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Tea Leaves

Japan's jazz coffee bars transcend global barriers

For devoted followers, 'kissa' celebrate coffee, cool music and delights of cultural appropriation

The Shochika Theatre in Osaka where Louis Armstrong performed during his Japanese tour in 1954.   © Getty Images

It's a sunny Saturday afternoon, but it might as well be around midnight. I'm sitting in a basement room in the Yotsuya area of Tokyo, sipping strong black coffee and listening to an obscure 1986 album by tenor sax player Chico Freeman called "The Pied Piper." I know that because the LP cover is propped up in a place where I and all the other customers can see it -- right in front of the booth housing the sound system.

Nobody's talking. In fact, you're not allowed to talk. You're here to listen.

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