In 1971, the stadium-shaking, diaphragm wobbling rock band Led Zeppelin travelled to East Asia for their first Japanese tour during what was an exciting time to be young in Japan. After the US occupation of the country in the years immediately following the Second World War, the country was divided. But, by the 1970s, a sense of optimism was in the air. A new generation had come of age and looked forward to a bright future.
That sense of optimism is abundantly clear from this footage of Led Zeppelin’s performance at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan venue. Japan was changing. By the late ’60s, it had absorbed the consumer culture of America and was looking to establish itself as an uber-modern nation. Led Zeppelin’s performance is symbolic of a fascinating period in Japanese history, during which it was metamorphosing from a fractured nation to one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
As Jimmy Page recalled, when Led Zepellin arrived in Tokyo, they were struck by the sheer momentum of the place: “It was a city with such a new vision towards the future,” Page began. “The technology boom was really going on, even then… It seems odd now with Nikon everywhere, but at the time they were just really breaking the market, and you could get cameras over here really, really inexpensively, and hi-fi and little cine cameras… We came here and went away loaded with cameras and I started documenting the rest of my travels with Led Zeppelin for a bit.”
The archival footage below captures the band’s show of their 1971 Japanese tour. It’s clear that they felt the need to prove themselves to the crowd, playing with an energy and frantic virtuosity you would expect of a finale rather than an opening number. Indeed, Page goes so hard during ‘Heartbreaker’ that he has to pause to re-string his guitar. Aside from that, the band didn’t pause for a moment’s breath. Instead, they powered through the setlist in under 40 minutes, ending with one of the most intense versions of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ on record. The crowd was so taken by Led Zeppelin’s performance that the band had to pause during ‘Communication Breakdown’ to avoid starting a riot.
The unrestrained mood of the band’s first show on Japanese soil would set the tone for the entire tour. Before one notable gig, John Bonham punched Robert Plant in the face following an argument. But, as the band’s manager, Peter Grant, explained, this was not the only incident on the tour: “There were rows. One bloody amazing one happened in Japan when Robert came off stage with a split lip. It was over some dispute over some money from some tour. He still owed Bonzo some petrol money for 70 quid or something, but that’s how it was.”
This footage grants us access to one of the most memorable tours in Led Zeppelin’s career. Their shows in Tokyo were followed by a benefit concert in Hiroshima – a city devastated by a nuclear bomb 26 years earlier. As an expression of gratitude, Hiroshima’s mayor granted Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham with the city’s medal. But that was all to come.
Check out Led Zeppelin’s wild first date in Tokyo below.