When James Catchpole and I meet in Jazz Eagle, a basement cafe in central Tokyo's Yotsuya neighborhood, our conversation is squashed within seconds.

As a New Yorker and a Northern Irishman, perhaps we are preternaturally loud for such contemplative surroundings. But the barman explains that it's merely the cafe's policy: no conversation before 6 p.m. Any customers arriving before then are, in theory, here for the solitude and the music.

It’s still only 5:30 p.m. and zero conversation isn’t conducive to a first meeting, so Catchpole and I spend the next 30 minutes whispering in hushed tones. We break for the odd sip of beer or handful of nuts while a turntable churns out saxophone riffs, throbbing bass chords and drumsticks dancing atop the symbols.