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50 Years Ago: The Beatles Headline The Budokan In Japan

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The Nippon Budokan of Tokyo, Japan was originally built to house martial arts events such as judo, akido and karate. In fact, the name literally translates into Japan Martial Arts Hall. The celebrated venue would, however, become forever associated with rock and roll concerts, the first of which was given by none other than the Beatles.

On June 30, 1966, the Beatles made their first appearances in Japan. They performed two concerts on June 30, two on July 1 and one on July 2nd. The shows were filmed by Nippon Television, and broadcast as The Beatles Recital From Nippon Budokan. The performances caused some controversy as traditionalists objected to the venue being used for rock and roll music.

“The audience was very subdued. If you look at the footage from the shows you’ll see a cop on every row. They’d all get excited in their seats as we were playing, but they couldn’t express it,” Ringo Starr remembered in the Beatles Anthology. “The audience were reserved, but they were up on their feet – or they tried to be, but there were police all around the stadium with cameras with telephoto lenses,” added George Harrison. “The people were very restricted as to what they could do and how they could respond to us. It was a warm reception – but a bit clinical, as Japan is.”

Beatles’ publicist Tony Barrow had a different take on the event. “George’s version of what the security people got up to in the Budokan was blissfully naïve, to say the least,” he stated in his book John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me. “The truth is that the authorities feared the studios might have placed terrorist gunmen along the route and by herding the fans into well-contained little groups they were clearing their own field of fire and reducing the risk of stray bullets hitting fans.Those guys were hoping to spot potential snipers in the audience and if they had done so the cameras could have been exchanged for firearms in a split second.”

The Beatles’ set consisted of a mere 11 songs, clocking in a around a half hour. They highlighted recent material such as “Nowhere Man” and “Paperback Writer” but also reached back to a couple of ‘oldies’ like “I Wanna Be Your Man” and Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.” Paul McCartney got his mid set solo spot with “Yesterday” while “I’m Down” ended the show in raucous fashion.

“We don’t know much about Japan, except what we’ve read and seen on film,” McCartney said in a press conference prior to the shows. “And we don’t believe all that,” added John Lennon. The band fielded yet more questions about their hairstyle as well as whether they were switching over to more ballad style as in “Yesterday” and “Michelle.” “We’ve always done both types of music, beat and ballads,” replied George.

Another reported mentioned that some elders thought the Beatles set a bad example for Japanese youth by leading them astray from traditional Japanese values. “All we’re doing is coming here and singing, because we’ve been asked to. We’re not trying to violate anything,” said McCartney. “[I’d] rather watch singing than wrestling anyway,” quipped Lennon.

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