On June 30th 1966, The Beatles made their highly awaited debut in Japan, a spectacle which saw The Fab Four receive the royal treatment upon their arrival as the Asian country were finally given a heavy dose of Beatlemania.
The Beatles were just six weeks away from releasing Revolver, a period of productivity which is always in the conversation as being their finest output, a record which captured the band at their experimental best and at the absolute pinnacle of their game.
While the bad had been sitting at the mountain top of the music industry for some time, they had also become four of the most recognisable faces on planet earth. On reflection, it is somewhat remarkable that it took them so long to visit the East, but their 1966 visit made sure to make up for the lost time.
The stage was set at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan venue for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s hotly-anticipated residency which saw the legendary four-piece deliver a trilogy of shows on June 30th, July 1st and July 2nd at the 15,000 capacity martial arts hall. The shows were filmed by Nippon Television and broadcast as The Beatles Recital From Nippon Budokan, which were greeted as a national event as they lured the biggest band in the world to Japan.
Their arrival, which was a slightly controversial one, saw some locals devastated to see their holy martial arts arena used as the home for three evenings of rock ‘n’ roll from the mop-topped Englishmen. However, after The Beatles christened the hall as a music venue, the Nippon Budokan has gone on to have an illustrious relationship with music and has welcomed the crème de la crème of the industry over the last 50-plus years.
Ringo Starr recalled the experience in Anthology: “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.”
George Harrison added: “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. 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 stated in his book John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me that the authorities were actually worried about possible acts of terrorism: “By herding the fans into well-contained little groups,” he added, “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 didn’t put in the most iconic sets of their career, with their stage time clocking in at around just 30 minutes for each of the three shows. However, they delved into some of their new material such as ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘Paperback Writer’ but also added throwbacks to their early days in the form of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock and Roll Music’.
Watch footage from the gig that introduced Japan to the world of rock ‘n’ roll, below.