from the cafe, along with other miscellaneous stuff. The image never leaves my mind,” said Kazuo Komatsu, 65, who now runs the cafe with Tomiyasu Imakawa, 70.

Komatsu, a former city employee, and Imakawa, who works for himself, were regulars at Vanguard. When the cafe was on the brink of closure after their two predecessors passed away in 2016 and 2017, they decided to take it over, despite needing to learn basics such as how to brew coffee.

“When you come here, you can see your friends. It’s a place with a lot of value. It shouldn’t be lost,” Imakawa said.

“The town now looks totally different [compared with before the quake]. But the fact that the cafe is still here has supported me emotionally,” Komatsu said.

Komatsu readily said yes when a customer asked whether people could meet at the cafe to learn about jazz. He hoped that the cafe would become a place for people of different ages to interact.

Now people gather once a month for jazz sessions where everyone is welcome.

About 20 people, from teens to sixty-somethings, from the prefecture and elsewhere, took part in the August event, playing piano, sax, drums and wood bass.

“I wanted to create a space where people can communicate with each other casually through jazz, regardless of whether you play well or not,” said Yukihiro Takeda, a 48-year-old local resident and corporate worker who planned the event.

Shunsuke Tada, a 33-year-old drummer and elementary school teacher from Kamaishi in neighboring Iwate Prefecture, has taken part in sessions at Vanguard many times.

“Even if you are a total stranger, they welcome you to the sessions. Such places are hard to come by,” Tada said smiling.

“Vanguard is a place that should stay forever,” Komatsu said. “To make this happen, we want to make it a place where young people can feel easy and come in.”Speech

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