The Teacher’s Designated Seat at the Leach Bar


 ”Even now, when I enter the lobby of the RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka, I feel the presence of Sensei (teacher),” says Iwano Yuichi, a music critic/publishing business owner. The “sensei” he refers to here is none other than Asahina Takashi (1908-2001), founding honorary conductor of the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra (hereinafter referred to as the “Osaka Phil”).

 Born in Tokyo, Asahina Takashi developed a passion for orchestras while studying at Kyoto Imperial University Law School and became a professional conductor. Until two months before his passing at the age of 93, he continued to conduct the Osaka Phil, captivating Japan with his dynamic performances of Bruckner, Beethoven, and others. In the early days of the Osaka Phil, the conductor himself collected sponsorships and devoted all of his earnings to the management of the orchestra. Bright, dandy, bold, and assertive, Asahina was beloved by many and called “Ossan” (an old man) by the orchestra members and “Sensei” by young fans, and his social circle comprised a wide variety of people, from artists to business owners.

Photography by Iijima Takashi

 Iwano Yuichi, who played the bassoon in a student orchestra, became interested in Asahina’s work after seeing him perform with an orchestra in Tokyo.

 During the war, Asahina worked with Jewish musicians who fled Europe in Harbin, Manchuria. In 1995, Asahina returned there for the first time in 50 years to film a TV show. Iwano accompanied him on this trip for an opportunity to interview him, and in 1999, he released a nonfiction book named “Oudo Rakudo no Kokyogaku,” published by Ongaku No Tomo Sha, which featured not only Asahina but also Amakasu Masahiko, Li Hsiang-lan, and other notable figures, and received the “10th Idemitsu Music Award.”

 Although Asahina lived in Kobe, he was a regular guest at the RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka. He even stayed there in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and Osaka Phil performed there several times.

 “I had heard a lot about Asahina’s fondness for the Leach Bar from the people of the Osaka Phil. I never went out for a drink with him because, for one, I don’t drink, and I also wouldn’t even dare to ask him. But this one time, after a rehearsal at a hall in Nishinari, Osaka, he told me to share a ride with him to the RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka. I rode with him in a taxi, only to watch him enter the lobby from the car. Looking back on it now, I missed out on a great opportunity.” (Iwano)

 How did Asahina spend his time at the Leach Bar? Furusawa Takayuki, a master bartender who was awarded the title of “Master Craftsman of Naniwa” by Osaka Prefecture, started his career at the RIHGA Royal Hotel Osaka in 1989 and served customers at the Leach Bar for five years from 1996 until 2001, the year of Asahina’s passing.

 “Asahina’s seat was at the counter on the other side of the pillar, looking from the entrance. He often visited the bar before dinner after visiting the hotel’s health club with his wife. He always sat in great posture and wore a jacket. He mainly drank Scotch whiskey, such as Ballantine’s 17 Year Old, either straight or on the rocks.”

 Asahina enjoyed whisky even after passing the age of 80, but he didn’t enjoy alcohol when he was young. “His aura was so dazzling. He was a very humble man, and he told me in an Edo accent, ‘My wife gets angry with me if I drink too much.’ (laughs) Asahina would drop by, have a quick drink, and leave; that is how he spent his time at the Leach Bar.”

 Next time I have a chance to see Iwano in Osaka, I would love to show him the sensei’s designated seat.

Text by Nakashima Atsushi