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From The Japan Times:
Four young Englishmen conquered Japan 50 years ago — with music. They were, of course, the Beatles — the biggest pop act in the world at the time.
“I have the honour to report that the Beatles, M.B.E., were in Tokyo from the 29th of June to the 3rd of July,” wrote Dudley Cheke, charge d’affaires at the British Embassy, to his superiors in London.
Noting that Tokyo had been hit by an exceptionally heavy tropical rainstorm just before the band arrived, Cheke said “the ‘Beatles typhoon’ … swept the youth of Japan off their feet.” […]
The Beatles flew from London to Tokyo (via Anchorage in Alaska) on Japan Airlines — first-class, naturally. A stewardess persuaded John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to wear happi coats emblazoned with the JAL logo just before they got off the plane at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The photo of the group waving to their screaming fans upon arrival is an iconic image of the Beatles’ visit.
Their shows in Japan came at a pivotal point in the group’s career. The novelty of “Beatlemania” had worn off. Cannabis and LSD were taking the four Liverpudlians into new realms of consciousness, and their increasingly complex music was becoming harder to perform live.
The Beatles played at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo on June 30, July 1 (2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.) and July 2 (2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.) as part of a world tour. About 43,000 people saw the band perform in Japan.
Their visit can be seen as part of Japan’s postwar re-emergence on the world stage, starting with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and culminating with Expo ’70 in Osaka.
The Fab Four inspired a generation of Japanese rock ‘n’ rollers.
“The Beatles’ shows in Japan were a social phenomenon,” Tanaka says. “They led to the birth of a real Japanese rock music scene, where the musicians not only performed songs by somebody else, but also wrote their own material.”
Beatles expert Atsushi Noguchi says British musician Vic Lewis suggested the idea of a Japan tour to the band’s manager, Brian Epstein. Lewis had gone to school in London with Tatsuji Nagashima, who later became president of concert promoter Kyodo Agency (which produced the Beatles’ shows in Tokyo).
Noguchi says Epstein wanted a guarantee of $100,000 (worth around $750,000 in 2016, or ¥78 million) per show and a hall with a capacity of 10,000. Back in 1966, there was only one indoor venue in Tokyo that could accommodate that many people: the Budokan. It had been built for martial arts competitions, not pop music. Ultranationalists were outraged by the prospect of its desecration by “an electric-guitar concert,” as Cheke put it in his missive to the mandarins of Whitehall.
The extreme left also took issue with the Beatles. Cheke noted that Akahata, the Japanese Communist Party’s daily newspaper, labeled the band as “tools of American (sic) imperialism.” The ideologues of Akahata may well have revised their anti-Beatles line after Lennon told a press conference on June 30 that the group opposed the war in Vietnam.
Cheke noted that the Japanese media for the most part accepted the Beatles for what they were: “agreeable, talented and quick-witted young musicians.”
Despite that, for a time it seemed local right-wing nut cases were going to succeed in intimidating the Budokan into canceling the Beatles’ shows. However, as Cheke noted, the Yomiuri Shimbun (one of the sponsors of the Fab Four’s concerts in Japan) “published a letter from the chairman of the board of the Budokan saying that ‘the respectability of the Beatles was beyond any doubt, the proof being that they had all received decorations from Her Majesty the Queen.'”
That didn’t prevent the ultranationalists from mounting protests against them. Cheke noted that while the group was in Tokyo, the Beatles “had to be protected from fan and foe alike” in what the police dubbed “Operation Beatles.”
Cheke wrote that the security “was of almost the same magnitude as the arrangements for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.” He noted that some 35,000 policemen were mobilized, at an estimated cost of £30,000 (worth around ¥58 million).
The heavy security cordon around the band meant that John, Paul, George and Ringo were virtual prisoners in the Tokyo Hilton (later the Capitol Tokyu Hotel) during their stay.
During the press conference at the hotel, a reporter asked the Beatles how they felt about that. McCartney’s reply was typically diplomatic.
“If the security is strict, then it is probably best for us and the people as well,” McCartney said. “Sometimes it’s too strict, but the best situation is when it’s just strict enough so that nobody gets hurt.”
McCartney was also on form when asked what he thought about people who said that by playing at the Budokan the Beatles were setting a bad example for Japanese youth and leading them astray from traditional values.
“The thing is that if somebody from Japan … if a dancing troupe from Japan goes to Britain, nobody tries to say in Britain that they’re violating the traditional laws, you know, or that they’re trying to spoil anything,” McCartney said. “All we’re doing is coming here and singing because we’ve been asked to.”
Lennon followed this up more succinctly — and acerbically: “Better to watch singing than wrestling, anyway.” […]
From Beatles Bible:
[…] The Nippon Budokan was considered a national shrine to Japan’s war dead, and many saw it as sacrilegious that a rock ‘n’ roll group were allowed to perform there. Death threats were reported, and 30,000 uniformed police officers lined the route from the airport and hotel to the venue. In later years it became one of Japan’s main music venues. […]
Paul McCartney played the Budokan in 2015 as part of his Out There tour.
From paulmccartney.com, March 28, 2015:
“What was the most memorable thing about playing the Budokan concert [with The Beatles] and why did you decide to return to the venue?”
Paul told us,
“The most memorable thing about the concert was the fans, who were sensational. But what struck us as being just as memorable were the security arrangements that were put in place. The whole front row of the balcony was police, and we saw them all walking in. And as we were going to the show, all the fans were corralled on each street corner and guarded by police. So as we went by they went, ‘Eeeeeeehh!!’ And then there’s nothing for the next block or two. And then ‘Eeeeeeehhh!!’ It was zany because we’d come from England and the US where it had been mayhem. So when I think of the Budokan show I think of the fans first, and then security second.
“Why go back and play there again? Just because it was such a special venue to play and I have a particularly special feeling about it. So when someone said there was a possibility of playing there again I jumped at the chance for old times’ sake.”
Last updated on October 10, 2021
Setlist for the concert